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A look at early Florida advertising

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 03:05 AM

"Wish You Were Here: Classic Florida Motel and Restaurant Advertising," by Tim Hollis (University of Florida Press)

Tim Hollis is a bit of a strange guy. But he's an admirable kind of strange: he knows what he likes, and he collects things within that area of interest.

Really, really collects things.

On display in this handsome edition are hundreds of images that, as the subtitle says, depict advertising from (primarily) the 1950s-1970s, a time when Americans were seeing the U.S.A. in a Chevrolet. Or a Ford. Or any other four-wheeled contraption they could get their hands on.

For those interested in Florida history this book is, well, perhaps not "essential reading," but it certainly is a lot of fun.

And nostalgic. Even those who didn't grow up in Florida but are old enough to remember pulling into a Holiday Inn or Howard Johnson's for the night might find themselves surprisingly moved by the memories these photos dredge up.

It certainly sparks memories for Hollis. On the back flap of the book there is a picture of Hollis at a Holiday Inn across the street from Weeki Wachee. He's grinning at the camera, the blue water of pool behind him and, beyond that, a grove of palm trees. He looks like kids always look on vacation in Florida — excited and happy and kind of goofy to be in "paradise."

But for Hollis it went beyond that.

"At an early age I developed a special affinity for motel signage, and before I ever started school I was already trying to document the places where we stayed in my own drawings," Hollis writes in the preface.

That his affinity for such signage and other trappings of motor lodges never died is evident on page after page here, filled with images of green landscapes, blue pools and frolicking, smiling vacationers eating, swimming and sunbathing amid plastic chairs, palm trees and neon. He's even included a couple of his youthful drawings.

Interestingly, considering the amount of color found in these pages, the photo that will first grab the attention of Tampa Bay residents is a black and white image on Page 4 in the introduction chapter. The undated image of "tin can tourists" sitting in a camp of cars and tents off a road in Tampa tells you in one image the strong attraction of the Sunshine State and the sort of deprivations people were (and are) willing to shoulder to experience time down here.

But the big draw here is page after page of supersaturated hues depicting Florida spots, from Weeki Wachee mermaids frolicking at a Holiday Inn to the understated lighting on Clearwater's Lagoon Resort Motel. And, naturally, many photos of nubile young lasses cavorting around swimming pools.

The book is separated into seven chapters by geographical region, with Tampa Bay in the Sun Coast chapter. Highlights include a nice photo of the grounds at Tom's Plaza and Jolly Greek Restaurant in Tarpon Springs, an odd postcard of the Tampa Bay Hotel (now the University of Tampa) surrounded by alligators and an illustrated matchbook depicting the Columbia Resturant in Ybor City.

It's just the sort of the thing that's going to look at home on coffee tables in Florida (that's my rather lame attempt at mimicking the book's advertising writing; clearly I have no future in that sort of thing).


Kevin Walker edits Friday Extra and the books pages for the Tampa Tribune
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