GIBSONTON - There was a time when motoring along U.S. 41 you couldn't miss the once-thriving Giant's Fish Camp besides the Alafia River Bridge.
The camp included a restaurant, rental cottages and a bait shop. But over time they fell into disrepair. Some would say it was old Florida at its best.
In mid-June, Mosaic Fertilizer purchased the property for $687,500 so that the former camp could be kept as a green space in memory of what was once there.
The camp was founded 72 years ago by Al Tomaini, who stood more than 8 feet tall and was known as "The Giant." Born legless, his wife, Jeanie, was only 21/2 feet tall. The two were billed in carnival sideshows as "The World's Most Unusual Married Couple."
Al died in 1972 and Jeanie followed 27 years later. Their adopted daughter, Judy Rock, inherited the 3.18-acre property.
"Signing the papers was very upsetting, yet it was very stress-relieving," said granddaughter Tina Tomaini, who represented Judy at the closing. "Honestly, the taxes became an exorbitant amount, and my mother and I could no longer take care of the property.
"My mother was really emotional about selling. But I will be working with the Concerned Citizens of Gibsonton and Mosaic to build a memorial and dedicate it to my father.
"It gives us great comfort knowing the property is going back to the community."
About a year ago the civic organization approached Mosaic about buying the property, which had been on the market for about 18 months. The organization asked about placing a memorial there, said Christine Smith, public affairs manager.
"At the time, we owned just a small part of the property, where the parking lot for the Mosaic Coastal Education Center is," Smith said. "We agreed to put something up on our property, but since the sale was finalized, we are now able to place a memorial on the Giant's Camp site."
Smith said the civic organization, Tomaini and Mosaic will now come up with something suitable.
"There's a lot of history in the site for the community," Smith said.
Although Mosaic has no plans yet, a perimeter fence has been installed for safety.
"There are buildings on the property that are in total disrepair and a lot of debris and trash," Smith said, adding that the structures will be demolished and the land cleared. "When you come over the Alafia bridge in the future, the view will be very different than it is now.
"The memorial will be seen from U.S. 41 as people go by."
That's something Carol Philips, chairwoman of the organization's monument committee, is looking forward to.
"The original idea was to restore the old boot, but that wasn't possible," she said. "Then we began looking into reconstructing it. So far, we haven't been able to trace the boot's origin, but we do have all the measurements to duplicate it."
Philips said the organization will be hosting fundraisers to pay for whatever form of monument is decided. The project will be presented to the organization's members Thursday.
To contribute to the Boot Fund, call Philips at (813) 236-5049 or mail a check to the Concerned Citizens of Gibsonton, P.O. Box 1304, Gibsonton FL 33534.