Vilano Beach is located just above St. Augustine on a slim finger of Atlantic peninsula. St. Augustine is the better-known of the two seaside resorts, which leaves Vilano Beach to random discovery. That’s how I found it, on a day when the ocean seemed to beckon me after a long, freezing winter.
Without a historic fort, tat-filled tourist shops, and the Fountain of Youth attraction, Vilano Beach suffered when a new bridge diverted traffic away from its Main Street. A Main Street Redevelopment project has been underway since the 1990s, bringing back Vilano Beach as a progressive interpretation of 1950s seashore-roadside America.
A public art campaign has been mounted to bring back the bird.
The Bluebird of Happiness was once a key piece of Vilano Beach’s identity although Vilano Beach was its third home. Shaped as two oranges and painted that sunny hue, the bird helped promote Florida orange juice along a major pre-interstate motor route. In its second move in Vilano Beach, it became the bright blue good-luck totem at Newt’s Motel. In all, the bird was moved four times before coming to an inglorious perch in a local marsh. In 2008, the Main Street Group brought the bird to a sandy lot in the Vilano Beach Town Center where it stands today protected by a “cage” of chain-link fencing. His wings appear to have been clipped, but eventually the Main Street Group hopes to restore the bird as a photo-op icon.
The Town Center redevelopment carefully takes into account the vibe of retro Florida and isn’t a misadventure that forges ahead without considering the sense of time and place. The historic Haley’s Court tourist motel is painted in the greens and melon-pinks of the Florida color palette, while curvilinear tiling in the sidewalk suggests the color and the shape of waves. The sidewalks and palm trees look fresh and appealing, drawing the eye towards either the beach at one end or the bay at the other. A trio of dolphins soars above the fishing pier. At the entrance to the city, two nautically themed raked slabs with portholes welcome the visitor. Any redevelopment is bound to be a fraught process, but Vilano Beach appears to be headed in the right direction. Location-wise, they have a lot to work with, and so far there are no hints of commercialism. From all appearances, it’s a beautifully done restoration and one that should be a model for “downtown” redevelopment in general. I’m tempted to open a burger joint there, one that has ample outdoor seating and an extensive beer menu. I’m also tempted to offer my services in painting the bird.
Those interested in the protection of endangered species may make a donation towards the bird’s restoration by contacting the Main Street Group at:
A carousel in the Garden Center Park on San Marco Avenue, right before you take the turn for the Vilano Causeway.
Vilano Beach looking southwards to St. Augustine. The top layer of the beach is crushed shells, hence its brownish color.
Which I had to dodge. Score: Surf 2, Suzanna 1.
As the tide came in, so did a group of surfers. Once again, the limits of my camera were a frustration.
Not the most spectacular wipeout in the history of surfing, but a wipeout nonetheless.
With its wings missing, the bird has acquired some characteristics of a duck. Let’s call this the unintentional Disneyfication of the Bluebird of Happiness. I am all in favor of retiring its decaying Huey, Dewey, and Louie appearance and letting it take flight once more.
(This photo from http://www.vilanobeachfl.com)
The pier at sunset.