In late 1968, I donned a fake leopard-skin pillbox hat and white gloves to visit a Richmond, Va., department store, where I hoped to impress folks with my sophistication and gain my first credit card.
Bob Dylan wrote about that kind of hat. "Well, you must tell me, baby, How your head feels under somethin' like that?"
'The Way We Were' in Winter Park
Wherever you were, the late 1960s and 1970s were characterized by wild contrasts and change in American culture.
Winter Park was no exception. Now, the Winter Park Historical Museum revisits Park Avenue during those years in an inventive exhibit that mixes small-town nostalgia with glimpses into the larger culture.
This isn't just any small Florida town, of course: Winter Park's founders planned the city as a winter resort for wealthy Northerners, and it continues to be one of Central Florida's most affluent areas. Its main street, Park Avenue, has long been a magnet for shoppers from far and wide.
But the Park Avenue of "The Way We Were," skillfully designed by Camilo Velasquez, was much more dominated by family-owned businesses than it is now, and the exhibit looks back fondly at stores and restaurants such as Cottrell's 5 &10, Hattie's dress shop and the Beef and Bottle—the location from which the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival was launched in 1960.
The exhibit also pays tribute to folks who built the Winter Park of today, such as Robert Langford, who created a landmark hotel in 1956 built around the then-audacious idea that an all-year-round hotel would succeed in Central Florida. The photos of the Hotel Langford in the exhibit—the work of the great documentarian Peter Schreyer—offer a reminder of how much it is missed.
'Bonanza' and the Beatles
"The Way We Were" also reaches beyond the limits of Winter Park, with reminders of how much everyday life has changed since those days. A recreation of a late 1960s living room, complete with teak coffee table and "modern" couch, includes a wood TV cabinet that plays a wonderful loop of songs and scenes from shows such as "Bewitched" and "Gunsmoke." (Valencia College students compiled this fun collection.)
Next to the TV sits a stereo "record-player." Want to hear the Beatles on vinyl? This is the place—and they sound good on those vintage speakers. There's also a small black-light room for viewing a few of the "psychedelic" posters of the period.
And while the exhibit succeeds in offering a nostalgic and fun time trip, at least one image offers a poignant reminder of 1960s-era sadness and strife. It's an image of a Rollins student hanging a peace-sign banner after the 1970 shootings on the Kent State University campus in Ohio. Nine were wounded; four killed.
Looking at the photo, I realize why I get grumpy when I see this symbol reduced to a "cute" graphic design on kids' clothes. Love it or hate it, it was the sign of a serious movement. Thanks to Velasquez and the folks at the Winter Park Historical Association for weaving so many threads about a beloved but tumultuous time into the museum's compact space.
Meet a Winter Park retail legend, and historic fun for kids
On Dec. 8, Hattie Wolfe, proprietor of Hattie's in Winter Park, will speak at a Wine and Cheese Evening at the Winter Park History Museum, 200 W. New England Ave. The reception begins at 6 p.m.; Wolfe will speak at 7. Free for members; $10 for others. Call 407-647-2330 for reservations.
The museum also presents a free children's show for 3- to 5-year-olds on the first Saturday of each month and at 10 a.m. every Wednesday thereafter.
Joy Wallace Dickinson can be reached at email@example.com or by good old-fashioned letter at the Sentinel, 633 N. Orange Ave., Orlando, FL 32801.