Art Of Living In Florida: Becoming Acclimated

Man is an outdoor animal, seeking refuge under shelter only by necessity, seldom from choice. Our cave-dwelling ancestors took shelter in their Mousterian caverns against subarctic cold and because they could barricade the entrances against the savage beasts of the primeval forest. Americans nowhere today need stockades or barriers against wild beasts, but over seven-eighths of the continent and two-thirds of the year shelter from cold by day or by night is still our prime necessity, next to food. May it not be that the most potent of the many elements which commingle to make up Florida’s mystic lure is the liberation of people from the restrictions imposed by four walls and a roof?

In most of Florida there is never a day and seldom a night in which one cannot in comfort work, play or relax out-of-doors attired in the lightest of garments or next to no clothing at all. Even in the northern part of the state there are few days at any season when more than a light overcoat or wrap is needed; few nights that call for any warmer covering than a thin cotton blanket. From December to March there are likely to be enough chilly evenings to make artificial heat necessary for the comfort of those who have become accustomed to the high temperatures usually maintained indoors in Winter in the steam-heated North. Most of the time, however, the open fire of Florida pitch-pine splinters and logs suffices, as it has sufficed the native population of the South for generations.

Those who have become fully acclimated in Florida, whose nervous and circulatory systems have become adjusted to the climate, find themselves suffering no discomfort from temper atures which at first are unpleasant to the newcomer from the North, who for a time is likely to feel chilly when the thermometer makes one of its occasional drops to below 60 degrees.

For years it was a point of local pride in many Florida cities to provide no means of heating hotel rooms and dwellings designed for the accommodation of tourists, except fireplaces, with the use of which most northern visitors were unfamiliar, and which many regarded with distrust. Now, however, Florida has completely recovered from that provincial “take it or leave it” attitude toward the stranger. It bends backward in the effort to please. From Pensacola to Key West, the hotel guest who feels the occasional need of more heat than the climate supplies can get it by turning a radiator valve. Likewise, the increasing number of summer visitors to Florida, as well as of year-’round residents, has made the state perhaps the greatest potential market, if not already the largest, for the modern devices for keeping cool, broadly classed as air-conditioning. The year-’round resort hotels and the principal commercial hotels in the larger cities are installing air-conditioning in their guest rooms as well as the public rooms, lobbies and dining rooms, while practically every railroad train carrying passengers into or around Florida is air-conditioned in whole or in part.

Even the most inexpensive bungalows built in Florida today, in common with the most elaborate mansions, are generally equipped with one or another of the numerous devices and appliances for maintaining the temperature at night, about the only part of the twenty-four hours during which anyone in Florida stays under a roof if he does not have to, at a comfortable temperature for sleeping, winter or summer. In the extreme south of Florida the fireplace still serves all purposes for domestic heating, but over most of the state an automatic oil-burning furnace, either warm air, steam or hot water, comes in handy on perhaps a dozen or two winter nights.

Florida uses little coal. It is a thousand miles from the anthracite fields and several hundred from the nearest softcoal fields of Alabama. But it is right in the path of the great oil tankers carrying their liquid cargoes from the Texas and Louisiana oil wells to Atlantic coast ports. Florida buys its fuel oil cheaper than it can be bought in any other state fronting on the Atlantic.

Florida’s styles in architecture are as diverse as the tastes of its residents, and in general reflect the prevailing styles in the sections from which they have come, more or less suitably adapted to the Florida climate. One finds Cape Cod cottages, with the steeply pitched roofs, low ceilings and small windows which are essential to winter comfort in exposed locations in northern latitudes, but utterly unsuited to a snowless climate in which the entrance of sunlight and the free circulation of air are the major desiderata in a home. The traveler around Florida will see in the older settled communities many examples of the early American “plantation” type of southern homestead, which are far better adapted to Florida’s climate, with their wide, two-story galleries, spacious rooms and halls and high ceilings.

Between those two extremes there is no architectural type or style to be found anywhere in America which is not duplicated in Florida. Predominant in many sections are adaptations by American architects of styles originating in the Mediterranean countries, but transmuted by transplantation and the imagination of their designers into buildings which, while they frequently bear a resemblance to their sources, often achieve an effect which can only be termed grotesque. These are classed broadly under the term of “Spanish.” This style of dwelling was introduced into Florida originally from the Island of Cuba, where for four hundred years the people, of Spanish descent, have been trying to adapt the old architecture of Spain, which is a much colder country, to the climate of Cuba, which is a couple of degrees of latitude nearer the equator than the tip of Florida. Even in Cuba the resulting dwellings have not been particularly comfortable to live in, at least by North American standards, and builders attempting to redesign the interiors while retaining the picturesque small-windowed effect of the exterior, have not succeeded in many instances in achieving happy results from any point of view. However, the bright colors, the tiled roofs and the pseudo-Spanish decorative effect, are such striking and unfamiliar novelties to the general run of tourists as to capture their fancy and arouse their admiration. After all, most people who come to Florida for the first time are looking for something exotic. They like to go home and talk about the lovely Spanish houses they have seen.

As a matter of fact, they will have seen very few true Spanish types indeed. Perhaps the best example in Florida of pure Spanish architecture is the Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine. Henry M. Flagler, the pioneer developer of Florida’s East Coast, sent his architect to Spain and gave him carte blanc in the matter of costs, to reproduce on a magnificent scale the best he could find in the land of the Alhambra and the Alcazar. The result is an example of Spanish Renaissance architecture in its perfection. It was the beginning of Florida’s striving for Spanish effects, which has not always been successful, especially when filtered through Cuba.

A far happier style, better adapted to the Florida climate, has been attained where the design has been unblushingly lifted from the warmer countries on both shores of the Medi terranean. The most costly residence in Florida, the late John Ringling’s $5,000,000 mansion on the Sarasota waterfront, was adapted from a sixteenth century Venetian palace. All over southern Florida thousands of residences which have been built since the close of the war might have come, just as they are, out of a village in Morocco, Algeria, Egypt or Palestine, where for more thousands of years than history records the people have been building their homes for the utmost of comfort under perpetual sunshine and high temperatures.

Beyond any doubt, Florida will evolve a distinctive architectural style of its own, one adapted both to the climate and the background, and to the use of native building materials. In going through the evolutionary stage, however, Florida is experimenting with almost every imaginable style and method of building. A quite recent development is what is often referred to as the Bermuda type of residence. This is a copy or an adaptation of the style which the British colonists of Bermuda have evolved, out of a couple of centuries of experience in living in a climate not greatly different from that of Florida. It combines the open gallery, wide windows and high ceilings of the plantation style with the flat roofs of the Near East, upon which the occupants of the house may take their ease in the cool of the evening or sleep out under the stars, caressed by balmy breezes. Many of the new homes which have been built in Palm Beach, Miami Beach and less fashionable parts of southern Florida in the past few years are of this general Bermuda type, or combinations of it with the best features of the Levantine styles. If one were to venture a forecast of the ultimate type of architecture which will be recognized as distinctively Floridian, it is suggested that it will be derived from Bermudan and North African roots with the Spanish influence suggested in its patio or high-walled garden, and its exterior plainly finished in glittering white plaster. Experience thus far by those who have lived in Florida homes of that general design indicates that it is, so far, the most comfortable type of dwelling and best adapted to Florida living.

Wood is still the most readily available building material in Florida, with its great pine forests and huge tracts of cypress still standing. For many years to come, undoubtedly, most of Florida’s homes will be built of lumber, and most of them will be, as probably the majority of them are now, onestory houses, or bungalows. Bungalow homes of whatever material, suitably designed to be comfortable under any conditions of Florida climate, can be built complete with all modern conveniences almost anywhere in Florida from $2,000 upward. Indeed, there are many thousands of livable small homes scattered all over Florida which cost their owners less than that minimum figure, and in which their occupants live contentedly.

By provision of the Florida Constitution, farm homesteads up to 160 acres, and city dwellings on lots of a half acre or smaller, of an assessed value of less than $5,000, are exempt from all taxation. Since the assessed value seldom represents more than half the actual cost, one can own a $10,000 home, or even a more costly one in some communities, with no taxes to pay. Such real estate and $1,000 worth of personal property are exempt from seizure or levy for any cause.

One does not have to live within range of a city water supply to justify the installation of plumbing equipment. There is hardly a spot in Florida where one cannot drive or drill his own well a few feet into the ground and obtain a never-failing supply of water. There are three distinct water levels underlying the Florida peninsula. One is the surface water level, from twelve to twenty feet below ground, from which, in most sections, is obtained fairly soft water from recent rainfalls, filtered through the surface sand and with little perceptible taste or flavor objectionable even to the newcomer from the North. This water from the upper stratum usually has to be pumped, which is why so many Florida homes, in rural regions to which the central municipal water supplies do not extend, have a water tank on stilts out back of the garage. Pumping is simple and inexpensive, either by gas engine, electric pumpand there is hardly a corner of Florida so remote as to be beyond the range of electric lines-or by means of wind-electric pumps, little windmills like three-bladed airplane propellers mounted at the top of a slim, spidery steel tripod and geared directly to an electric generator, also perched on top of the tiny tower. Florida’s winds are so dependable that many residents, in increasing numbers, rely upon wind-generated current, with storage batteries for holding the surplus reserve charge, for all their domestic uses including lighting, thus making the completely self-contained homestead possible, with all of the modern conveniences.

Where larger quantities of water are required, as for irrigation of orange groves and field crops, Floridians sink sixinch or eight-inch pipes down to the next water stratum and get a continuous, self-flowing true artesian well, whose waters frequently rise several feet above the surface in a huge fountain, and in many instances with force enough to operate a waterwheel for the generation of electric current or to run farm machinery. This second stratum of water is impregnated with lime, from the underlying limestone which forms the foundation of all Florida, and also with sulphurated hydrogen from the deeply buried masses of decaying vegetation. Native Floridians and those who have become habituated to the use and the taste of this sulphurous hard water use it for drinking and for all domestic purposes without giving those qualities much thought. The more particular install water softeners, and often spray the water into open-air tanks, thus removing quite effectively the sulphurous odor and taste, by aeration.

Deeper still, toward or below the twelve-hundred foot level, the driller for water in Florida may strike a subterranean stream, popularly supposed to come through deep, hidden un derground channels from the mountains of Georgia and the Carolinas. Geologists are inclined to question this origin of the water of the deep stratum, though they offer no other plausible explanation for such phenomena as the almost chemically pure water which the city of Pensacola obtains from its twelve-hundred foot wells, and dispenses through its municipal water system; water so pure that it can be and is used in automobile batteries instead of distilled water. In southern Florida, however, some of these deep wells into the lowest water stratum occasionally produce brackish water, suggesting that there is an infiltration from the sea into the depths below the main limestone base.