In the News
Cedar Key Florida: First Stop on a Florida Coast Adventure
Atlantic Coastal Kayaker • June 2013
Article and photos by Hal Levine
Island Hotel is named one of Top 10 B&Bs and guesthouses in Florida
by The Guardian
From historic guesthouses with old Florida charm to luxurious inns and comfy lakeside cabins, the Sunshine State has a host of interesting places to stay
Cedar Key offers visitors a quiet, close encounter with nature
by The Columbus Dispatch
CEDAR KEY, Fla. — The long stretch of shoreline known as the Nature Coast, or Florida’s Big Bend, wasn’t blessed with the sugary white-sand beaches found in many parts of the Sunshine State.
The land here slopes so gently from the marshy mainland into the Gulf of Mexico that large oyster-encrusted mudflats are often exposed at low tide.
Perhaps that also accounts for why the region wasn’t blessed — or cursed? — with the kind of development that covers so much of Florida.
Instead, wide-open spaces still dominate a landscape where Spanish moss-draped live oaks and tropic-loving cabbage palms tussle for dominance in a slow-moving, millennia-old battle.
Visitors who appreciate that type of scenery will find Cedar Key to be just as beautiful as its more sandy counterparts — and much quieter and wilder.
About 100 miles north of St. Petersburg, the island is actually far more serene today than it was a century ago, when noisy and noxious cedar mills and broom factories turned the area’s abundant natural resources into consumer products, jobs and private fortunes.
Island Hotel holds a Benefit for Haven Hospice and raises $11,820.00
On Saturday, February 9th, the Island Hotel in Cedar Key, Florida held a fundraising event for Haven Hospice. Hotel owners, Stanley and Andy Bair, converted their historic hotel restaurant into a night club, and entertainment was provided by Margo Anderson. Margo performed "Honky-Tonk Angels," featuring songs by Loretta, Tammy, and Reba, followed by a tribute to Patsy Cline. Her clear, powerful voice and down-home wit and comedy made a memorable evening. The event was a huge success. Together they raised $11,820 which will help support the programs of Haven Hospice.
"The Perfect Beach Town: Cedar Key, FL " - Southern Living Magazine, June 2012
FOX 13 - One Tank Trip to Cedar Key
The Island Hotel is featured in the July 2011 issue of Gainesville Magazine!
PAINTING THE AIR
In 1947, Helen Tooker, a free-spirited artist with a gypsy soul, loaded her paints, brushes and four teen-age kids into the back of an old panel truck on Cape Cod, and drove to Florida. Why? Darned if I know. She didn’t have a dime in her pocket or a single friend here, but that was just like my mother. We moved to Largo where my three brothers found work, and my mother and I scoured the countryside looking for painting jobs of any kind. Fate led us to Cedar Key where Bessie and (?) Gibbs had recently taken over the Island Hotel. When we arrived, they were trying to convert a storage area into a barroom. Bessie and my mother hatched a plan. For room, board and some cash, we would stay and work our magic in the bar of the old hotel.
Every inch of available space in the bar had to be used wisely. Helen knew the primary need was to create the illusion of space. We had to make walls move out—or you might say, she had to paint space and air into the cramped, dark room. For compact seating, carpenters built a continuous narrow bench attached to the walls opposite the bar and across the ends of the room. The bench back and seat were covered with red leatherette, a product that could tolerate spills easily. Small tables could be moved along this bench as needed to hold ashtrays and drinks. Masonite panels were attached to the walls above the bench to make a surface for painting murals. One panel was reserved for the centerpiece over the bar where old Father Neptune and his pretty mermaids have now resided for 65 years.
Helen made watercolor sketches of interesting spots around Cedar Key to be incorporated into the design. To enhance the illusion of space, she chose soft pastel colors that disappear in distant horizons. Subtle, elusive blue/grays create the hazy sky and water background for the entire mural, and fluffy clouds hanging in the skies above literally create the air and space the bar needed. At one end of the room she painted the humpback bridge known then as “Hug Me Tight and Kiss Me Quick.” The old fishing pier, built with heavy wooden posts, planks and railroad ties, stretches into the gulf the way it did before the fire destroyed it. So along with space and air, the mural also created time and recorded history.
When the bar was finished, Helen painted the square wooden tables in the dining room, decorating them with maps of local islands. Unfortunately, no tables remain. On the second floor, she painted the walls of the long hall to lighten and brighten the area. For this very large surface she used a single color, a red-brown sepia tone applied with sponges and minimal brushwork.
For herself, she painted several watercolors of local scenes and events. She sold many of these, but her family still has some. I have one she called “Monday Morning Court” where Mr. Raddie Davis, the mayor, is hearing the pleas of young men who had gotten into trouble over the weekend. Several residents at the time are recognizable characters in the painting.
A few years ago, my brother Harry from Merritt Island, and I from St Petersburg, met for a reunion in Cedar Key. The ravages of time, wind and water, to say nothing of the bullet holes in her work, disturbed us. I swear I heard Helen’s ghost nagging, “Clean up this mess! I can’t do everything myself!” I called Andy and Stanley Bair, present owners, and volunteered to do some restoration. They were happy to accept and I’ve been back to work on the paintings several times since. This last weekend I finished what I could do. They looked good, then I heard that voice saying, “It’s about time you did something. I can’t wait forever, you know!”