Some lost causes worthy of St. Jude's patronage

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click to enlarge LIGHTING A FIRE: This one's for world peace. - Susan F. Edwards
Susan F. Edwards
LIGHTING A FIRE: This one's for world peace.

I'm not Catholic, but if I were, I'd probably have a mountain of burned up St. Jude candles. He's the patron saint of lost causes, and I've become attached to far too many over the years.

It's not as bad as when I was a social worker, a vocation I had to give up after eight years because the lost causes piled up so high that I couldn't find the hope anymore.

My professional lost causes these days are a lot less life-and-death for the most part. They have to do with the sorts of things that give a community a collective sense of identity, pride and responsibility — not the sort of things I'd bother God or St. Jude about when there's so much awful stuff going on. But it couldn't hurt to light a candle for a few of them — just in case:

The Surf Motel, Treasure Island

One of the best remaining examples of 1950s Googie architecture on the island closed its doors last week and will soon be replaced by a hotel-condo with no sense of place or history. It remains to be seen whether Treasure Islanders will be able to salvage the rest over the long haul, though recent elections indicate public support for preservation efforts over unbridled development.

But those bright bits of beachside whimsy are dwindling fast. If you'd like to do more than light a candle to help preserve what's left, visit the Save Treasure Island web page at http://recentpast.org/groups/treasure to find out how.

The Dan Kiley Garden, Tampa

My favorite lost cause isn't old — even by gnat-like American architectural standards. It's that enchanting small ruin of a park adjacent to the tower at the corner of Ashley Drive and Kennedy Boulevard in downtown Tampa. It has already been altered, and the city plans to raze it to make room for the cultural district.

My columns about the garden brought a small flurry of letters to the city and some attention from national landscape architects, preservationists and scholars. It gave me some hope that the garden, designed by Dan Kiley, one of the most famous living landscape architects until his death last month, might be saved and integrated into plans for the site.

George Hazelrigg holds out no such hope in his recent Landscape Architecture magazine cover story, titled "The Life and Death of a Masterpiece." Hazelrigg analyzes what went wrong with the garden and what can be learned from its imminent demolition. He attributes the inadequate maintenance of the garden to changes in building ownership and to divided public-private responsibilities. He also examines the limitations of the site, with its subterranean parking garage necessitating that the garden be elevated several feet above the sidewalk, cutting off views and discouraging pedestrians from entering it. Not to mention the inevitable leaking that was bound to occur. Hazelrigg reminds us that in the public realm, it's the designer's responsibility to create hospitable and durable landscapes, and he questions Kiley's success in this project.

I admit it's not a perfect garden. But Kiley will never make another; that makes this one all the more precious and its destruction all the sadder. In the stark black-and-white photo on the cover of the magazine, the deserted garden with its bare trees has a spectral quality — as if it's already gone.

The new Memorial Causeway Bridge, Clearwater

Bridge construction is often fraught with danger, delays and construction snafus because of the major engineering feats involved. But the new Memorial Causeway Bridge has had more than its share — so many, in fact, that by the time it's finally finished, structural flaws and resulting cost overruns will likely overshadow what a stunning piece of architecture it is.

The first time I saw the bridge, designed by Fred Goettemoeller, I was surprised by the beauty of its graceful curves because all I'd ever heard about it were the problems. Nothing prepared me for the way it rises into view as you drive through downtown Clearwater toward the beach and the way it frames the clear blue views of the harbor beyond. I was so charmed by its sleek elegance that I scheduled a hardhat tour, despite my fear of heights.

The bridge's center span is about 74 feet above the water, and you get to walk on boards laid over gaps between the spans for an added adrenaline rush. But the views from the bridge were so breathtaking that I almost forgot to be scared. Here's hoping that when the dust finally settles, people will love it in spite of the trouble and expense.

State Cultural Funding

In 2002, the state of Florida slashed more than two-thirds of its budget for culture, decimating funds for arts in education, museums, libraries, historic preservation, arts touring programs, and grants to artists and cultural groups.

Worse yet, the Legislature raided the 14-year-old Cultural Institutions Trust Fund, eliminating a recurring source of income for the arts and transferring $14-million from the trust fund to the state's general revenue fund.

The Florida Cultural Action Alliance is working to restore funding, bit by bit. This year, the priority is to restore program grants, and you can do more than say a prayer to help the process along. The Alliance's website at www.flca.net tells you exactly whom to contact and how to express your support for cultural funding.

The man at the botanica was so kind and concerned when I bought a St. Jude candle that I felt guilty for putting it to such nonessential use. So I'm lighting it to ask for world peace, which definitely seems like a lost cause these days. But I'm attaching a small rider: Can we place just a little more value on the whimsical, the lyrical, the beautiful things that make us forget for a moment the awful ones?

Contributing Editor Susan F. Edwards can be reached at [email protected].

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