Christian nudist buys camp with history of segregation
The man, who finds Biblical support for nudism hopes to clean up the camp, build a water park and welcome children.
By JAMES THORNER
Published August 1, 2003
HUDSON - Florida Naturist Park, a dilapidated former nudist park in Hudson, has found a buyer in a Christian nudist group that vows to cleanse the place of its past.
Sarasota County nudist Bill Martin, incorporated under the name Continuing Care Inc., plans to convert 200 acres north of State Road 52 into a tidy but affordable family nudist resort reflecting his Christian beliefs.
Last week, Martin agreed to buy the property for $1.5-million from the children of the late Ward Gulvin. Gulvin founded Florida Naturist Park in the 1950s and earned notoriety for his policy of barring black people.
"Our biggest problem is cleaning it up. We've got people dumping debris. We've got people over there who have no business in a nudist resort," said Martin, a 65-year-old retired nursing home developer. "We're going to make it a pretty first-class place."
Martin plans to close on the deal in three months and name his project Club Natura. The neighborhood sprawls northeast of Colony and Fairwind roads. His would be the seventh nudist resort in Pasco County, which in terms of visitors is the capital of nudism in the United States.
Long-range plans call for investing $5-million to $6-million in the property, creating about 300 lots for mobile and site-built homes and a water park for adults and children. He's seeking investors for $300,000 to close the deal and hopes to borrow the rest.
"We desire to bring children back into naturism - and this will be a very family-friendly resort community with a special water park for all ages," according to Martin's Web site, reject-shame.com.
Martin calls himself a liberal Quaker who shuns nudist resorts he said have grown too sex-oriented. His search for land to build a resort with a Christian perspective took him across Florida.
The attraction of Florida Naturist Park is its large size, decent price and proximity to jobs, highways, good schools and hospitals, Martin said.
Martin and his friends are less bashful about their bodies than most Christians. For that he finds scriptural support.
"Body shame is an indicator of our alienation from God, self, and others; it is a bondage from Hell, and according to the Bible a direct result of Satan's deception," his Web site reads. "Body shame is at the root of low self-esteem, depression, sexual abuse, addictions, and more."
Florida Naturist Park has been in decline for decades since Ward and Dorothy Gulvin bought the place in 1959 and raised their seven children on the property.
The resort's centerpiece, Dekan Lake (Dekan is naked spelled backward), has receded. Bathers worry about jabbing their feet on rusty nails that stud the bottom.
White power graffiti occasionally appears on some buildings. Burned out trailers sit untended for years. Plastic sheeting plugs broken windows.
In 2000, Pasco sheriff's deputies dug up a resident's lot looking for the remains of a cross-dressing tree cutter named Larry Nelson, presumed dead since 1996.
Gulvin, who died in 1994 at the age of 90, was open about his segregationist views. He cited examples from nature, pointing out how squirrels avoided crows.
One of his racially charged deed restrictions read: "Membership in Florida Naturist Park is denied Negroes and black people because of forwardness by them."
Gulvin insisted he was exempt from civil rights laws because his park was "religious" by virtue of their being nature worshipers. The resort once had its own chapel and "bishop."
Few of the nudists who flocked to the park in the 1960s remain.
"Now you go in the nude, and they look at you like you've lost your mind," neighbor Frank Ellison told the St. Petersburg Times in an interview two years ago.
"There's no one who goes in the nude here you wouldn't pay to put their clothes back on. We're all old, ugly and fat."
Martin's plans to recapture the resort's nudist past, but without the rough edges.
His immediate concern is to evict from the grounds squatters and non-nudists.
He wants to dredge the lake and level the old clubhouse.
His purchase includes 90 lots, about a third of the lots originally created by Gulvin. Genuine nudists affiliated with national naturist organizations can stay at the new resort, Martin said. Others might be forced to sell their property.
Also due for eradication are the racist deed restrictions that Martin, as a veteran of the civil rights movement, finds abhorrent.
"I was shocked," he said. "This stuff doesn't sit well with us."