Quirky landmark gains new owner, loses clutter
Hernando County code enforcement officials and real estate agents celebrate as the OK Corral, also called Hubcap City, is sold.
By MICHAEL KRUSE
Published July 6, 2005
Everybody knew L.B. Richards' cluttered kingdom.
Back in its biggest, boldest days, he called it the OK Corral. Folks in Hernando County called it Hubcap City. Everybody else just called it an eyesore.
Now it's sold.
After 13 years, after almost that many real estate agents, after more than 40 years of the accumulation of junk and local legend, the property went earlier this year for more than a half-million dollars. The buyer owns hotels in the Hamptons on Long Island. For the 12 acres on the east side of U.S. 19 going north of Weeki Wachee toward Citrus County, he paid $550,000 - cash.
"Whatever I do" with it, Michael Denktsis said last week, "it will be something nice."
Hubcap City will be gone. And with it, for better or for worse, a quirky landmark, the kind of thing that gets lost when a place gets "found." Developers come. Characters go.
Lovell Brake Richards turned 80 in May. He's been in a Brooksville nursing home with Alzheimer's disease since June 2004. The land that was his for so many years is almost all cleaned up. For now, though, it sits still.
The sign above the front door:
The roof is a tired red, and the paint on the outside is drab and white with some sad, sea-blue trim.
There's a white Velcro sneaker, just one, half buried in dirt.
Poison ivy creeps up from the weeds.
Lisa Wili-Simmonds sold this place. The Hummer-driving Hedick Group representative was the buyer's agent. Jerry Rose of Paradise West Realty did the listing.
"There was a time," Wili-Simmonds said early Friday morning, "when you could not walk in here."
"When it literally went up to your waist," she said. Now? Ankles, shins, even knees in some spots.
In the main room of the building: mirrors, windows, broken glass. Carpet patches, a stuffed bear with a Santa hat, the occasional coffee cup. A little orange football. Records, records, records, a ripped envelope with a 22-cent stamp, a plastic foam head waiting for a wig.
Rose and Wili-Simmonds looked around in the other room.
"More people have been here," she said.
"I guess they're digging for treasure," he said.
Richards always did.
The man was from Morehead, Ky., and he was a collector. Guns. Coins. Land. Whatever. Once upon a time he had enough stuff to fill five stores in St. Petersburg.
In the 1960s, before Wal-Marts, before Ruby Tuesday, before Spring Hill, he moved to Hernando, and Hubcap City got its start. Then it just kept on growing: tires, rusty bikes, golf clubs, mopeds, toilet bowls, bowling balls, thousands and thousands of bottles and even more hubcaps - 5,000 to 10,000, Richards once said.
Five and a half years ago, he took a Times reporter on a tour, stopping at a piece of junk here, a piece of junk there. His junk.
"Do you know what that is?" Richards said.
He pointed to a rusty set of metal bars that came from a Model-T Ford.
"Nobody knows a thing about it but me," he said.
Then a long bent board.
"You see that?" he said. "That's old cypress. The stuff they use for furniture. It's a good board. Worth $400."
Eventually, though, his legendary squabbles with county code enforcement and the courts got to be too much.
The area around him, once the desolate, northwest hunk of Hernando, began to build up. Everything did. U.S. 19 was no longer a two-lane road. Glen Lakes, the golf course and country club community, opened down the highway. Then the Suncoast Parkway brought new people from Tampa and St. Petersburg.
And, finally, no more OK Corral, bottles and hubcaps and all.
"It took a long time to get there," said Mark Caskie, the county's code enforcement supervisor, "and in relative terms a short time to take away. It's a success story."
Business started to go bad for Richards 10 or 15 years ago, his wife, Monique, said last week.
"Years ago, people used to buy secondhand things," she said. "But today they don't do that anymore. The younger generations, they have different ways to live."
The 12 acres sold in January, closed in February, and the cleanup has been ongoing, on and off, ever since. The heavy stuff went first.
"It was refrigerators and stoves," Wili-Simmonds said Friday.
"Everything," Rose said.
"Appliances. Old vehicles," she said.
"Dishwashers," he said.
Richards said in 2000 that one day he was going to sell this place and move to Alaska to pan for gold.
These days, though, he doesn't remember Christmas, or New Year's, or his own birthday. "But he will talk about his store," his wife said. "Those things he remembers."
Denktsis, the buyer, doesn't know yet what he's going to do with the property - other than he's going to build something.
"No," he said. "Later. Maybe next year."
So the ceiling in the house peels like a week-old sunburn.
All the stuff inside stays for now, having belonged to someone, sometime, somewhere, now stacked and strewn.
On Friday morning, soggy, forgotten books looked up from the floor.
Shadows in the Sunshine.
The Joy of Life.
Career Advancement Guide.
That one was open, and the last page was dirty and ripped.
"This book," the text began, "is primarily dedicated to those who have reached this stage. For some it can come much sooner, and every year of intelligent and purposeful planning, action, and review will obviously accelerate individual progress in whatever directions are personally meaningful ..."
Information from Times files was used in this report.