By LENNIE BENNETT
© St. Petersburg Times, published July 1, 2001
You may not know this -- and may not care -- but I am taking a few lines to talk about it anyway. Ever since Neighborhood Times was created a number of years ago, four different versions have been published every Wednesday and Sunday. Each is designed to give you news about your specific area in lower Pinellas County: Northeast, Southeast, West and the Gulf Beaches.
Today, Neighborhood Times debuts in a fifth area, Seminole, and we welcome a new part of the community to our pages.
Even though much of the news is different from section to section, On the Town, like other regular columns, appears in all editions.
Readers new to On the Town will be introduced to social events and fundraisers, what they were like and who was there. I hope Seminole readers will let me know about these things in your community as our longtime readers in other areas do.
That said, On the Town in the summer is not the same as On the Town during the high social season, which runs from September through May. During the summer slowdown, I like to tell you about things I don't have space or time to write about during the party whirl, such as the comings and goings of people and fun or interesting things happening around town.
I look forward to hearing from you.
It takes something special to get a St. Petersburg downtown centrist like me to roam far afield, and some special things are what I found a week ago when I visited the (fairly) new Gulf Coast Museum of Art and the Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo with a friend. (The friend drove, which was an incentive.)
The museum is really several low-slung buildings nestled among acres of pine trees, scrub palms and live oaks. Its exterior is unassuming, but the interior is open and bright with skylights, white walls and a dark floor that looks and feels like rubber, which makes lingering in the galleries easy on one's feet. It is not a large museum, having just three galleries, and reminds me more of a place like the Arts Center in St. Petersburg than museums such as the Salvador Dali or the Museum of Fine Arts. In fact, it was formerly known as the Gulf Coast Arts Center.
One of its appeals is its mission to showcase and collect contemporary Florida artists and craftsmen. The current exhibition is work by Lisa Williamson of New Smyrna Beach. I am not conversant in art vernacular, but if I had to describe her work, which in this show is mostly watercolors or acrylic paintings, I'd say she paints sensual, abstract images of nature. How's that for a string of 50-cent words?
A nice touch: In the center of the galleries are benches so artfully crafted that I wasn't sure we were supposed to sit on them.
Next door are the Florida Botanical Gardens, originally a modest proposal that, over a decade, did a Jack-and-the-Beanstalk sprout into a $22-million project. (Thank you, Penny for Pinellas.) The gardens are very nice but, I'm sorry, they don't look like $22-million. To be fair, a good portion of the money was for land purchase and to reconfigure McKay Creek, and not all of the balance has been spent. Still.
The formal gardens are connected by a generous paved path, and a nice water feature bisects the largest garden. All the plants are clearly labeled (Sunken Gardens, please take note). But on the day of my visit, many of the beds looked downright ratty and in need of attention. Too many plants were dead or dying, including some palm trees. The folks planning the place really should have thought about using more drought-tolerant plants or be willing to use the irrigation system more often.
I liked a lot of the outdoor furniture that invited people to sit and admire the vista. In time the trees will mature, providing some shady areas; for now, wear a hat and sun screen. The Florida Botanical Gardens are free; the Gulf Coast Museum charges a small entrance fee if you are not a member.
The Women's Chamber of Commerce of the Greater Gulf Beaches recently elected new officers. They are: president, Ruth Szemer; vice presidents, Nancy Stubbs and Danie Huizenga; recording secretary, Jerry Guardia; corresponding secretary, Barbara Candelaro; treasurer, Nan Edmiston, and director at large, Loretta Sandt.
EAST MEETS WEST: Sunken Gardens is the site for a fundraiser for a youth baseball team invited to Takamatsu, Japan in a few weeks to play in the Friendship Games. The games are part of a 40th anniversary celebration of the sister-city relationship between Takamatsu and St. Petersburg. A team of 15 boys, 13-15 years old, has been formed from several divisions and teams for this special, one-time event. They also will participate in a series of parades and special events. Named the St. Pete Rays of Fossil Park, the boys have been outfitted with uniforms by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and will exchange jerseys with the Japanese team while there. This fundraiser will help pay for their trip. The gardens are located at 1824 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg. Admission is $20 for adults and $10 for children 11 or younger. It includes garden admission, foods with a Japanese flavor and entertainment by Yuko Daiko. It's also an opportunity to check out the new Japanese Garden, recently installed on the grounds. 7:30-10 p.m. 528-4628.
FLORIDA LYRIC OPERA LUNCHEON: The summer party at the Museum of Fine Arts is preceded by a docent tour. A seated lunch in the Marly Room is followed by a performance by soprano Mary K. Wilson and a piano recital by Rena Massey. 11 a.m. 255 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg. $20. 578-1657.