Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Mid Century Modern Kitsch at the Magic Beach Motel: Vilano Beach, Florida


It's hard to believe it's been about 7 or 8 years since I stayed the night at The Magic Beach Motel, Vilano Beach. I look at the sign and flash back to those lackadaisical times. My friend (later boyfriend) Mike and I acted at random. Recite bad poetry and reenact scenes from Thriller in a graveyard at midnight dressed in dark costumes? Done. Seriously.


Drive aimlessly for hours until we find a good tea joint? This is how we found the delicious Aroma Corner. Load a huge bottle of illegally obtained 99 Bananas into the trunk and buy a kitschy $60 motel room? Of course.


I miss the carefree days when I was 19 with low overhead. I'd let my free spirit drift from one weird adventure (and work gig) to the next. I practically lived out of my car. You can tell when you look at it, my 'ole Suzuki's banged up like a middle-aged Las Vegas hooker. She's got the look in her eyes like she's circled the drain a few times. Sorry, pulpy language must follow with kitschy neon light decadence like you're seeing in these photos.


When the opportunity for a hotel stay came up again I had to seize the opportunity to relive the, ha, Magic and return to my favorite motel which its enchanting tongue-in-cheek mod sign. The motel's had a complete make-over since then with the price tag to go with it. This time a room cost $181.00 after taxes!


Granted, we settled for their last-room last-second so it had 2 "rooms" (not really divided), 2 beds, and 2 TVs. When I first stayed at the motel around 2007 there was a tiny, dated 90s TV on a dresser, a lumpy bed, and little else. Now the room has a little stove, mini fridge, tiny table and microwave. The new beds and pillows were very comfortable.


I was grateful they kept the gorgeous murals intact! Each room has a unique one. I wonder if our room had more on the walls that was painted over? This was the only painted bit in our "second" (really, connected) room. I remember our room from seven years ago was an explosion of neon pink flamingos and tropical green foliage. It was glorious.

An authentic mid century modern The Little Mermaid mural. I kid.

This mural was in the room next to ours. Our nice, middle-aged fellow Floridian neighbors (from Coco Beach) were chilling outside with their adorable Welch Corgi, Mango, when I interrupted with a plaintive plea to photography The Little Mermaid Mural I saw peeking out from beyond their open room door.  It's so bad and so good. Their room was thick with the nostalgic aroma of Coppertone sunblock.


Look how drab our digs were by comparison! Where's my Little Mermaid!? Where's my Under the Sea Dammit? I don't want your two (two!) fancy flat screen TVs I want color on these walls!


Vilano was decaying the last time I stayed here, now it's been painted and preened. It's nice to see authentic mod attractions getting a face lift instead of being bulldozed. This has been my main go-to beach destination for years (more family, less frat-party like the closer-to-me and avoided Jacksonville Beach) and it's been nice to watch it return to its former glory.


The rest of the hotel is a bit of Miami Beach Art Deco in North Florida. They could film a period picture here, it's so pretty. Holy shit, I need to do that before anyone else gets the idea. It'll be a sequel to Faster Pussycat Kill, Kill! I'd much rather stay here than the boring Hampton or whatever-the-hell across the street. At least the most expensive rooms at The Magic Beach Motel are slightly cheaper and you get your own kitchen. Our room would be a good deal for friends to split. With the mini kitchen you can walk to the nearby Publix (literally a few minutes away walking) and cook grub to save money.


For enlightenment on just how naughty the sign is, ever wonder why the old "Pull the Rabbit out of the Hat" magic trick is performed by a sly, winking magician in front of a laughing audience? I read that this was a reference to Mary Toft, who had creative ways of fooling doctors into believing she was giving birth to live rabbits! This sign may be my favorite design ever. I love bold simple typography  (Scroll to the top and compare that first photo and my website logo!  Damn! I swear that wasn't done on purpose.) That type of leaping rabbit silhouette and star motif is a favorite. (This was theme of Usagi Tsukino's- who's name translates to Rabbit of the Moon Kingdom- bedspread. Behold. I wanted those sheets badly in middle school. Of course Sailor Moon would have moons and bunnies on her sheets.)

I'm a cat lady but I've also always been big on bunnies, I've had a couple and they're wonderful pets. That sign makes me really want another one. Even my friend AJ was reminded of his furry pet while looking at the sign.


You can see they were dedicated to keeping their 1950s theme consistent throughout with some Elvis and Marilyn cardboard cut-outs and gorgeous vintage shell art in the lobby. And it's fun that my clothing matched the hotel curtains perfectly. Meant to be, I should stay forever.


And their pool was incredibly relaxing! Can I have this in my back yard, please? (Can I have a back yard, while I'm at it?) It had beautiful landscaping and fun tiki-style thatched umbrellas, too. I was dying to get a shot of the leaping rabbit sign in pitch black now that I have an SLR (you can see my old pre-SLR shots of the glory of the sign at night here- and a sad rant about how I thought the sign was gone, turns out it was just being repaired) but the sign was turned off when we go back from strolling the Old City around midnight or so. I'll  be back to record some video and take photos because their whimsical leaping will charm your pants off. It's that sexy.


The Magic Beach Motel is of course, situated right in front of beautiful Vilano Beach. There's a nearby pier (with restored  kitschy "Bluebird of Happiness") and amazing houses to explore. It's a short drive away from St. Augustine's Old City and my favorite raw vegan restaurant Present Moment Cafe (which we explored that night, of course!) I highly recommended stopping by the area if you're ever in North Florida. From the waters in front of The Reef seafood restaurant you can see Castle Otttis (yes, three Ts) a structure resembling an exact replica of a medieval castle sticking out of the trees! It was built in the 1980s and made it to page 140 of Weird Florida! 

I'll share more shots and stories from the wonderful mod and weird wonders hiding in Vilano beach and beyond. Next time I want to document a stay at The Hostel in the Woods (I left my memory card at home the first time!) and have a couple of camp-outs on different beaches! I love summer.

What summer shenanigans are you up to this season? This short break was only for half of Saturday and some of Sunday but it was so relaxing to change-up the environment a bit. Just what I needed to recharge my creative juice.

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27 comments:

  1. Wonderful pictures! Looks like u had a great time!

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    1. 'Twas fun, I have more photos of mod from Vilano to share next time :D

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  2. what a nice trip down memory lane, looks cute and cozy!

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    1. It 'twas :D Looking forward to making more silly memories.

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  3. That place looks awesome!! Great photos Van! (Love the Weird state books too!) I can't wait until we can get out to visit Jacksonville and surrounding areas. I've been many places in FL but that is not one of them. We were just in FL at the Hukilau and met some new friends from Jacksonville that said we'd love it there. We have long kicked around the idea of moving there eventually as it is listed as one of the top cities for entrepreneurs plus it's near the ocean unlike landlocked TN. :)

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    1. I never heard of the Hukilau, that sounds awesome! Jacksonville has a lot of potential for entrepreneurs (although brick and mortar rent prices are unreasonably exorbitantly high and continue to rise) there are lots of indie markets on the rise. You get a lot of the "big city" perks for less cost. If you move here I highly recommend the "Riverside" area, it's made lists for the top neighborhoods in the country. It's historic with lots of character, there's tons in walking/biking distance, many events, and lots for rent for less. My roomie and I split a huge 2 bed/2 bath apartment for less than $400 each and I'm in short walking distance from a bustling bar scene and various inexpensive eateries with delicious vegan options. It's not as beautiful abd peaceful as places like Sarasota or big and bustling like Miami but I like it here, happy medium with lots -I- still haven't even explored being an active wanderer of the area for years. Gonna remedy that this year :D If you visit make sure to take in all of Jacksonville and nearby St. Augustine or even Daytona as a whole to get the biggest bang for you buck.

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    2. oops some typos in there, and* not adn or whatever I typed.

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    3. Thanks for the tips! The Jacksonville ladies we met also recommended the Riverside area. It sounds really cool!

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    4. It definitely is! In a way in makes me sad that the innovation/niceness doesn't spread to other area os town but...can't recommend anywhere else having lived in other parts. It's so awesome on this side of town :D Though the beaches side is decent and has some affordable options/fun features as well.

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  4. what a beautiful place! i love that sign! and the neon flamingos!
    we're staying in st. augustine in less than a month, i'm writing down that restaurant for sure!

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    1. It is my favorite restaurant ever, you must try it! Get the sample platter for the deserts and entrees for a taste of all of their goodness :D

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  5. what an utterly amazing place

    retro orver

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  6. OHHHH! FUN! We are heading to Naples, FL in a few weeks! Any experience in or near there? I'd love to hear ideas on where to go/what to do!?!

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    1. Nope, I've never been there.

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    2. Will update if I do, though. I don't travel outside of North Florida too often. I've explored Gainesville, some of the Springs in North Florida, Orlando, Sarasota/Bradenton, Miami (South Beach only) and St. Augustine extensively but no where else, really. Going to travel and explore more for sure.

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  7. I pretty much either need to go here, or somehow recreate the whole setting in my house and yard!

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  8. This place looks truly magical; I'm adding it to the list!!! Anyplace with neon flamingos is good enough for me!

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    1. Indubitably! I love looking at all the kitsch out west you can explore, but there's lots in Florida for me to document and explore as well.

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  9. oh wow, this motel is absolutely divine! I so badly want to stay there! The neon birds and the flamingos everywhere are so darn tacky and awesome. Love the shell art too.

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    1. I have much more kitsch wonder to share from this area! :D

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  10. It's a long way from home (Ottawa, Canada) but I'd love to make like a snowbird and visit this hotel one day! Fun & great post!

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    1. That would be awesome! Thought it does get chilly (to me) in North Florida during the winter, nothing compared to Ottawa!

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  11. That was a delightful post! Seeing the pictures of your lodging were a treat. It's also nice that the place wasn't demolished--it makes me sad whenever I notice Googie signs/buildings in my area set to be destroyed (nooo ;_;). Btw, Hi, I'm Sue! I just discovered your blog and I'm enjoying browsing your posts--a lot of articles related to my interests. Happy blogging! :)

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    1. Thanks for reading. :D I love it when history is preserved, too.

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