Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Travel

Arcadia Opera House lures hunters of ghosts, antique rarities

Arcadia – The rambling Arcadia Opera House looks like it could hide a few ghosts.

"I've never seen one myself, but there have been quite a few sightings," says proprietor James Crosby, who has owned the 1906 building for two years. Indeed, a haunt-hunting team from Bravo Television stalked spirits there and a program is scheduled to air this fall, Crosby said.

Museum pieces from the turn-of-the-century theater add a nostalgic touch – or an eerie one, if the observer is particularly sensitive.

But the Opera House's big draw is its huge selection of antiques spread over 14 rooms in the two-story building's 9,000 square feet. Furniture from New England, clothing from decades back, tools from your grandfather's box and glassware from all over are among the vintage items. There's a 1923 Victrola and an RCA Victor Consolette from a later era – and there is an extensive vinyl album collection.

Madame Zoltar, a version of the animated Gypsy fortune teller once found in arcades, adds a proper touch to what Crosby calls the Bizarre Bazaar, which offers literally hundreds of items for sale.

For a quarter, customers can turn on the band organ, an old-school county-fair type of instrument that plays automatically and is designed to sound like a multi-piece band. A sign on it says: "Infamous 'horn machine' has driven thousands crazy since 1918. Now it's your turn.'"

Crosby said he takes some items on consignment and he also rents space to vendors. The charge is generally $100 to $200 for a room, depending on its size, plus 10 percent of the vendor's take.

The Opera House, built the year after a 1905 fire destroyed most of Arcadia's downtown, anchors the city's historic district. About 3,400 acres containing 293 historic buildings comprise the neighborhood, which was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

Several blocks of antique stores make it a picker's paradise. The dealers association offers an "antique fair" on the fourth Saturday of each month; it sometimes draws more than 100 independent dealers.

Two bed-and-breakfast sites offer neighborhood accommodations and there are several restaurants, including the 83-year-old Wheeler's Café with its pie specialties. (The author's favorite was the butterscotch peanut butter.)

Arcadia itself is a trove of history. It was a focal point of the 19th century Florida cattle industry and, at one time, had a reputation as a wild and wide-open cow town. Range wars erupted and sometimes spilled across the town's dusty streets. One historian wrote that as many as 50 fights a day took place; one is recalled as causing the deaths of four men.

The Opera House probably did not see any of the Old West-style violence. But it became a magnet after the 1905 Thanksgiving Day fire that started in a livery stable. Only two buildings survived.

Soon afterward, John J. Heard built the Opera House, establishing the second-floor theater over the Florida Loan and Trust Company. It was used for both silent movies and "talkies," political events, school graduations, dances and a USO operation during World War II. The stage and balcony are preserved, along with theater bills and paraphernalia. None of the museum pieces is for sale.

Among other items, a circuit board for the original stage lighting remains. A klieg light dating from the early 1900s was used to provide the light needed to expose early film. The original wooden cylinder used to crank up the stage curtain still is present.

Not all the museum items are related to the theater or old movies. A metal contraption resembling a bomb is labeled as "the first guided missile." The thing has a saddle and handlebars mounted on it, and is addressed to "the Kaiser," a reference to the German leader during World War I.

Perhaps the most unusual piece is a fancy surrey sitting center stage. It's a 1902 Deere and Webber – and you can almost see the shade of John J. Heard sitting atop it.

This story was first published on VISITFLORIDA.com.

Comments
In Sitka, Alaska, food doesn’t get more natural than this, or cheaper

In Sitka, Alaska, food doesn’t get more natural than this, or cheaper

SITKA, AlaskaA hefty brass bell hangs from a rafter in the middle of the Pioneer Bar. The P Bar, as everyone calls this down-home dive on Baranof Island about 90 miles southwest of Juneau, is a smokey haven for locals and fishermen. And it could be w...
Published: 12/07/17
Exploring Alaska’s Inside Passage with the adventure, expense of a cruise

Exploring Alaska’s Inside Passage with the adventure, expense of a cruise

JUNEAU, AlaskaNaturalist John Muir didn’t have Patagonia waterproof Yulex gloves Amazon Primed to him. He did not have Gore-Tex or special wicking fabrics. His socks were probably wet the whole time.These were my thoughts as I looked up from a cabin ...
Published: 12/07/17
A guide to holiday events at Disney, Universal, Busch Gardens and more theme parks

A guide to holiday events at Disney, Universal, Busch Gardens and more theme parks

Instead of shoveling snow, Christmas in Florida means celebrating the holiday season in shorts and T-shirts at theme parks and local attractions. Some parks even haul in “snow” for an authentic holiday vibe. While the last two weeks of t...
Published: 12/06/17
The challenges of being a chef on a remote Alaska cruise ship

The challenges of being a chef on a remote Alaska cruise ship

James George, 49, executive chef aboard the Safari Endeavour, has the kind of resume that makes you double-take. A graduate of Johnson & Wales in Miami, he went the hotel and country club route, spending eight years at the fabled Breakers in Palm Bea...
Published: 12/07/17
Tampa Bay's most unique Airbnb rentals include the RV parked behind Ferg's

Tampa Bay's most unique Airbnb rentals include the RV parked behind Ferg's

These are some of the most unusual vacation rentals available on Airbnb in Tampa Bay.
Published: 12/05/17
Florida’s iconic offshore Stiltsville survived another hurricane season

Florida’s iconic offshore Stiltsville survived another hurricane season

MIAMI — Stiltsville, a stubborn relic of Miami’s less-glitzy past as a sun-soaked outpost, has survived Hurricane Irma’s brutal winds and waves, much to the surprise of the landmark’s caretakers and fans. Perched at the edge of sea grass flats where ...
Updated one month ago
Story of Louis Vuitton: As travel changed, so did luggage

Story of Louis Vuitton: As travel changed, so did luggage

NEW YORKAs travel changed, so did luggage. That’s the story told by an elaborate exhibition about Louis Vuitton, the luxury luggage and fashion brand. The exhibition, free to visit and on display in Lower Manhattan through Jan. 7, is called "Volez, V...
Updated one month ago
Black Friday deals at Legoland, SeaWorld, Disney and more

Black Friday deals at Legoland, SeaWorld, Disney and more

Black Friday isn’t just for stores. Many theme parks and attractions in Florida are also offering up deals that could make a nice gift or family splurge. The smaller the park, the bigger the deal, so Legoland, Gatorland and SeaWorld are toutin...
Updated one month ago
Most air travelers say taking off your shoes is okay. An etiquette expert disagrees

Most air travelers say taking off your shoes is okay. An etiquette expert disagrees

Unless you are ensconced in first class, sleeping on a plane is as intimate as dozing off in a waiting room on jury duty — everyone on the aircraft knows the decibel level of your snoring and the sad state of your socks.To gauge how passengers percei...
Updated one month ago
With Harry Potter’s Christmas, Universal Orlando proves holidays are big business

With Harry Potter’s Christmas, Universal Orlando proves holidays are big business

ORLANDO — Christmas has finally come to Hogwarts at Universal Orlando in a new holiday attraction opening Saturday. In addition, Universal Studios has completely upsized its holiday parade with more Macy’s balloons, stunning floats and snowy effects ...
Updated one month ago