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  1. Hillsborough

We were Seminole Heights when Seminole Heights wasn't cool

The Tower Drive-in and the Riverview Terrace housing apartments along the northern edge of Seminole Heights.  [Times (1953)]
The Tower Drive-in and the Riverview Terrace housing apartments along the northern edge of Seminole Heights. [Times (1953)]
Published Aug. 7, 2019

Living a block away from the Riverview Terrace housing projects, across the river from the Tower Drive In (where you could actually see the screen from my second story bedroom window) and within earshot of the roar of the Tampa Dog Track crowd as the greyhounds rounded the last turn of the back half of the Big Q, nobody was wondering back then where they could get some pleasing locally-brewed craft beer or a poke bowl.

And just for a time reference — these memories are midway between when the Titanic sunk and today.

I was in the sixth grade when my family moved to Seminole Heights. At first, there wasn't a huge interstate barricading off everything to the east of Central Avenue. That changed almost immediately. By the following summer, they were carting off or demolishing houses on the east side of Central and the most direct route to Grover Cleveland Elementary School via Hamilton Avenue was blocked.

We lived in one of those 1920s-era houses with a front porch and detached garage. It wasn't a classic bungalow since it had a second story — the last time I Google street-viewed it, nobody had renovated it back to its former glory. In fact, it looks as though someone was trying to preserve the pre-hip days of Seminole Heights by keeping the front yard turf-free and surrounded by a chain link fence.

What brought to mind back these early years of my life is the construction of some houses on property that once was the Flora and Central Playground. Many after-school afternoons of my turbulent pre-adolescent years were spent at Flora and Central. The new construction going up is roughly where the playground building once stood. My only investigation of the site is what I can observe as I sail by —or more often inch by — while traveling southbound on I-275.

All this reminiscing got my mind to wandering. This wandering mind is usually not very productive. It's probably a safe bet that someone isn't restoring the playground so the present generation can appreciate how little kids way back when occupied their time waiting for hand-held electronic devices to be invented so we could be seriously distracted.

But the wandering mind doesn't see it that way. It thinks they could still bring back the signature ancient fire truck — what's left of it was relocated around the corner at the playground at Florida and Sligh. I'm sure there are plans or old photos with enough information to reconstruct an authentic box hockey game. Then you'd need a slide with a scorchingly hot surface as you go down, before you landed on the last young slider at the bottom who failed to make a timely exit of the sand pit landing area. The swings were the classic 6-inch wide belt attached to chains. The only other thing would be to haul in some orange clay for the basketball court.

My brother said it wouldn't be Flora and Central without a four square court, but for the re-creation to have the full, living history effect it would need to be staffed by mid-century re-enactors, trained to be ruthless and constantly change the game's rules to benefit themselves.

Flora and Central is where I learned not to kick a basketball. I'm not sure what the punishment was, but the shame of being called out on it by Coach Tom was enough. The playground's director was a caring lady who lived right across the street. She let the fun happen, but also let you know you'd better not cross her. She was good at making you think long and hard if you violated playground rules, sincerely vowing never to repeat the transgression.

Very little remains from those days except Bo's, the ice cream place just up the street on Florida Avenue and Flora. I hear they are still fro-yo free.

Some, probably most, may look back at their middle school years and remember a time of awkwardness and embarrassing events best left forgotten. But sometimes, if you can cherry-pick your memories, you can bridge over the weirdness and settle on the better scenes of terrestrial fun in real time.

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