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Find your Old Florida treasure at Floridania Fest in Gulfport

Alligator-skin handbags, orange blossom perfume and souvenirs from old local tourist attractions will be for sale at the collector’s show in May.
Clockwise from top left: A Tiki Gardens pennant, a decal depicting the water skiers of Cypress Gardens, orange blossom perfume made in Jacksonville, an alligator-skin handbag and a Weeki Wachee-themed coloring book. All of these items will be at Floridania Fest at the Gulfport Casino on May 21.
Clockwise from top left: A Tiki Gardens pennant, a decal depicting the water skiers of Cypress Gardens, orange blossom perfume made in Jacksonville, an alligator-skin handbag and a Weeki Wachee-themed coloring book. All of these items will be at Floridania Fest at the Gulfport Casino on May 21. [ Courtesy of Ken Breslauer ]
Published May 4|Updated May 4

Florida nostalgia lovers, rejoice. And maybe say a prayer for your pocketbook.

After a multiyear hiatus, Floridania Fest returns to Tampa Bay on May 21. Thousands of historic Sunshine State souvenirs, artwork and collectibles will be for sale at the Gulfport Casino, from postcards and felt pennants to orange blossom perfume and alligator-skin handbags.

“It’s just a super fun hobby because it can combine your love of history, and especially Florida history, with collecting,” said author Ken Breslauer, who has hosted the event on and off since 1994. “You can have lifelong friendships with people who have the same passion.”

A souvenir plate for Central Florida's former attraction Cypress Gardens, featuring the park's water skiers, Southern Belles and famous Florida-shaped Esther Williams swimming pool. This item will be available at Floridania Fest in Gulfport.
A souvenir plate for Central Florida's former attraction Cypress Gardens, featuring the park's water skiers, Southern Belles and famous Florida-shaped Esther Williams swimming pool. This item will be available at Floridania Fest in Gulfport. [ Courtesy of Ken Breslauer ]

Breslauer typically spends six months or so promoting his events and works with about 20 dealers, who are all devoted to scouting out fun and quirky artifacts. The event will also have plenty of Florida books for sale, from Breslauer’s own volumes detailing the state’s souvenir history to coloring books about Florida’s lost landmarks.

Related: A St. Petersburg artist turned Florida tourist attractions into coloring books

Breslauer, 65, has an interesting history of his own: He grew up in Delray Beach and became a sports writer for the Pensacola News Journal, then spent 37 years at the Sebring International Raceway, where he retired after working as the media relations director. Along the way, Breslauer earned a master’s degree in historic preservation, publishing a thesis in 1999 based on roadside attractions in Florida.

“It wasn’t that big of a topic and then all of the sudden in 2003, Cypress Gardens went out of business,” he said. “Everyone was worried about the future of these roadside attractions, how they might be lost to development and so forth.”

Breslauer followed up his thesis with a book on the history of local roadside attractions. And he started collecting. His first show was at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, but over the years it’s traveled to other historic venues in cities around the Sunshine State.

The cover of "Florida Souvenir Decals: The Art of Florida Travel 1945-1975" by Ken Breslauer. The author is hosting Floridania Fest at the Gulfport Casino on May 21.
The cover of "Florida Souvenir Decals: The Art of Florida Travel 1945-1975" by Ken Breslauer. The author is hosting Floridania Fest at the Gulfport Casino on May 21. [ Courtesy of Ken Breslauer ]

Browsing the merchandise isn’t just a fun way to spend a Saturday. It’s also a way to understand how Florida has sold its sunshine over the years. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, most trinkets were handcrafted, including mementos made with natural Florida wood and gator skin.

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“The early attractions of Florida are based on the natural appeal of Florida,” Breslauer said. “The springs, the gardens, the wildlife.”

As the 20th century progressed, the rise of the roadside attraction ushered in a new era of keepsakes: ashtrays, decals, plates and View-Master reels. Before Disney made a splash in the ‘70s, spots like Silver Springs, Sunken Gardens and Cypress Gardens reigned supreme.

Certain attractions have big crossover appeal among collectors and will be very present at the show, like Weeki Wachee’s mermaids and Cypress Gardens’ water skiers. Tiki Gardens, a now-defunct Indian Rocks Beach attraction that capitalized on the midcentury tiki craze, is popular with tiki enthusiasts. A 33 RPM record put out by the attraction now can go for up to $500.

An ashtray souvenir from Florida Wild Animal Ranch in St. Petersburg.
An ashtray souvenir from Florida Wild Animal Ranch in St. Petersburg. [ Courtesy of Ken Breslauer ]

“Whatever people tend to remember from their childhood tends to be what they go crazy for,” said author Rick Kilby, who will be selling his history books at Floridania Fest.

When Kilby was working on his last few books about Florida’s springs, he attended Breslauer’s events to find artifacts he could use. These days, he’s going more to have some fun shopping.

“Ken buys the cream of the crop,” Kilby said. “He has stuff no one else has.”

Kilby’s advice: If you see something you like, grab it. He still remembers unique items from previous festivals that he didn’t buy and hasn’t seen since, like tiny hand-drawn billboard inserts that Silver Springs sold to be added to model train sets from the 1950s and ‘60s.

“This is really a good chance to find your Florida treasure,” Breslauer said.

If you go

Floridania Fest takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 21 at the Gulfport Casino. The last admission is at 3:30 p.m. $5, children 14 and under are free. 5500 Shore Blvd. S, Gulfport.

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