Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Beautiful Swan of Pinecrest Gardens

Recently I took several photos of the lone white swan whose home is the aptly named Swan Lake in Pinecrest Gardens (Miami, Florida). Isn't he a handsome fellow?  






See my previous post here for more information on the location where these were taken. 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Places: Pinecrest Gardens (formerly Miami's Parrot Jungle)

A bit of history

Those of you who have lived in Miami will surely be familiar with the old Parrot Jungle, or perhaps you were lucky enough to have visited as a tourist before it left the Pinecrest site in 2002 and and made its new home in Watson Island (near Miami Beach). Here it is, eleven years later, and I still haven't managed to make it out to the new version of this attraction, now called Jungle Island (although it looks like fun and I want to visit soon!).

Parrot Jungle was created by an ambitious and hard-working family man, Franz Scherr, originally from Austria, who settled in Homestead, Florida after the Great Depression derailed his successful career in construction. He owned a feed store and kept a pet parrot named Zebra on display. He noticed that customers were drawn to the lively bird and this, combined with an interest in the recently opened, nearby Monkey Jungle, sparked an idea to create his own "parrot jungle" where locals and tourists could come see them in a natural setting. His goal was to have an attraction where the birds could be free and uncaged, and so he rented twenty acres of hammock land for $25 a month and began the arduous task of clearing and shaping it into what would become Parrot Jungle. At the same time, he began a process of self-education, reading as many books as he could find on the topic of parrots and tropical botany. In 1936 his park opened and the first customers paid 25 cents to hear him speak about his birds, plants, and flowers. Over the years, Parrot Jungle grew into a popular, world-renown attraction, drawing over a million visitors, including such famous guests as director Steven Spielberg, Winston Churchill, and former President Jimmy Carter. 

Pinky the cockatoo. Image credit: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

I can remember family visits to the Parrot Jungle when I was a child and how I enjoyed watching the trained parrots carry out such feats as riding a tiny bicycle along a high wire (serious cuteness!). Many years later, as an adult, I visited once more with my sister and nephews and fell in love all over again with the place: the coral-rock architecture, the lush, tropical landscape and, of course, those endearing, intelligent, colorful birds.

Image credit: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

Parrot Jungle is among those quintessentially Floridian attractions of a bygone era, such as the Miami Serpentarium, Cypress Gardens, and Planet Ocean, that were part kitsch and part pure entertainment, with a charming and unique character on an intimate scale that is, sadly, becoming more difficult to find these days due to the allure of modern, mega-attractions. If you're interested in learning more about the original Parrot Jungle I recommend picking up a copy of Cory Gittner's fascinating book, Miami's Parrot Jungle and Gardens: The Colorful History of an Uncommon Attraction

Parrot Jungle will always hold a special place in my memory. Fortunately, its buildings and grounds are still in use today as Pinecrest Gardens, and in 2011 the site was added to the National Registry of Historic Places. 

Vintage Parrot Jungle postcard - circa 1950s

Entrance to the former Parrot Jungle, now Pinecrest Gardens, in 2013

Vintage Parrot Jungle postcard, credit: Curt Teich & Co

I had a bit of free time recently and decided to make a nostalgic visit to this childhood favorite of mine, and see what it has to offer today. The $3 admission charge is truly a bargain--that's less than my morning Starbucks hot chocolate! I arrived at 8:30am on a Sunday and found myself nearly in solitude, which was so nice and relaxing after a busy week of work. 

Some of the once well-traveled pathways receive less foot traffic than in years past, and now have an appealing wildness to them, which adds to the natural character of the environment. I enjoyed a tranquil, leisurely stroll among the lush tropical plants and stopped to feed some of the beautiful koi that can be found along the trail. Near the picnic area and concession is a playground for the kids and also a small petting zoo, where I saw an adorable pot-belly pig and goats. In the evenings there are movies, concerts and plays, as well as art exhibits from time to time. While I was there I noticed there were renovations in progress to the original "parrot bowl." It's reassuring to see that this historic gem of a place is in good hands and being preserved for future generations to enjoy. 

Year-round on Sundays Pinecrest Gardens hosts an excellent outdoor farmers market. I went home with a couple of slices of the best focaccia pizza I've ever had, along with some equally tasty rugelach for dessert. The market is well worth a visit if you're ever in the area. There are beautiful flowers and orchids for sale, handcrafted items, barbecue, healthy smoothies, and more. I'm so glad I rediscovered this place and plan to stop by again very soon! 

I hope you enjoy the photos below, which I took on my visit, now over a month ago. Apologies for major photo overload. As usual, I had a difficult time narrowing them down, so go ahead and grab a cup of your favorite beverage and a comfy chair--this may take a while! 

The name has changed, but the overall look of the entrance is much the same as it was over a decade ago. 

At the entrance you'll be welcomed by koi and water lilies

This pretty, tiled bench is located at the entrance to the park. 

Empty cages still remain -- reminders of a bygone era.  


Along the nature trail

The Banyan tree that was planted in the center of the park in 1947 has since spread to cover 3/4 of an acre!

That's me in April, 2013, in one of the beautiful coral rock structures on the property

That's me above (with much darker hair) in the mid-90s, in the same spot.

A picturesque venue for parties and showers

Swan Lake

The image above is a vintage postcard showing the lake as it looked prior to 2002. Franz Scherr and his family created this remarkable lake over a decade after the park opened. It would become a focal point of the gardens and the background for many weddings and photo shoots. Its flamingos were featured in the opening credits of the TV show Miami Vice back in the 80s. Sadly, the flamingos are gone, but the lake is now home to koi and other fish, turtles, ducks and a majestic white swan.


Time for a sun bath

Snack bar


A small colony of cats roam throughout the property 

Madagascar Palm

Lavender water lilies 

Love the way the light shines through these orchids. 

A Solution Hole! I wonder if it's anything like a wishing well? If I drop a penny into the hole maybe it will give me a solution to my problems? Hmm...What exactly is a Solution Hole? 

After a bit of research on the National Park Service's website I learned that solution holes are depressions that form in limestone bedrock that has broken down over time as a result of the anaerobic decomposition of leaves, branches and flowers. One of the solution holes on these grounds is believed to be around 30,000 years old!  

The interesting woody projections you see here are called "Cypress knees" and are seen in some trees grown in swamps 

I like the iron scrollwork on these vintage light fixtures

Over 1,000 types of exotic tropical plants and flowers can be found throughout the garden.

A glimpse of the edge of the Parrot Bowl

Macaws and cockatoos perform in the original Parrot Bowl.
Image credit: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

The famous "Sausage Tree" -- named for its sausage shaped fruit (which happen to be missing in this photo)

Love these hanging lamps--they must look magical after dark.


Angel's Trumpet



These fellows are feasting on some of the fish food that is available for purchase at the entrance  

Just outside of the gardens is the Whilden-Carrier Cottage, an example of the type of cottage that the first settlers in rural Dade County lived in during the early twentieth century.

On Sundays Pinecrest Gardens hosts an outdoor farmers market, with all kinds of tasty food, fruits and vegetables, and fresh flowers. 

Thank you for visiting!

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