A February 2004 trip
to Vero Beach by Mary Dickinson
Quote: Today, Vero Beach is an upscale community with a lot to offer. In the '30s and '40s, Waldo Sexton created architecture, without any plans or blueprints, using driftwood, estate auction pieces, demolition pieces, and more. The following are about his creations.
Waldo’s Restaurant, on the Register of Historic Places, is located in this resort. It was built in the '30s by entrepreneur Waldo Sexton. He collected huge pieces of driftwood from the ocean, went to high-class estate auctions and added elaborate furniture and fixtures to his collection, and, when the huge millionaire mansions, built 30 years earlier, were demolished to make room for newer ones, added fancy architectural pieces to his collection. Then he built his structures from this conglomeration of non-matching parts. No plans, no blueprints: only verbal communication was used to convey his ideas to the builders.
As you enter the restaurant, you might see a very expensive, exclusive lacework iron gate hanging where it shouldn’t, next to another one that doesn’t match. There’s no telling what might be hanging from the ceiling, but you can bet that it was the finest ever made. Sexton built his first efficiency apartments, next to the ocean, the same way. They are still there today and also are on the Register of Historic Places. His giant bell collection is located wherever there’s room to set one down. There’s a genuine, 3 feet in diameter, Della Robia plaque embedded in a brick wall outside one of the units at the resort.
Sexton built more structures in Vero Beach: the Ocean Grill Restaurant, not far from the resort; another restaurant downtown; and the structures at McKee Botanical Gardens. In its day, it was the first of Florida’s many attractions to come. Vero Beach considers these historical remnants precious. Dress in tropical colors from Talbot to blend with the locals. Honest!!!
Hotel | "The Driftwood Inn"
We found a unit whose number coincided with the one on our papers from RCI, and before signing in, we peeked in the window to get some hint at what we were getting into. It looked okay, and we didn’t have an alternate plan anyway, so we registered. Once we were actually inside the unit, we were at ease with the situation and a little amused. Artwork had been painted on our entry door, and it was very attractive. The floors were all 12'x12' handmade Mexican clay tile, rough-looking but smooth to the touch. The two large rooms were attractively furnished with good Southern pine reproductions, and the kitchen counter was finished in very expensive imported antique ceramic tiles.
The living room had new, expensive, stylish upholstered furniture and a large television. In the bedroom was a, sectioned off, king-size Jacuzzi, sink, and separate closet for the toilet. The high queen-size bed was attractively dressed in a thick comforter and plush pillows, and the window was covered with white shutters with oversized louvers. A panel of stained-glass artwork hung in front of it. There was a television on the high chest of drawers. The walls were nicely finished in sheet rock but had nooks and crannies everywhere from former but altered construction.
Our unit was one of 16 that had recently been renovated and reopened after the September 2004 hurricanes. Vero Beach had been hit hard by the horrendous winds and high waves, and the extensive roofs covering most of the units were under repair. The crystal-clear pool near our unit (there are two pools at the resort) was next to the outdoor eating area, near Waldo’s, overlooking the ocean. We spent the week discovering all of Waldo’s various collections, located here and there at the resort and elsewhere in town.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 30, 2005
Driftwood Inn Resort
3150 Ocean Drive
Vero Beach, Florida
If we had arrived earlier, we could have been seated in one of the dining rooms built right over the ocean. That structure was somehow unaware of the hideous damage done to all the buildings all along the beach by the September 2004 hurricanes. Lunch was served Monday to Friday from 11:30am to 2:30pm, and then they close until dinner at 5pm. The restaurant was crowded, so we had a 10-minute wait and spent it in the gift shop looking at the expensive but tempting items.
Finally, we were seated at a unique table. Every table was different, but all tables were covered with rose colored tablecloths. A bread basket with individually wrapped crackers suppressed our hunger until our lunch was served. Bob ordered the Oyster Platter for $11.95. The oysters were breaded and deep-fried and served with cocktail sauce; he said that they were the best he has ever tasted. He chose french fries from a variety of sides. I ordered Baked Blue Crab Casserole for $11.95. Delicious blue crab meat was embedded in a delectable sauce and baked to perfection. It is one of their specialties. For a side, I chose wild rice with almonds. It had huge pieces of sliced mushrooms as well and was excellent. Service was quick and courteous.
It’s a good idea to freshen up in the bathroom so you can walk through the restaurant and see all the treasures. Of course, they’re overwhelming, but that’s the whole idea. Brush up on your knowledge of lacy wrought iron fence before you go and you’ll know you’re sitting next to the finest in the world. Several non-matching specimens were used as room dividers. It is best to dress in Talbot-style clothing, as this is Vero Beach at its finest.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 31, 2005
1050 Beachland Blvd
Vero Beach, Florida 32963
Restaurant | "Waldo's Restaurant"
When I saw it, the first thing I wanted to do was go inside. We were hungry and tired from the long trip, so before we unpacked, we headed over there. The huge wooden doors made me feel like I was entering an Oriental enclosure, but once inside, it was more of the same: a whirlwind of eclectic furnishings that Sexton had bought at estate auctions, none originally intended for their present use, creating the atmosphere of a seaside hangout thrown together to be enjoyed. We ordered and decided to sit outside. Tables and chairs were arranged around the resort’s heated pool, and we had a great view of the ocean.
The menu offered just the right food to enjoy at that exciting place. I ordered a Cajun Grouper Sandwich for $7.95. It was deep-fried, the Cajun crust was crisp, and the generous portion of fish was fresh and delicious. It came with a choice of french fries, potato chips, or coleslaw. I chose coleslaw. It was tasty and fresh. Bob ordered Grilled Swordfish for $10.95. He received a generous portion, and it was fresh and grilled to perfection. It came with steamed veggies and rice, but he substituted rice for french fries. The veggies consisted of fresh cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, and yellow and green squash.
The restaurant is opened to the public. Parking is allowed inside the resort. Street parking is allowed, but an empty spot is hard to find.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on November 2, 2005
Waldo's Open Air Deck at Driftwood Resort
3150 Ocean Drive
Vero Beach, Florida 32963
After buying our tickets in the gift shop, we walk through the pergola and could see the Hall of Giants, built in 1941 to house the world’s largest table. Waldo Sexton saw the table at the 1903 St Louis Louisiana Purchase Exposition and later tracked it down to a basement in New York City. He had it sent to Florida and built the Hall of Giants around it in his usual style, verbally communicating how he wanted it built with no formal plan; however, the design is a copy of a Polynesian ceremonial palace.
The table, 30 inches long, 5 inches wide, and 6 inches thick, will seat 100 people at one time. Next to the hall is the Spanish Kitchen, a tremendous outdoor grill that will cook 100 steaks at one time. Local events are held there, and some ladies were preparing a huge, enchanting center piece with driftwood and live flowers.
Map in hand, we followed the paths through the gardens. Streams and man-made pools with wonderful purple water lilies were here and there along the paths of the jungle. Exotic subtropical plants were identified with small plaques. A lot of damage had been inflicted on the tall palm trees by the violent September 2004 hurricanes that had hit Vero Beach with a fury.
Rogers’ BIG BUGS were located in remote areas along the trails. They were 10 to 20 feet long and weighed up to 1,200 pounds apiece. Included in the sculptures, made from black locust and bent willows, were a giant dragon fly, a grasshopper, a praying mantis, and three giant ants.
There is an excellent new café on the premises and a library. The new buildings were designed in the Florida Cracker style.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on October 30, 2005
McKee Botanical Garden
350 US Highway 1
Vero Beach, Florida