Preservation of History Is Worth It
By Anne McKay Garris
These directors of the Carlouel Homeowners Association, left to right, Debbie Arnold, Bette Failor, Sue Williams and Chris Hampsey celebrate this newly finished entrance to the Carlouel neighborhood by recounting their reasons for wanting to make it happen.
It started over five years ago. Members of the Carlouel community became concerned that the sixty-five-year-old entry markers were showing signs of listing to port, not a pretty sight and in no way indicative of the charming community beyond. There was sporadic discussion about it, but no action until three years ago when the four ladies began to plan.
Research convinced them that a beautiful new entrance could be designed with the old monuments, carefully restored, as the centerpiece. The monuments, they decided, were rife with history, including the marks where iron rings originally held a chain, barring the way of all comers. Because mostly wilderness lay between the public area near end of the mainland bridge and Carlouel, security measures seemed necessary. Thus, all comers waited at the chained entrance until the guard came out to identify and admit them. The small white house in which the guard was quartered still stands (right, above) just inside the entrance, another treasured piece of Carlouel history.
First the committee obtained an estimate that the cost of the new monument would be around $30,000. Neighbors responded generously to a challenge donation offered by a descendent of one of the first residents of Carlouel and the project was launched..
Wanting the results to be worthy of the beautifully kept homes and lawns on both sides of the Carlouel entrance, they picked one of Clearwater's best known, and outstanding architects, Phil Graham. Graham's design exceeded their expectations. It showed two additional piers on each side of the entrance, built of the same type of stone as the original monuments. The design pictured carefully placed landscaping to enhance the project with decorative pavers at the crossings and in the intersection. The ladies were particularly pleased with the shell design in the pavers, denoting Carlouel's distinctive location beside the Gulf of Mexico. Graham also expanded the vision of how the monument could look, but the estimated cost increased to possibly $60,000.
They chose the nationally respected landscaping firm of Valley Crest to do the building. "The Valley Crest workers were incredible," Mrs. Arnold reports. "You should have seen them carefully hand place the stones to be certain they were exactly right and matching the older stonework."
The ladies headed for city hall with their plan, armed with $60,000, generously donated by both part time and permanent residents of Carlouel, as well as the nearby Clearwater Beach Association. Their first hurdle was the discovery of an ordinance which did not allow private citizens, or their organizations, to build anything in the city's rights-of-way in spite of numerous monuments throughout the city designating the names of neighborhoods. Undaunted, the ladies persuaded the City Council to change the ordinance so that they could proceed with the project.
They watched with dismay as their "perfect" design was modified under the impact of city rules and regulations about landscaping location, view corridors on city streets, and other necessities that required changes.
"We are so proud of our neighbors," says Mrs. Failor. "Over two-thirds of them contributed to the project."
Pleased with successfully collecting the needed additional $30,000, the ladies were not prepared for the final challenge. Because the city would have to close the Mandalay Avenue entrance to Carlouel while work was done on the pavement, another entrance needed to be made available for access and egress while the work proceeded. They figured this would be a matter of removing a barrier across the Narcissus Street entrance. It turned out this could not be done. For safety's sake the short stretch of Narcissus Street pavement had to be brought up to code. This meant another $30,000. Unwilling to give up after all they had been through, the committee went back to their neighbors and the rest of the money was finally raised and the project moved forward.
"But we truly had to work at it," adds Mrs. Williams. "We never actually carried a tin cup and shook it, but we did do some begging."
Today the ladies delight in the finished project is about more than just a charming entrance to the neighborhood and the enthusiastic cooperation that made it possible.
"We believe," says Mrs. Hampsey, "it is important to preserve and enhance the history and traditions of the North Beach and Carlouel communities. We had a considerable struggle to do this project, but we hope it will set a precedent for the other Clearwater communities to cherish their history."
"The only trouble," said Mrs. Failor as we walked away from the monument, "is they can't go near it without weeding the landscaping."
We smiled to see the other ladies, left behind, diligently pulling up the few weeds marring the beauty of their entry monument.
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