New Year’s Eve Time Travel Offers Tempting Choices – Orlando Sentinel

Florida Flashback |

Dec 26, 2021 at 5:30 AM

Partygoers salute the New Year on Dec. 31, 1947, on the shantyboat “Lazy Bones.” Lois Steinmetz, the wife of photographer Joseph Steinmetz, is playing the accordion. Steinmetz’s images appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, Life, Look, Time, and more. He moved from Philadelphia to Sarasota in 1941. (Florida State Archives / Courtesy photo)

If we could time travel back to New Year’s Eves past, we’d find plenty of tempting targets in Florida. We might don a costume and venture to a fancy-dress ball at Orlando’s Opera House in the 1880s, lit only by candles and kerosene. Buckets of water, anyone?

Decades later, we might sing along to jaunty accordion tunes on a South Florida shantyboat, in a photo snapped on Dec. 31, 1947. The folks in the picture just look so darn happy. And what’s not to smile about? World War II was behind them, fresh oranges and libations were on the table and they were in Florida in winter, where folks had plenty to kick up their heels about in those heady, postwar years, and later, too.

That same year, 1947, Central Floridians could dance in the New Year to the sounds of the Mellotones at the Longwood Hotel or dine there until 3 a.m., according to Sentinel ads. They could also do-si-do at a “Hill-Billy Jamboree” at Orlando’s Davis Armory, with advance tickets at Stroud’s Drugstores for $1.25. The big New Year’s Eve dance at the Coliseum on North Orange Avenue would set you back $2.20. “Reservations limited to avoid overcrowding,” ads declared.

At another Orlando venue, the cover charge in 1947 was a mighty $2.50 at the Flamingo Club just east of town — home of fine food, floor shows and a backstage gambling casino, according to a 1957 Sentinel article. Gents wore tuxedos and ladies showed off their newest evening gowns while they soaked up the sounds of torch singer Billie Fargo, known for her throaty rendition of “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.”

Star and Warren Fletcher of San Antonio, left, and Rex and Barbara Clonts of Apopka ring in the new year at Rosie O’Grady’s in downtown Orlando on Dec. 31, 1976. (Orlando Sentinel file photo)

Retro Gilded Age at Rosie’s

Jumping ahead to 1976, our nation’s Bicentennial year, Sentinel photographer Red Huber ventured on New Year’s Eve to Rosie O’Grady’s Good Time Emporium, the retro Gilded Age music hall that Bob Snow opened in July 1974 and became an Orlando institution.

Make no mistake: Orlando had other nightclubs that summer of 1974 when Rosie’s debuted. Gary “U.S.” Bonds played the “Where It’s At” Lounge that summer, Barbara McNair opened at Disney’s Top of the World club and Ross Raphael’s Orchestra entertained at Winter Park’s Villa Nova.

There were more — Sheik’s, Kilroy’s, the Empire Room at the Langford, Limey Jim’s near Walt Disney World. But nightspots had pretty much disappeared from downtown during the days when news pages sagged with the weight of Watergate and the rumblings of President Nixon’s impeachment.

For decades, in seasonal postcards sent “up North,” Florida residents and visitors have flaunted our lack of a white Christmas except on white-sand beaches. But we do have our own Florida holiday traditions, including a red plant and special postmark.

Into the void, Snow announced Rosie’s in large ads festooned with Victorian wood type and old-timey banjo players. “Rosie O’Grady’s is 75 years behind the times and proud of it,” Sentinel ads proclaimed in 1974.

There was no mention of “cocktails” — although the libations surely flowed. Rosie O’Grady’s was not a “lounge.” Instead, Snow announced, it was “Americana, Ma’s apple pie, railroad cars and whistles in the night, handlebar mustaches, sleeve garters, straw hat and the Fourth of July!”

People loved it. On opening night, “we were mobbed — there were lines going around the building,” Bill Allred, the top-notch jazz man who led Rosie’s band for years, remembered years later, when Rosie’s closed in 2001.

Allred also remembered the big patriotic finale, with Uncle Sam on stilts, flags waving to the tune of “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” and the Statue of Liberty — a woman tapped from the audience to promenade in with the entertainers around the packed room, carrying her torch.

After the Dec 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Dr. Charles Bressler-Pettis was galvanized to express the nation’s unity in a singular, towering vision, the Monument of States. The monument remains at Kissimmee’s Lakefront Park and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on Dec. 8, 2015.

By the mid-1980s, Snow’s Church Street Station entertainment complex had expanded mightily, becoming Florida’s fourth-largest tourist attraction. Rosie’s was its flagship, its cornerstone — the engine that pulled downtown Orlando from its early-1970s depths, bringing back both locals and tourists to streets Central Floridians had given up for dead after business hours. It has a special place in longtime Orlandoans’ hearts all year long.

The Orlando Historic Preservation Board’s gift to residents, its annual calendar, is now available, with copies at the Orange County Regional History Center, Discover Downtown (Orange Avenue at Church Street), and Harry P. Leu Gardens, and also at Orlando City Hall, where they can be picked up at the first-floor floor security desk.

The calendar has been a favorite project of Heather Bonds, the city’s historic preservation officer until last week, when she left the job because of a family move to another city. “I’ve had so much fun researching the subject pictures,” Bonds writes, and we send thanks for all her hard work to preserve Orlando’s architectural history.

The theme of the 2022 calendar celebrates historic windows and doors in the city. The January image features Chris Lounsbury’s photo of the 1935 H. Carl Dann home at 3206 Greens Ave., near Dubsdread Golf Course, which Dann founded.