The back story, Part I -
"The Villages began as a mobile-home park in the 1970s, deeloped by the late Harold Schwartz and his son, Gary Morse, a major contributor to President Bush. Today, its two sales centers offer just six kinds of homes: three villas and three single-family models. Prices range from about $140,000 to more than $1 million, but most are in the $250,000-to-$350,000 range, with modest square footages and basic floor plans.
Home owners' association fees, utilities and community development district assessments run about $12,000 a year. Residents eat out so often that big kitchens--or kitchens of any kind in, aren't important. 'We're trying to figure out what that white thing is between the refrigerator and the sink,' laughed a woman in line for a drink at the nightly town square dance. 'We think it's called a stove.'
The neighborhoods are clustered between two folksy rusticated town squares. Faux St. Augustine architecture is the theme in Spanish Springs, while newer Lake Sumter Landing has fake shipwrecks and clapboard storefronts meant to evoke a quaint fishing village. A third town square, called Brownwood Paddock Square, is under construction. Each of these CityPlace-like outdoor malls has its own Starbucks, shops, restaurants and movie multiplexes, as well as implausible Disney-esque back stories.
'Historic markers' scattered around each 'town' honor fictional events and people like 'Maria Sanchez,' whose plaque says she arrived in Spanish Springs in 1788, concocted a local brew known as 'Mosquito Juice' and served it at the settlement's first tavern. And the brick building labeled Cattlemen's Association, 'established 1867,' is actually a recently built shopping mall.
The buildings are the movie sets where residents act out their long-held dreams of retirement, and no wonder.
Spanish Springs was designed by an architect who worked on Orlando's Universal Studios. Instead of adventure, nostalgia is the theme at this adults-only theme park--nostalgia for what was or should have been.
'We try to create that hometown, small-town feeling, like the one people grew up in or wished they grew up in,' Lester explains of the community, whose motto is 'Florida's Friendliest Hometown."
On one steamy day in late August, no one in Starbucks seemed to mind the theme-park analogy. They boasted about it.
'This is Disney world for adults!' crows Crew Charrand, a Miami native who lived in Broward County before retiring here.
The Villages' humming efficiency and attention to detail are indeed Disney-like. Every day, an army of workers clips and mows the tidy landscape. The playing felds are perfectly groomed.
There isn't a candy wrapper or a stain on the town square sidewalks. Everyone is Happy. No one is Grumpy.
'My children want me to visit them, and I say, 'Oh, do I have to leave the bubble?'' says Charrand, whose golf cart is decked out as a shrine to the Miami hurricanes. 'I haven't swum competitively since high school, but here, I'm on the swim team. Not only that, but there's a bar on every corner; and margaritas are $1.75.'
The Palm Beach Post, Saturday, September 29, 2007.
|The sign says it all.|
|Parking at Spanish Springs|
|One Corner at Spanish Springs|
|This is The Fountain of Youth--St. Patty's Day, the water is green.|
|It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood.|
|A plaque on the gazebo.|
|Straight ahead, right top on building is live cam in Spanish Springs|
|Meet Janet and her small dog, Belle. A Villager six years, Janet hails from Hatboro, PA. Don't forget to call me, Janet. We're on for dinner. Remember?|
|Duck pond at Spanish Springs|
Say goodnight Linda. Goodnight Linda.
See you in print,
Linda Della Donna
"...And sometime when I wasn't looking, I got a new life."