Small Town Series: This article is part of one of the series that this website will feature as Florida slowly unwraps from the effects of the virus. This article features small towns most visitors to Florida might not normally put on their travel lists.
It’s been over two decades since Jim Carrey escaped from the TV-studio bubble in The Truman Show (1998) and many people now don’t realize that the town on the scenic ocean was not a movie set, but a real Florida village. While its main shops are presently closed due to the virus, they will soon reopen.
Businessman Robert Davis took the eight beachfront acres in Seagrove Beach off US98 that his granddad Alabama store owner J. S. Smolian purchased in 1946 and bought more acreage. Davis loved his youth there and wanted to resurrect his fond memories.
But Davis’ idea for a unified village with over 200 wood frame cottages was not typical in 1980, for Davis loved New Urbanist architecture and recruited Luxembourg urban designer Leon Krier to make his idea a reality. They then hired Miami architects Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Syberk to establish a Southern vernacular design that fit the rural location.
I once owned a condo in downtown Celebration so I realize while some people will love a town without front lawns and perfectly designed walking paths, others will find the conformity or uniformity scary. It is this division of feeling that made Seaside the ideal spot for The Truman Show about a man born into an artificial glass-domed town where everyone and everything was a daily television set.
Seaside is a real town with real people. You will be thrilled or maybe chilled when you visit. The location in Florida’s Panhandle means that Seaside would be unlikely to attract industry. In fact, most residents need to drive down the highway for most of their shopping, despite the quaint downtown surrounding the VILLAGE GREEN, site of the Post Office just off FL30A. Seaside fills up in winter with Northern renters and in summer with Southern beach-goers so that the small all-year population truly does know each other.
Davis warned his critics that Seaside was “an idealized vision of a town” and that it was going to remain “a holiday town.” Still, you might think you are in the movie The Truman Show when you see that despite amazing architecture the white fences and common lettering system gives the village a conforming feel despite houses showing Victorian, New Classical, and other designs..
TOURING SEASIDE can be done on foot since the original village contains just eighty compressed acres, but if you want to drive most of the residential streets using the map, it is best to park at the Village Green or the COTTAGE RENTAL AGENCY and visit the interesting shops, the Playhouse, the Great Southern Cafe (good food), and the Seaside Chapel.
Most people will next want to walk over FL30A to the many beach pavilions, the most photographed features of Seaside, and in keeping with protecting the sand dunes and sea grapes. Each of these walkways is delightful – the wave-shaped Natchez Street Pavilion, the stick shack Odessa Street Pavilion, the latticework East Ruskin Street Pavilion, and the key Tupelo Street Pavilion.
WARNING: It is nice to eat beachside, but the food at the beach didn’t match the cafes at the Village Green.
TUPELO STREET was the first Seaside street and it features some of the most notable cottages, including the GIANT’S ROOST AND TOWER at 109 Tupelo, where renters can get a bird’s eye-view of all the village, and the one-story per floor LEON KRIER COTTAGE, at 115 Rupelo. Krier came from Europe so maybe he wanted a townhouse. Notice all the narrow footpaths that connect each street. Walkers can get around faster than people in automobiles.
Another interesting street is RUSKIN STREET with the wildly skeletal ROGER’S LIGHTHOUSE located at 110 Ruskin, the work of Victoria Casasco. Three doors down is Walther Chatham’s futuristic Cracker dogtrot style cottage with two peaked roofs. SEASIDE AVENUE is the village’s widest esplanade with many two-story houses that serve as large family rentals. At 204 Seaside is the large two-story clapboard double porch vernacular with widow’s walk built by founder Robert Davis
For people who are still looking for “motion picture shots,” you will notice that the town grocery was used as a meeting spot in the film, and Truman’s home is located at 31 Natchez Street. The bubble may be gone, but the uniqueness of Seaside is still there.
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