Discussion in 'All About SoWal' started by Beauford, Feb 13, 2019.
Anyone know anything?
WCSO ASSISTING SOUTH WALTON FIRE DISTRICT DURING BLAZE IN GRAYTON BEACH
Feb 13, 2019 06:13 AM CST
WCSO is assisting South Walton Fire in evacuating several buildings surrounding the Red Bar in Grayton Beach as a result of a fire. Road access is restricted at this time. PLEASE STAY CLEAR of the area.
View Image(s) at:
Shared from the Walton County Sheriff's Office (FL) app at OCV Apps Store Redirect
Just saw a video on Facebook and SWFD is on scene trying to save surrounding houses but it looks like a total loss
Burned to the ground. So SAD! Oli and crew we are thinking of you. Thank you for so many wonderful memories over the years. Our hearts are breaking.
It's not just the Red Bar that burned down. It is also the Paradise Café, The Shortbranch Saloon, Grayton Place, and The Old Butler Store that have burned down. Our present memories of the Red Bar are just a fraction of the memories that building has held through the years...
The Red Bar is our heart. ♥️
All our love goes out to Oli Philippe and Louis Petit and the entire Red Bar family.
SWFD crews were able to contain the fire to the Red Bar and keep it from severely damaging the adjacent structures. Crews battled strong winds which made it difficult to fight.
Unfortunately the Red Bar sustained heavy fire damage and is now a total loss. No injuries were reported.
Please avoid the area. SWFD Fire Marshal and the Florida State Fire Marshal's Office will conduct an investigation once the scene is secured.
More info to follow once it becomes available.
Surrounding structures affected by the fire as well. Horrible situation. Prayers to those affected by this.
Horrible. Oli, if you see this, we are all so very sorry. Wish there was something I could do other than just pray, but I will do plenty of that. Hang in there buddy.
As the local history freak who is also related to the Butler family, and who grew up in the Grayton Store and has been driven home from the Red Bar so many times you'd think I'd learn...I have been having ugly cries all morning.
And Oli...prayers and love are with you, your family and your staff. While I can drive myself into clinical depression over the loss of a structure, the really important thing is that it happened in the wee hours when nobody was there.
Ugly crying for sure over here all morning.
Many memories!!! Even those memories we can't remember are great memories from back in the day before kids. God I've been craving paneed chicken and mashed potatoes and red bar salad with a roll.
My heart is with Oli and Philip and Louis and the Petit family. Love all the great people who worked there over the years helping to make our lives delicious and FUNN serving up good eats, the best of drinks and awesome live music.
Dread Clampitt where will you go? Will we see a new Red Bar in Grayton Beach soon?
I love The Red Bar always and forever ❤️
Here is a piece of art by local artist Teresa Cline.
So sad to see this news this morning. Many a good time there.
True. So very sad. The Red Bar was one of the last original funky places in the area. Hope they can rebuild on the very spot. Hallowed ground I'd say.
“On behalf of my family and the staff of The Red Bar, I want to thank the community for the tremendous outpouring of support that we have already received. It means a lot to me that we live in a county where our leaders recognize the importance of our shared history, and the efforts so many of us make to shape our community in a positive and unique way.
“I want to tell our patrons and my staff that we will be back, and we will rebuild to the exact previous specifications – maybe with a better bathroom. Life goes on.”
I wrote a story awhile back (it's pretty long, but worth it) and my hopes are to include it in my next book, which is pending, of course, on me getting more good stories down on paper. It dawned on me today that the central character may have been the Old Butler Store, It's somewhat unsettling to know that the "central character" of one of your best stories is now a pile of ashes...
Hampton Echoes let out the most humongous belch. It was a deep cavernous, extended burp, worthy of Pavarotti. He was truly feeling no pain this fine summer evening. “Porta-Potties!” he exclaimed, emphatically, out of nowhere. The usual bunch of us were sitting around on the tailgate of Richard’s old ’55 Ford longbed, paying little attention, getting mellow. Gideon was taking a comfortable piss on Richard’s front right tire. Wild Bill was rolling a big, fat one. The moonlight was drenching us in a hazy, silvery glow. The truck was parked by The Swimming Pool, one of the old familiar spots we use to drive to, when we had to get away from it all. This place was just an old abandoned swimming pool, in the middle of the woods, empty, except for some stagnant puddles, with vines growing all over it. It had a fun, spooky sort of feel to it. The story goes that some rich folks were going to build a house somewhere near Little Redfish Lake, and they decided to start building the pool first, overlooking the lake, but then something happened and the house never quite got built, so when you ventured down this winding dirt road, in the middle of nowhere, you came to a small clearing and an empty pool. The routine, in those days, after the sun went down, was to hang out in the parking lot in front of the Old Butler Store, which years later would become The Red Bar, and just sip beers out of someone else’s cooler. Even back then, it was the center of what night life we might conjure. There was never much going on inside; just two pinball machines, and a ping pong table. It was much cooler outside. A gentle breeze was always coming off the Gulf; cool, thick, and salty. We felt a little more comfortable sipping a beer out in the parking lot, far away from any authority. If we wanted to get more comfortable… if we wanted to get “toasty”, as it were, we would have to pile in somebody’s truck, or Wilbur’s old brown bomber of a van, and drive to somewhere private. The Swimming Pool was one of our favorite spots. It was the epitome of seclusion. It was just the perfect place to listen to Creedence and howl at the moon.
“Porta-Potties”, he exclaimed once more, with a maniacal grin, as the doobie came around to him, one more time. He put the reefer to his lips and let it dangle precariously, as he popped open another bottle of Corona by hitting the cap off, on the edge of the truck bumper. He pulled the joint from his lips and blew softly on it, to watch the embers sparkle. I don’t know why he ever did that. Probably, just for dramatic effect. Wild Bill was getting impatient for his turn, and looked slightly annoyed. Hamp, once again, pulled it to his mouth and took a masterful toke as the embers lit up once more, and his eyes glazed over. He wasn’t necessarily talking about those plastic portable toilets we had all learned to love, at outdoor concerts and fairs, and most anywhere you felt a need to pee. It was more like he was seeing into the future, I suppose. But just which future he was talking about, was uncertain. It could go several directions, and, in the end, it all would center around Porta-Potties, he was convinced. Somehow, Hampton just knew.
He was seeing the growth in development coming in the future to this area that we loved so dearly. Even back then he could see it coming. It could have grown up much in the fashion we all have witnessed, and dreaded for so many years, or it could have grown up different… Humans have always had a knack for ruining things, and recently, it seems, they have come in swarms to devour the beaches of South Walton County.
You had to venture back in time to find solace. There was a golden era of beach life in the seventies. Everyone had a jeep, and there were no restrictions to driving on the beach. There were dogs, kids, and colorful characters, almost anywhere on any given day. We use to walk through the dunes, but our meager footprints were probably covered over by the winds before sunrise. But heck, there just weren’t that many people. Maybe a dozen and half of us juveniles could be seen hanging out at the Old Butler Store, but that was on a busy night.
Then, something happened that would change things a lot, but the change would be subtle, and a good thing. A community evolved on a sleepy piece of land just west of Seagrove. A community planned out like no other. The Town of Seaside started out as just a couple old shacks salvaged from old Panama City Beach. They were transported by trucks, and set up near the beach, near the center of the proposed town, to be a meeting place, the market of Perspicasity, and the Seaside Grill. And then the town grew up slowly, with a couple of quaint little cottages being built on Tupelo Street, that were reminiscent of the old houses we had come to know, with great affection, in Grayton. After that, with curiosity and anticipation, we noticed these remarkable pavilions being built on the bluffs overlooking the beach, each one unique and captivating in their contrast to the landscape of sand dunes, palmettos and young scrub oaks that had been there so long. They were definitely an intrusion on the wilderness we had been so use to, but they seemed to bring an elegant order to the development that was looming.
Seaside wasn’t a booming development by any means. It was a slow, steady unfolding of a plan, and indeed a lifestyle, which intended to bring people more together in buildings that remained in human scale. The eighties were a good time for locals and newcomers alike, with a lot of excitement about where we were headed. Seaside became nationally known, and changed our little sleepy area into a destination that everyone had to come and see, and, quietly admire. And it began an era of building that has never stopped. Perhaps this is what Hamp was seeing in the late sixties. If our gang of rascals had had a lick of sense, we would have invested our pennies into Porto-Potties. We could have been servicing all those new construction sites, one after the other, and become millionaires. Nope, we didn’t do that, but most of us did end up in the construction business anyway. There was a time, probably in the late eighties into the mid-nineties, when you knew most all of the building contractors and carpenters in this area. There were probably no more than thirty of them. And maybe thirty realtors, as well.
Hurricane Opal made a direct hit on our beaches in 1995, and changed things in more ways than you might think. Besides rearranging the beach, and slicing back great swaths of the sand dunes, it also wrecked quite a few houses. And it opened up opportunities. In the aftermath of that great storm, it seemed like there almost a locust storm of new construction. Every day, we would see new shiny big trucks with fancy unfamiliar names written on the doors. Contractors came in herds to haul the old busted houses away, and build new houses, many houses, big houses. It was during that time that the term “monster house” started to creep into our vocabulary. Grayton Beach, which for a hundred years remained a cluster of small one story cottages nestled into a quiet corner, nudging the shores of Western Lake, now saw monstrosities of huge houses, packed with bedrooms for the masses that came to rent them. There was still the minimal amount of parking, but hey, that’s somebody else’s problem. Somebody, with a large shop yard full of Porta-Potties, was probably cleaning-up, in those days, financially, as well as literally.
This boom just escalated into the late nineties and into the first decade of the new millennium. St. Joe Paper Company, the sleeping giant of Northwest Florida, decided to start converting their vast acreage of forests into housing developments, much of it along County Road 30-A, and they went full throttle. And now it’s 2017, and no one has stopped building, and we are using the same set of roads we had in 1969. The same set of roads, and the locust storm of contractors mingles with the locust storm of tourists, and we all sit in our cars and trucks, waiting to get through That Damn Intersection…
This is Part Two:
But, maybe that was not the vision Hamp was having on that warm summer night, drinking beer, in the moonlight, next to the deserted swimming pool. It could have been different…
The year was 1967. The state of Florida was proposing a continuation of highway C30-A from Panama City through the southern half of Walton County, roughly, along the wilderness coastline. Before this was proposed, Highway 98 was the only major road connecting Ft. Walton Beach and Panama City. It took a direct line inland at Miramar Beach and cut straight through large pine forests to Inlet Beach, staying a healthy five or six miles from the Gulf in most places. Along this primitive stretch of beach, where the new road was proposed, was a spectacular stretch of white sand beaches, with towering sand dunes that nudged against forests of tall pines. Magnolias accented the bluffs, and everywhere else seemed to be a sea of palmettos and waist deep prairies of scrub oak. I use to ponder if someone could strap on some snow shoes, those wide tennis racket-looking things, and walk across the top of the tight carpet of scrub oaks. Interspersed in all this greenery was a string of majestic lakes of every size and shape. Some were fresh water, but most were coastal dune lakes that intermittently broke out into the Gulf, and then closed up again. It was mostly a wilderness with several small scattered settlements of beach cottages dotting the landscape, every once in a while. There was a settlement in Dune Allen and another in Seacrest. There was a modest group of houses in Seagrove, and, of course, the small town of Grayton Beach. But, that was the only traces of people in a vast majestic wilderness. To get to each of these villages, you took a long, two-lane, blacktop road that led you there from highway 98. Everything in between these places was just a vast, pristine stretch of paradise.
Sometime in 1967, a carload of four boys, just barely out of high school, took a left turn at Highway 395 south, the Seagrove Road, off of U.S. Highway 98. They were on their way to New Orleans from Jacksonville. It was a long drive, and they just wanted to get away; get off the beaten track. Something made them turn off the highway onto this primitive winding road, headed south. They had a crumpled map, but I think they just wanted to go where there were places that weren’t on any map. The Seagrove Road led to a place like that; a very small collection of one story cinder block beach cottages, spread out on a tall, tall bluff, overlooking the Gulf. And interspersed with the houses were grand majestic oak trees, twisted in fascinating shapes. It was obvious these trees had stood for hundreds of years against a multitude of storms. Huge magnolias were mingled with the oaks, towering stately tall compared to the oaks, and palmetto plants seemed to accent everything. The guys stopped at the one small local store, called Thornton’s Grocery, to get some gas, and to find out a little more about this place.
As luck would have it, there was somebody in the store at that moment that could help show them around. Cube McGee Jr. was sort of a handsome, dashing kind of guy. He seemed almost like somebody right out of a Hollywood movie. He almost always wore Hawaiian print shirts with wide lapels. He liked to wear a gold watch, a gold belt buckle, and sometimes even a gold medallion around his neck. He was always smiling, always charming, and always ready to show property for sale, when he wasn’t golfing. You see, his father was the man who founded Seagrove. C.H. McGee Sr. saw this property in the early 50’s, and saw a vision of what it could be. He subdivided it up into lots and put in a few gravel roads, and slowly sold a few pieces of land, and Cube Jr. helped the buyers build their beach cottages.
Cube took a liking to these strangers, and offered them a ride in his Willys jeep, which was something quite astonishing to them. They had never ridden in a jeep before, having grown up in the big city, and when Cube veered off the pavement onto a dirt road that quickly landed them onto the pristine white beaches of the Gulf of Mexico, it simply took their breath away. They motored east, laughing and joking, and with every breath of air, tinged with the taste and smell of salt, you could tell they were just rejuvenated. They had been on the road a long time, going from city to city, and this was all just too much.
Cube McGee Jr. drove them along the beach until they came to the Eastern Lake Inlet. It was truly an awesome experience to see one of these coastal lakes breach the barrier of sand between it and the Gulf and empty volumes of earthy brown fresh water into the sparkling, salty Gulf of Mexico. It was gushing out far too powerfully this morning, to cross in a jeep, so they parked there for a while and just gazed at the dunes, in the distance, east of there. The sand dunes stretched as far as the eye could see. After that, Cube led them up an old dirt road that led to Billy Wesley’s old cabin on the bluff overlooking the lake. The Gulf of Mexico lay glistening in the background. The story goes that the old cabin had been built with salvaged lumber from the old slave’s quarters at the Wesley Mansion in Point Washington, a small town about 5 miles inland from there, on the Choctawhatchee Bay. The cabin was surrounded by a canopy of scrub oaks.
“I like this one!” Paul exclaimed, as if he meant to purchase it on the spot. He seemed to be the leader of the bunch. The others agreed it was a wondrously nice piece of property, and all that. “But, what would we do with it?” the tall one, with funny looking round wire-rimmed glasses, asked. “Nothing,” was his instant reply. “We would do nothing… we would just let it be.”
The boys had been on the road, you see, touring America, playing music every night in packed auditoriums to millions of screaming fans. It had gotten a bit too much. The four young lads from a cold damp working port in England had been pasty white for nearly all their lives, and now, having felt a little sunshine on their faces at their last stop in Jacksonville, they were simply transported to a new and wondrous place, and they truly loved it.
If you were a King and you came upon a place as close to paradise as you will ever see, what would you do? Wouldn’t you try to buy it? Well, at that moment in time, in 1967, the Beatles were the Kings of Rock and Roll. They were not only the Kings, but they had buddies who weren’t doing so badly either. There were more than a few wild eyed dreamers playing brilliant guitar and singing with such inspiration that the whole wide world was just taking off. They were also making lots of money.
John, Paul, George, Ringo, and Cube spent the rest of the day driving in Cube’s old yellow Willys Jeep down every beach road they could find in South Walton County. There was no Highway C-30A, so they took each individual road, from Highway 98, a lazy two lane blacktop, down to Dune Allen, to Blue Mountain, and then lastly, to Grayton Beach. And it was there, sitting on the front steps of the Old Butler Store, sipping beers, that they vowed that there would never be a County Road 30-A. It was there that the plan was hatched to save paradise. Cube, in addition to being a hip, suave business man, also had connections to the politics of this sleepy county. With some luck, and a whole lot of money, 30-A could become a figment of someone’s imagination, and would soon be forgotten. The Beatles had their friendships with virtually all the upcoming stars of the rock world. With a pooling of money and a pooling of resources, the grand scheme came into being.
Somehow, all the land south of Highway 98 from Miramar to Inlet Beach was purchased and amalgamated by the Conglomerate. It was the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, and the list goes on and on. It was no small feat, getting all these acts together, but as someone once said, all you need is love, and of course, a whole lot of money. But more importantly was the vision: Let It Be. From that moment on, in the middle of 1967, there would be no more permanent construction in South Walton County. The Highway 98 corridor was completely open and ready for commercialization, but any and all new construction, south of there, was prohibited. The existing houses and stores could be renovated but only using historical preservation guidelines. There was to be no new asphalt ever to be applied to the existing roads. As they deteriorated, they could be patched with brick and cobblestone, which really didn’t matter much, since internal combustion engines were to be phased out in time, anyway.
Cube McGee Jr., some would say, had an easy life. His daddy started Seagrove, and from then on, all he had to do live there, and in the early days, take a little bit of money from the people that wanted to buy property there and help them build their dream homes. He was known to play a lot of golf. And that proved to be fortunate in the Beatles’ dream. Through his contacts on the golf links, Cube got to know the finest in electric golf carts, and the finest in electric golf cart builders and designers. This would later become invaluable. Through trial and error, it became apparent that banning all transportation would be untenable. Interesting things just developed from there. A crowd of condominiums, and hotels sprang up along both sides of 98, along with regular single family subdivisions. A vast number of outfitters and bicycle shops flourished, as well.
But the evolution of forest trails was by far the most satisfying aspect of the entire plan. There were, of course, main arteries that had to carry provisions to the various scattered meeting places and campgrounds. There was, of course, an initial problem of just what to call this vast pristine wilderness. Some people suggested Seagrove. Others, of course wanted it to be something like Grayton. Even stranger names were concocted, like Seaside, Seahaven, or SoWal, but, in the end, the lads settled on “Eleven Lakes”. It would evolve into a vast network of trails connecting “Inland”, Highway 98, to the Gulf of Mexico, but more importantly, to the Coastal Dune Lakes.
It, naturally enough, evolved into something of an ongoing, aquatic, music festival. Trails started out as paths that led to special spots. Certain places along the shorelines of these precious lakes just offered vistas of uncompromised natural beauty. As the paths slowly evolved to trails, these places changed to subtle camping grounds. Not far from these camping grounds, musicians would design small stages and amphitheaters in rather intimate scale, keeping these places as removed as possible from the places of quiet peace. In fact, the larger music spots were placed several miles inland from the lakes and gulf. They were designed as excavated bowls into the ground, which would help dampen the sounds to anyone outside the listening area. Along the lakes, there would be places to launch kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards, but there were no places where they would be parked permanently. Everything was brought in and brought out by ingenious, clever, top of the line, electric golf carts, or by cool pedal machines of every variety. The primary theme was leave nothing but your footprints.
While the flora remained much like the way it had been for millions of years, some people thought tweaking the fauna might be an amusing undertaking. Adding horses to the habitat was of course, a reasonable choice. Riding trails and stables grew up in various places. Because of the nature of the vast stretches of rolling white sand dunes, the implementation of camels seemed a fitting adventure. It was not an uncommon sight to see caravans of camels striking out through the wilderness laden down with kayaks, surfboards, and beach supplies, to find that perfect getaway on the gorgeous, white pristine beaches.
The list of exotic and sometimes amusing animals would go on and on. Each founding member was allowed to contribute one specie. Ostriches, kangaroos, and more than a few elegant peacocks could be seen roaming the region from time to time. I’m not sure why giraffes were chosen, but, to me, they always seemed to add an element of grandeur to the setting. Perhaps the species that was the most endearing to the visitors was the flock of pink flamingos that was propagated in the very early days by the introduction of just two of those sweet picturesque birds. For quite a while, everybody was always on the lookout for “Ringo’s Flamingos”.
Some people stayed around “Eleven Lakes” for days. Some people stayed and played for weeks. The lakes were playgrounds for people on kayaks and paddleboards. Nothing ever seemed permanent, and, as always, the golf carts brought provisions in, and carried happy “wilderness warriors”, back out. The existing structures evolved over time. Most became cabins or make-shift country stores to provide visitors with their daily supplies. The Beatles bought that old cabin on the bluff at Eastern Lake and made it into a down home rustic recording studio with primitive bunk beds for visiting musicians. Rumor has it that “Norwegian Wood” was written there, next to the old brick fireplace, on a cold December night, with a full moon rising over the lakeshore. The grand dame of all buildings south of 98 was, of course, the Old Butler Store, in the center of Grayton Beach. The building that had weathered so many storms before had a new challenge to confront. The Rolling Stones took it over, kept the same size and décor, and turned it into a blues bar. After days on the trails of “Eleven Lakes”, there was nothing better than to be sitting in old weathered beaten wooden booths, mellow in the afterglow of a perfect sunset, listening to a soothing fresh version of an old Muddy Waters song; blues and cold brews at The Old Butler Store. Some people said it was not an uncommon occurrence to see Sting sitting in on bass, on a warm summer night, mumbling something about somebody named Roxanne, and Keith Richards, loud and sassy, playing a deliciously deranged bartender, in full tilt.
“But, what about the s**t?” I asked Hampton, abruptly, as he rattled on about this vision of his. We were on our second joint, and somebody had pulled out a half bottle of Jack Daniel’s. The illusion was getting all too real, and I felt it necessary to punch holes in it. “What are people going to do about bathrooms in this wilderness? This wilderness with nothing permanent. What about the s**t?” It was then that Hampton flashed that cock-eyed grin of his. He took his final toke for the night, sipped the last of the Jack, laid out flat in the bed of the truck, looking up at the stars, and said simply “Porta-Potties”. In “Eleven Lakes”, this huge wilderness compound where nothing is permanent, and everything is changing naturally, as it should be, there would be truly portable Porta-Potties, almost everywhere. Not bright blue or pink plastic eyesores, but subtle boxes made up to look like bamboo tiki huts, with thatched roofs, or just like old common barnwood outhouses, with tin roof, rusted They would be everywhere, but almost unnoticeable, and the genius is that these portable toilets would be just coming and going, on electric golf carts, of course, and from then on, only the bears would have to s**t in the woods.
From time to time I think about those good old days at The Swimming Pool, when we just let our imaginations soar, and I think about some of the things Hamp use to say, and I just have to chuckle. Right now, I’m sitting in another major summer traffic jam, on Highway 30-A, and I’m sitting in my truck near Eastern Lake, heading west, and I’m in a line of cars maybe two and a half miles long, inching slowly towards the intersection of 395, and I really got to pee…
Sometimes, things just don’t really turn out quite like the way we wish they would. “Eleven Lakes” was surely an illusion, but an illusion of the most grand and honorable intent. Hampton had a knack for that, but now reality really beckoned. The truth is, lord knows, right now, I can feel a real need for a super duper deluxe tiki hut looking portable electric golf cart Porta-Potty, and I mean, right now… Hampton, I surely do wish you were here.
Separate names with a comma.