Castle tower.

Solomon's Castle

Field review by the editors.

Ona, Florida

Howard Solomon is soft-spoken man -- a sculptor with muscular arms and an unfinished high school education. "I hated school. My teachers told my parents I was borderline retarded." One day when he was 17 and his folks were at work, he ripped the back wall off their new suburban home and began adding on porch. "I found that I really enjoyed building things on a grand scale." Now Solomon's parents live in a back room of their son's home, which happens to be a castle in a Central Florida swamp.

Solomon's Castle covers 12,000 square feet and stands (at the moment) three stories high. It's impossible to photograph in the blinding Florida sun, as Solomon has covered every exterior surface with discarded aluminum printing plates. The broad, sweeping brick walkway that leads to it is impressive, until Solomon points out that the "bricks" have simply been painted on poured cement. He laughs as he demonstrates crude, handmade stamp he used; the whole process only took a couple of hours. Whereas other men fight and die for their castles, Howard Solomon fights to keep from laughing at it.

Solomon began building his castle in 1972. He had moved back to the States from the Bahamas looking for a quiet place to work, and found it in a Central Florida swamp. But when he discovered that the land he'd bought didn't have enough high ground to build the horizontal building he wanted, he decided to build vertical. "I never was a very good planner," he admits. "I decided, 'Well, if I'm gonna go up, I might as well pick a style'."

The Dungeon.

Essentially, the castle serves as an exhibition gallery for several hundred pieces of Solomon sculpture; "The ones that didn't sell," he explains.

Solomon gives a scripted tour of his work, the most grueling aspect of an otherwise enjoyable visit ("I wanted to be a comedy writer," he admits). A gun that shoots toilet plungers is used "for flushing out perpetrators." The "Car With a V-8 Engine" has a power plant made out of you-know-what cans. We'll leave it to you to visualize what "Gnome on the Range" and "Holy Mackerel" look like.

Solomon keeps busy adding on to his grand creation. His newest project, the "Boat in the Moat," is a 60-foot replica of a 16th century Portuguese Galleon that serves as the castle's restaurant. "We don't want it to be a huge success," he explains. "I don't want to get stuck in the kitchen."

Update: Solomon finished the boat and then built a lighthouse to handle the overflow from the restaurant. Four generations of Solomons now live in the castle, and Howard plans to keep the place going.

Solomon's Castle

Address:
4585 Solomon Rd, Ona, FL
Directions:
90 min. from Tampa: near Bradenton, exit at St. Rd. 64 and turn E; 30 mi. later, turn S at County Rd 665, go 9 miles.
Hours:
Closed July-Sept. (Call to verify)
Phone:
863-494-6077
Admission:
Adults $10.00
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
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October 23, 2014

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