Kapok Tree Inn - Gaudy Excess
The Kapok Tree Inn operated as a restaurant from 1957 to 1991, and while that is a time long gone, its legendary gaudy gardens live on. Lavish landscapes are filled with Roman inspired fountains, kitschy statuary, and tiled plazas. Three businesses operating out of the old building have maintained much of the exterior Kapok Tree experience.
When the Inn opened in 1957, the huge, adjacent kapok tree was already a firmly established tourist attraction (grown from an alien tree species brought from India in the 19th century). The Kapok Tree Inn was created by businessmen Richard B. Baumgardner and Jim Jones -- it ultimately contained 12 dining rooms, seating hundreds.
The property's over-the-top architecture is a pastiche of classical Italy, Greece, and other influences. A long row of Italian Fountains spews 60,000 gallons of water an hour. In the South Garden, towering Caryatid statues share the undergrowth around a pond with lawn deer statues.
Stick you head into the Sam Ash store, and you can still see some of the interior vestiges of the Kapok Tree Inn. The actual namesake kapok tree is in front in the West Garden.
The Kapok Tree Inn was spectacular in its prime. But it's pretty good in its current state, too -- and enjoyable to wander and appreciate (when no events are scheduled).
While some of the statues need a good mold scraping, in general everything is in decent repair -- and very otherworldly in the heart of Clearwater.