"X" Marks the Spot
by Donna Malloy
Photo Courtesy Suzanne Boschen
CLEARWATER BEACH - The postcard from Doug and Ruth, dated September 5th, 1956 and mailed with a two-cent stamp to their parents in Saginaw, Michigan, stated: "Dear Folks: 'X' marks the place we stayed last nite. It is really warm this a.m. We had breakfast and are on our way out. Don't work so hard so you both stay O.K. Our Love, Doug & Ruth." The family's destination was one of the many humble "Ma and Pa" motels within walking distance to the beach, one they returned to year after year.
Once Doug safely parked the family car in the dirt parking lot, the vacationing family headed to their rooms to hurriedly unpack their light weight clothing and neatly arrange their belongings in the musty chiffonier before heading to the beach. Sparse but clean, the rooms contained all that was necessary for their two-week stay; bed, round side table with lamp, bureau, wooden chair and a small picture of palm tree hung over the chair. The windows were open because there was no air conditioning; only the sound of palm fronds swaying in the wind filtered through the salty screens. No television, no radio, no computer, no cell phone; "X" marks the spot.
Ruth then walked the sandy path from the motel to the Gulf of Mexico; towels and kids in tow. "The kids swam until 11:00 a.m., then we'd have lunch and had to take a nap until 2:00 p.m." Suzanne Boschen recollects. "We'd keep one eye on the clock waiting until 2:00 p.m. when we could run back to the beach." In the later afternoon when the off shore breeze picked up, the kids would fly a box kite. No jet skis, no noise; "X" marks the spot.
Suzanne is the daughter of George and Elsie Boschen, who have owned and operated the Seagull Apartments at 675 Mandalay Avenue since the early 1940's. Built in 1938, the Seagull is one of the few remaining original motels from this bygone era on Clearwater Beach.
"The women took the kids to the beach and the men went fishing. When the men returned around 5:00 p.m., my Dad would clean the grouper in the backyard and we'd fry them up. In those days you could go out five-miles and catch a 100-pound grouper. We had so much grouper we buried the leftovers as fertilizer for the trees."
In the evenings, "the adults would sit outside in the yard and socialize, TALK, while their children played games like tag or Mother-May-I? At what is now Pier 60, a small miniature golf course entertained the children while their parents watched the fishermen haul in their catch of the day.
The only show in town was George Brown's Auction House, which was located just south of what is now the Sun Trust building.
"George ran the auction house during season from October to May. There were glass windows in front so you could see what was going on inside, and inside the room had nice theater seats." Brown specialized in "British whimsies" and auctioned everything from a $2,000 Chippendale table to a 25-cent hairbrush; "everyone could buy something" continued Suzanne.
The Battle of the Bands at Clearwater Beach's Pier 60 arrived in the 60's. "On Sundays we'd go down and do the limbo; some adults said we'd 'go to hell.' "
Concerned about teenage drinking, the local police built a tower approximately 50 feet south of the pier to keep an eye on the rambunctious teenagers.
"Once in a while, someone would be taken away in a paddy wagon" recalled Suzanne.
What is now the small parking lot east of Frenchy's Rockaway was once Bounceland where eight trampolines were recessed into the ground. For a small fee, you could bounce for hours, especially if you knew the kid running the concession.
Howard Johnson's was just a short walk from Bounceland and the place to buy a chocolate chip ice cream cone. At nearby Clearwater Marina, lights were installed under the docks and you could "snag a mullet" or two. No mall, no movie theater, no Disneyland; "X" marks the spot.
Groceries required a trip downtown to Clearwater's Quick Check which is now the town pond on Prospect Street. Suzanne recalls the "thrill of watching our groceries transported in wire baskets up the conveyor belt and out of sight. Then we'd pull up with our car and give the operator our number which was mounted on a safety pin and he'd load our groceries."
"The same families returned year after year until the kids started having their own families. We grew up together."
And every year, someone pokes their head in the door and asks: "Do the Boschen's still own this place?" recalls Suzanne.
"X" marks the spot.
1956 Postcard. Looking west toward Clearwater Beach, in the foreground is the Ft. Harrison Hotel and the Causeway; "X" marks the spot where vacationers Doug and Ruth stayed.
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