He was the DaVinci of Debris, the Rembrandt of Reclamation, the Wizard of Odds and Ends and the Savior of Salvage; now come on in!  

There are quirky places in Florida and then there’s this: a 12,000-square-foot home and accompanying boat restaurant crawling with sculptures made out of discarded brake shoes, bicycle chains, scrap metal, beer bottles and whatever other “junk” was salvaged.  Eccentricities found in the middle of a swamp in Central Florida, who would have thought?

Built by artist, author, and businessman – not to mention, 22 other trades – Howard Solomon, the castle and all of its’ kitchy contents was a mindbending road trip on Saturday.   

For $16, we toured the campy installations and eccentric sculptures on display inside an aluminum fortress that Solomon built in 1972.   Surrounded by lonely dirt roads and orange groves, the 3-story creation shines like a diamond in the rough.   

Juxtaposed against a wet swamp Howard’s dry sense of humor lives on.  The guides are friends and family members with amazing memories – all recite 40-minutes of script that Solomon wrote when he was alive and gave tours.  If you’re not fond of Solomon’s creativity, no worries, you’re bound to laugh at his levity.  (Secretly, he longed to write for sitcoms.) 

Born in 1935, Solomon started his curious craft at the age of four whittling a block of wood into a little car using his mother’s knitting needles with knobs at the ends as wheels.   That triggered a lifetime obsession of repurposing discarded materials from “junk” into “treasure.”  He was a pioneer when it came to recycling. 

We were intrigued by the metal coat hangers he twisted into a menagerie of zoo animals.  We were fascinated by the beer cans he formed into rocking chairs and fish montages.  And, we were awe-struck by the beautiful stained glass windows he cut, sketched and framed. All of this was done without ever writing his ideas down on paper.  

Guide Cindy said, “Lionel (a life-size lion) is made from five oil drums, weighs 190 pounds and only took 45 days to construct.  He has 2 glass eyes and 2 brass balls, that’s what we call our ‘ball-bearing’ lion!”   We roared with laughter.

The Boat in the Moat restaurant and the Automobile Museum are equally as charming but given that photography was not permitted inside either it was difficult to remember what I saw.   Regardless, this is a trip worth making wherever you might be in Florida. 

For more information:  Solomon’s Castle website

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