When William Henry Gleason founded Eau Gallie more than 150 years ago it’s probably safe to say he had no idea that this community nestled adjacent to the Indian River and named for the coquina rocks along its’ shoreline would eventually evolve into Brevard County’s cultural center. After merging with the city of Melbourne forty years ago, the area was in danger of losing its identity, but all that has changed in recent years. Today Eau Gallie has earned the reputation as an artists’ Mecca, a cultural haven where city leaders continue their efforts to promote the area’s artistic opportunities while encouraging growth and revitalization
Eau Gallie Arts District (EGAD) Director Mary Wallis, perhaps the area’s biggest cheerleader, is enthusiastic about the transformation of the downtown area, the changes that have already taken place and those yet to come. “Over time our identity is being formed,” says Wallis, “so that all you need to say is the Eau Gallie Arts District and everyone will know where you are talking about.” Wallis spent a good portion of her summer working on the area’s application for Main Street Status, hoping Eau Gallie will join downtown Melbourne and Cocoa Village as a designated Florida Main Street. The program, administered by the Bureau of Historic Preservation, designates traditional historic commercial corridors as part of a self-help program for the revitalization of downtown areas.
Seeds Sewn in the Overlay Zone Begin to Flourish
In 2008 the city of Melbourne created an Overlay Zone from Creel north to McLendon Street and from Avocado east to Pineapple Avenue. Zoning changes were made to the 30-acre residential area allowing for light commercial use in the hopes it would create an ideal live-work environment. Doug Dombroski, the Economic and Redevelopment coordinator for the city of Melbourne, says the revitalization efforts, including the creation of the Overlay Zone, are the result of a grass roots community drive. “The initial idea was to attract artists to a live-work environment,” says Dombroski. Although of the three initial properties only one is artist-owned, Dombroski says the goal of the program is being achieved. “Some of these properties had been owned by absentee landlords, so were are bringing this back to the community. The idea is to maintain the residential look and scale of the properties, keeping the area pedestrian friendly and preserve the character of the neighborhood.” Part of the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) stimulus package includes a dollar for dollar match (up to $7,500 for the city and $7,500 for the property owner) to assist with conversion costs-code enforcement stipulations and ADA requirements established for commercial properties.
Setting the Standard
Watercolor artist Beth Anne Fairchild was one of the first to take advantage of the new zoning and will soon open her Art Gallery/Studio at the corner of Highland Avenue and Creel Street. She hopes that her cottage will serve as example to others. “I’ve spent a lot more than the initial grant,” says Fairchild. “But I wanted to make a statement about what the district should look like. I consider this my community service-the cornerstone of the district should be beautiful. I want to see the buildings around it not only live up to what I’ve done, but outdo it-that’s what will make this area a destination.”
Additional Overlay Zone projects
-McBride Marketing Group relocated their offices to a two story historic home and is working on the conversion to add additional parking and handicapped access.
-An $80,000 renovation that will house a doctor’s office
A Significant Investment
Photographer Erika Masterson and her husband Ed chose to convert their Pineapple Avenue property to a commercial unit, completing a $100,000 renovation housing her studio and his home entertainment design business last October. “Being a photographic artist,” says Masterson, “the whole feel of the Art District is what I was looking for. It’s important to be here and I like telling my clients we’re located here. The Key West house provides a good backdrop for my photographs and being on Pineapple Avenue we get a lot of drive-by traffic. We’re very excited to be getting one of the first Eau Gallie Art District signs and will display it prominently.
Erika Masterson Photography Studio
1610 Pineapple Ave.
Following the extensive restoration of a Guava Avenue structure that had been vacant since the 2004 hurricanes, ceramic artist Valerie Karas opened her pottery studio in April of 2009. “I wanted to be a part of the Art District,” says Karas. “The closeness to the Brevard Art Museum was important to me. I thought it would be nice to be one the verge of growing district.” The primary focus of her Indian Rover Pottery Guild is to provide facilities for amateur and professional clay artists to work. “I think we have the best clay studio in the area-one of the best in the state, says Karas.
Indian River Potters’ Guild
1542 Guava Ave.
The Heart of the District
Since 1978 the Brevard Art Museum has served as the community’s “cultural bridge” and one of the motivating factors behind the establishment of the Art District in Eau Gallie. “We court artists to relocate here with the promise of our First Friday art walks,” says Mary Wallis, “and the presence of the Brevard Art Museum. Museum President Steven Maklansky has been wonderful to feature several local artists in the museum galleries.”
“We plan to continue our C.A.R.E. (Community Artist Recognition Exhibits)”, says Maklansky, who also plans to explore “the integration of art, science, culture and technology” during an upcoming exhibit from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology museum. In early December the museum will host a show coinciding with the release of Illuminated World’s The Bible Illuminated: The Book, Old Testament, a contemporary retelling “featuring interesting and compelling photographs, This is an opportunity for people of all beliefs to ponder the relationship between images and text.”
“The presence of the Art Museum, the museum school the BCA Village and BSO offices really emphasize that this really is the cultural center of the county,” says Wallis. Maklansky says he’s “thrilled with all the excitement that’s going on in the district. We see ourselves as major gravitational pull being here in the center,” and predicts ”we’re currently planning our own transformation that will put the museum and the Art District on the map as a center of creativity and ingenuity.”
Home Sweet Home
The Brevard Cultural Alliance’s new BCA Village consists of four artists cottages, BCA and EGAD offices (including a conference room and resource center) and a TDC Cultural Information Center. The Guava Avenue property renovation is being funded through special sponsorships and partnerships, including a $40,000 grant from the city of Melbourne. Acting Director Kathy Engerran says, after serving the community for 35 years, the BCA’s decision to locate in Eau Gallie makes sense.
“Since this is the first designated arts district and part of the BCA’s mission is community revitalization through the arts, this is one way of furthering that goal. I think it will be a big boost for the district and hopefully it will further brand the BCA as a not-for-profit organization. I think there is a perception that we’re a government entity so this should help clarify the BCA’s identity and emphasize that we are accessible to local artists.” During an Open House at the BCA Village this summer 135 people stopped by to check on the progress. “Everyone was so delighted and supportive of what we’re doing,” says incoming BCA Board Chairman Bunny Finney. “It’s so much fun to be there, there’s so much energy right now. I think this is exactly what the community needs. The creation of art brings such a positive energy-that’s what art can do.” Completion of the entire project is scheduled for late 2010-early 2011.
A Fresh Start
The Eau Gallie Pier, destroyed in the 2004 hurricanes, has been renovated in part thanks to the city of Melbourne and a Waterfront Florida Partnership grant. Also included in those renovations was Eau Gallie Square. ““Part of the momentum that was started with the Square and the Pier development has slowed somewhat as a result of the national economic downturn,” according to Wallis. “Although we do have vacancies we have seen things stabilize. This economy just slammed the brakes on everything, so the fact they we’ve been able to maintain is, in a way, a success.” The Square, home to a hugely successful weekly Farmer’s Market every Saturday, continues to serve as a focal point of the area, particularly during EGAD’s monthly First Friday celebrations. Wallis says, “three years ago this almost became a 7-11. The city of Melbourne bought the property and the community really came together, including the Eau Gallie Rotary who raised the money to help build the band shell. This harkens back to the days of a downtown square. There is a real sense of community here-even the businesses that don’t deal directly with art are supportive of the artists.” Work already completed on Pineapple Park includes the addition of new playground equipment while construction is underway on permanent restrooms. The Junior League of South Brevard recently relocated to the area. “They actually targeted this area for their relocation, which I think says something about what we’re trying to accomplish here.” This month (Sept. 3) the Junior League and the new Sweetie Pie Baking Company featuring pies by Joan Flavin and cheesecakes by Katie Fredericks will hold their grand opening celebration during First Friday. The Brevard Housing Authority has moved into offices on Montreal, “brining new customers to our local restaurants and shops.” The live-work concept is showcased at Eau Gallie Woodworking, a full service custom cabinet shop featuring workspace and showrooms on the first floor and an apartment on the second story and Tom Power’s Guava Art House. The first floor of the newly constructed artists studio and gallery serves as a gathering place for local artists and art organizations.
Eau Gallie Woodworking
1477 Guava Ave.
Guava Art House
1512 Guava Ave.
Still to Come
Wallis is currently working on the creation of Melbourne’s first historic district that would include the Rossetter House Museum. “Historic preservation is important and significant in terms of our cultural identity. What I love about the Rossetter House is that they’re an attraction that draws a different crowd from the art crowd exposing the area to a lot of different people.” Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, James Rossetter built his home on Highland Avenue in 1908 when Eau Gallie (population 200) had a hotel and thriving commercial district on the Indian River. Other significant historical structures in the district include the historic Winchester Symphony House, home of the Brevard Symphony Orchestra. Since it was built in 1886 there have been extensive renovations and it is currently listed as an Historical Site for Brevard County and the State of Florida. The Old Pineapple Inn and Guest House, a Victorian Bed and Breakfast is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Brevard Symphony Orchestra
1500 Highland Avenue
The Old Pineapple Inn
1736 Pineapple Avenue
Wallis is working with the CRA on a Façade program where the city will provide matching funds to merchants who make storefront improvements. Also in the preliminary planning stages is a Streetscape project in the downtown core area that will include pedestrian scale lighting as well as landscape and sidewalk improvements. “All of these improvements are designed to attract businesses to the area,” says Doug Dombroski. “All of our CRA areas have a lot of community involvement. Monthly workshops and planning meetings are all designed to encourage community input.”
Mary Wallis says merchants in the area have seen definite signs of an improving economy over the past several months and is optimistic about the approaching holiday shopping season. “We really want people to see what we have to offer. What could be a more personal gift than art or jewelry created by our local artists?”
Coming up at the Historic Rossetter House Museum & Gardens
1320 Highland Avenue
321-254-9855 | www.rossetterhousemuseum.org
September 3 | Ghost Tour
September 18-19 | Murder Mystery Tour “The French Connection”
$15/person (Buy 3 get 1 free)
Every Friday Night in October | Ghost Tour
October 31 | Fall Festival
Trick-O-Treat Scavanger Hunt, Decorate your own cup cake ($1), Free for kids under 12
December 5 | Victorian Holiday Tea (includes house tour)
December 18 | Santa Arrives
Take your own picture with Santa and decorate your own Christmas Cookie
December 6 – January 7 | Tour the Rossetter House for the Holidays!
The house is decorated by Florists, Volunteers & Staff.
Open Daily for Historical Tour
Brevard art galleries/events
The Arts Flourish throughout the Space Coast, not just in the Eau Gallie art district. According to acting director Kathy Engerran, part of the Brevard Cultural Alliance’s mission is to promote these geo clusters of cultural activity/organizations.
“It’s been a very busy year”, says Wallis “We’ve been very successful in partnering with other organizations to bring people to the area-we had a Firefighter’s Chili Cook-off, the Empty Bowls and Cancer Care Foundation fundraisers and a Lifestyle Expo at the Civic Center in partnership with the Melbourne Regional Chamber of Commerce. It’s important in raising awareness of the area by bringing in different groups.”
This fall, a continuing tradition is sure to attract hundreds of visitors.
The first ArtWorks Fine Art Festival took place almost a decade ago when Link Johnsten came up with the idea of an art show on Highland Avenue where local artists demonstrated how they do what they do. This two-day event features the work of local artists along with great music and good food.
10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Highland Avenue, Melbourne