Solomon’s Castle is one man’s masterpiece, tucked amongst the orange trees and pastures in Ona, Florida. Howard Solomon, who unfortunately passed away in August of 2016, was a true creative with an imagination overflowing into everything he did.
Alane Solomon, Howard’s daughter, reminisced about him. “I got to see him every day in a beautiful setting. It’s like he created this whole kingdom for us.” Luckily for the public, Howard Solomon opened his kingdom to the community for everyone to experience.
Born in 1935 in Rochester, New York, Howard Solomon moved to St. Petersburg in 1955. He had a cabinet shop and worked as a boat builder, eventually moving to Freeport in the Bahamas where he lived for 7 years doing interior design for nightclubs, restaurants, and hotels. According to his daughter, he owned several galleries in the Bahamas and Miami, had shows in New York City, and has pieces all over the country and the world. “He moved here in 1970 with the hopes of building a studio and a workshop and a home so that he could be centrally located,” Alane explained.
She continued, “Once he bought the property, he realized there wasn’t a lot of room to build out so he started building up and because he’s an artist, some of his artistic flair fell over into the architecture and he decided to build a castle.”
The tours started after speaking at the Kiwanis Club through the urging of some local community members that were curious about the newcomer. He explained who he was, brought some sculptures, and explained what he was doing. They asked if they could come out to see the project. To that, he suggested they come out the last Sunday of the month. He forgot what he told them and when they showed up that day, he gave an impromptu tour. The next month on the last Sunday, they came again. For the next 12 years, he gave free tours.
Alane spoke about her childhood on the premises saying, “I thought that everybody’s dad made stuff. At that age, I had no clue how talented he was. He was definitely my hero.”
This beautiful property boasts the main attraction, his castle. Solomon estimated it to be about 10,000 square-feet with a restaurant called “The Boat in the Moat,” a lighthouse, a replica facade of the Alamo, and more.
I took a tour of the castle with a group of other guests eager to see what it held. The silver tiles lining the façade of the castle are actually aluminum printing plates from the local Wauchula newspaper, The Harold Advocate. “The print side is on the inside, so technically it’s a time capsule. You could peel them all off and read old news,” remarked Alane. Another aspect of note is the 90 pieces of stained glass that can be seen in the different buildings on the property–all made by Howard.
The approximate 40-minute tour takes visitors through the galleries and home of Howard Solomon, going through the castle, boat, and ending at the lighthouse. Cindy, our tour guide for the day described Solomon as, “The Da Vinci of debris, the Rembrandt of reclamation, the wizard of odds and ends, and the savior of salvage.” When I spoke with her, she explained that she had been with Solomon’s Castle for 8 years saying, “I loved him, I love this place.”
Throughout the tour, Cindy showed us stunning pieces of Solomon’s work made from carburetors, gas tanks, oil drums, beer can bottoms, coat hangers and other recycled materials. He made everything from people, creatures–real and imaginary, boats, cars and beyond.
Cindy didn’t just run through the motions, she performed the tour that Solomon himself wrote the script for. It was honestly funny. The jokes were smart, not pretentious, but a sophisticated type of humor that resonated with everyone in the room getting more than just a chuckle or two.
I spoke with another visitor on the tour, Linda Dube, who has been to the castle 3 times, saying, “Every time I come, I seem to see something different and I have more of an appreciation for him, for what he’s done.” The sheer volume of subjects that Solomon covered had Linda in amazement saying, “It’s not just cars, it’s not just metal, it’s wood, it’s everything. He fascinates me.”
We made our way, jaws gaped in awe of his work throughout the castle. As we exited, Cindy pointed out the Blue Moon Room in the east wing that can be rented which includes a 500 square foot kitchenette, can sleep two, comes with a continental breakfast, and has air conditioning, Dish TV, and high-speed internet.
Making our way through the boat, Cindy explained that it was a staggering 65 feet, three-quarters the size of the Santa Maria and was made from recycled wood.
Every aspect of the tour, from the castle’s architecture, the boat, his artwork within, and even the humorous descriptions of his pieces given by the tour guide had Howard’s fingerprints. The walkthrough felt like getting a glimpse inside the mind of this artistic genius.
Before I left, I stopped by the Boat in the Moat for a bite to eat with Alane. The menu contained a variety of salads, sandwiches, and other hot dishes. I was torn between the Reuben and the chicken pot pie. Everything at the restaurant is homemade according to Alane, adding, “A lot of the recipes were my grandmother’s.”
Famous for their desserts, Alane remarked, “People come back for our walnut pie or they come and get a full apple crisp to take home to their family.”
I decided on the Reuben with a side of spinach casserole, chips, and a drink. Everything was divine! The restaurant and atmosphere alone are worth a trip.
An adventure worth taking whether alone or with your family, you’re bound to come away having gained something–a full stomach from The Boat in the Moat, peace and quiet in an idyllic setting, or an appreciation for the creative legacy that Howard Solomon left his family and the visitors of his timeless castle.
4533 Solomon Road, Ona, FL 33865
Open October 1st – August 1st
Tues – Fri. 10 – 3
Sat – Sun. 11 – 4
$5.00 children (under 12)
Cash or personal checks only