Sunday, April 20, 2014
The Western Way Shopping Center sign is located on West Colonial Drive a block west of North Tampa Avenue. A big Department of Motor Vehicles building is right up the block. The sign hearkens back to a time when Colonial Drive was the main road to get from cost to coast. Colonial Drive (State Route 50) runs throughout Central Florida, from Weeki Wachee on the west coast, to Titusville on the east. The highway is called by different names in different regions, such as Cortez Boulevard in Hernando County and Colonial Drive in much of Orange County. Parts of the highway east of 436 (Semoran Boulevard) follow the Old Cheney Highway, the original road that ran from Orlando to Titusville. I've driven Colonial all the way to the west coast of Florida, and it is a step back in time sprinkled with plenty of old Florida towns and long stretches of rural cattle farms and citrus groves. In 1955 the Western Way Shopping Center on West Colonial Drive opened with Moses Pharmacy and Landis Stone’s Hardware Store as anchor tenants.
Excerpt from From the Florida sand to the City Beautiful: A Historical Record of Orlando, Florida, by E.H. Gore, published in 1951: “Mr. Charles D. Sweet, a surveyor from Louisiana, located in Orlando in 1873. He had traveled up and down the Mississippi Valley and got a desire to see what Florida looked like. When he arrived in Orlando, he liked it so well he decided to locate. He surveyed part of the city when it was incorporated in 1875 and laid out some of the streets. He wanted to make Gertrude Street a main thoroughfare through Orlando but when the South Florida Railroad was built in 1880, it followed through a large portion of that street. That street was named for his sister Gertrude. He was elected to the board of Aldermen in 1880 and served as mayor in 1881. He wanted to name the streets running east and west after different mayors so started out with Marks and Sweet streets, but some time later the name of Sweet Street was changed to Colonial Drive. He was one of the pioneers who helped change Orlando from a village to a city.”
There were maybe five or so pedestrians who walked by as I sketched. People tend to try and cross the four lanes of Colonial on foot to get to fast food restaurants or 7-11s. The Orlando-Kissimmee region was ranked as one of the most dangerous pedestrian regions in the country, with more than 550 pedestrians killed from 2000 to 2009. This translates into 61 deaths a year or about one death every week. Colonial Drive alone has claimed 40 lives in the past five years. Colonial was a constant blur of speeding gas fumed traffic as I sketched. Were I to try and get to the Magic Mall across the street, I would have to risk life and limb. When I did leave I stepped into my steal box of a car for some form of protection before pulling out into the anger fueled traffic.