Transforming The Old Into Something New With Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon, Solomon's Castle
MRV: The Buzz, Your RV Lifestyle Insider. Written By: Olivia Richman
Transforming The Old Into Something New: Solomon's Castle
A 12,000 Square Foot, 16-Room Castle, Which Is Now A Popular Destination For Travel Enthusiasts In Quiet South Central Florida
Not many people can say they designed and built their own house. Even less people can say they built their own castle. Howard Solomon is one of those people. He spent 14 years building The Solomon Castle, a 12,000 square foot, 16-room castle, which is now a popular destination for travel enthusiasts in quiet South Central Florida.
Located in Lily, a rural community about 50 miles inland from Sarasota, Solomon said that he considers the Solomon Castle to be in the “middle of everywhere,” since it's located an hour away from many major cities. “Quiet central,” he calls it. Solomon chose the location for its weather and to get away from city life.
Born in Rochester, New York, Solomon was expelled from school in the 9th grade and sent to an industrial school for “bad boys.” Teachers felt he wasn't capable of keeping up with the rest of the children. There the students learned various vocations. After two years of training in drafting, Solomon was expelled from there as well.
“I was never interested in the academic part of school,” noted Solomon. “Drafting, on the other hand, was right up my alley. I've been sculpting since I was a child. My father was a truck driver and my first wood carving was a truck and trailer [when I was 4]. I sliced up my mother's knitting needles to use as wheels. It's on display at the castle. My mother saved it. She was very proud of it.”
Solomon never stopped his wood carving. At 81 years old he is still carving every single day. It is part of his nature…that he likes to transform and repurpose different items…and create things…like a castle.
After being expelled from both schools, Solomon joined the National Guard. He got married and had children. He lived in the Bahamas for seven years after realizing that his body couldn't handle the New England winters. It was there where he enjoyed sculpting and writing and starting his own businesses, building props for movie sets. In the Bahamas he did interior designs for nightclubs, shopping plazas and other storefronts.
In Florida he worked odd jobs, including
concrete work, construction, home building – but always
creating…building. As he grew older, Solomon felt a strong urge to build
a place where he could sculpt and write. He was going to build a
conventional building, but the wetlands and local terrain were “much to
my disadvantage”. He decided to build up instead of out.
A castle was the clear answer.
Over a period of 14 years (starting at 37 years old) Solomon worked alone on his creation…with minimal outside help…and no outside influences.
“I was eleven at the time when he started building the castle. People asked me what it was like growing up with a father like Howard. I just thought that all dads were like this,” said Alana Solomon. “My grandmother, his mother, I'm sure she was proud. The locals thought he was very odd. First of all, he was from New York. This is a big Bible Belt area. Here is this New York Jewish man. They thought they had hassled him, selling him swamp land. But he made a lot of great friends in this area and they all accept him for who he is now.”
In the Bahamas he was known as the “16th Century Man,” because of his suit of armor sculptures. He decided he felt comfortable with the time period.
Solomon has travelled to Europe and South America to view castles. But none are like his, he says. The shiny aluminum coverings of the castle are off-set printing plates from local newspapers. Again…repurposing materials to create something new.
There's a tower…and a turret plus a boat-shaped sculpture that acts as a restaurant, known as Boat & The Moat, run by Alana. There's bedrooms, studies, living quarters, workshops and a room dedicated to his antique car collection where all the cars “have to be older than me. That's the requirement.”
There are also stained glass windows, designed and created by Solomon, throughout the castle and hundreds and hundreds of sculptures made of wood and scrap metal…all created by Solomon.
“The first days [when] I opened up the
castle to the public it was free,” said Solomon. “I told [people] they
could come the last Sunday of the month. But they started coming every
Sunday…then every day. I figured I could stop them by charging $2 [a
head]. [Then] it went up to $5. Then $7.50. It's been $10 for quite a
while now and they're still coming. We have record crowds.”
People come back to the castle many, many times, said Solomon, often to show their friends what they have discovered – the unique contents…the unique building. There's an overnight room called the Blue Moon Room which is rented out once in a blue moon, a reproduction of the Alamo and a nature walk with 1,400 oak trees planted. From Google Earth, said Alana, you can see that where there aren't oak trees, the empty space spells out “Peace.”
“When I really think about it, I find it really hard to believe that I did [all of] it,” said Solomon. “I'm as amazed by the castle as everybody else. An artist has to produce what's in his head. I can't stop thinking unless I get distracted. At night I have to keep the TV on or I'm too distracted to go to sleep.”
At press time, Solomon was working on a “turn of the century” steam engine sculpture which will stand six feet tall and 10 feet long for display in his car museum. He also creates small wood sculptures every day to go in the castle's gift shop but he can't keep up with the demand.
When he's not sculpting and building, Solomon is writing and fishing …or hanging out with his great-grandchildren. He often recalls the many interesting people that have come through the castle including famous reporters, talk show hosts, world travelers, scientists and inventors. A rock star and wrestler came through, “but we're all just people at the end of the day,” said Alana, who said her father is the most famous person at the castle.
“He created his own little world for us to live and work together,” said Alana, “so we can all stay close. We are totally blessed. I have three children and five grandchildren. He also has a son that's the same age as my children, who has a son. There's seven little ones, four and under. We all see each other almost every day. We try to share it with the public. It's a great family business that we're all proud of. We're all proud of each other.”
For Solomon, this is the bulk of his recent memories. What Solomon might not realize is that, to many his castle and the world he has created is fostering their memories.
A graduate of East Connecticut State University in Journalism, Olivia
has written for Stonebridge Press & Antiques Marketplace among
others. She enjoys writing, running and video games.
Make Sure To Stay At:
Torrey Oaks RV & Golf Resort, north of Historic downtown Wauchula in South Central Florida. The resort sits on 20 acres and has 233 RV sites with full hookups including both 30 & 50 amp electrical service.