The smiling faces of Rosemary Clooney, Phyllis Diller, Milton Berle, Liberace, Lionel Hampton, Guy Lombardo and others will once again welcome people in Tierra Verde but this time, the Island Grille and Raw Bar’s new location, 210 Madonna Blvd., will be the happening place.
Thursday, September 29 from 4 to 6 p.m. marks the official unveiling of the historical 4-foot-wide by 10-foot-long Legend of Tierra Verde Island Mural during a special ceremony that will include live music popular during the resort area’s heyday, historical memorabilia and local actors depicting some of those in the hand-painted artwork like Lombardo, Silas Dent, Marlene Dietrich and General Robert E. Lee.
Carolyn Jackson Gruber, the mural’s artist, will be present to sign commemorative miniatures for sale. Event admission is $10 at the door, and proceeds will form the “nest egg” for the mural’s Living Legacy Fund, said Connie Langhorst, president and founder of the Friends of Tierra Verde. The fund will benefit non-profits, charities and “people doing good things,” she said.
The original mural was commissioned in 1981 to decorate the lobby of the Tierra Verde Resort & Marina, the same location where the original Port-o-Call had its grand opening in January 1963. Lombardo promoted the Port-o-Call resort in a 10-week national bus tour where his band played in more than 20 cities, according to a history published by the Tierra Verde Community Association. “Every show included several minutes to promote” the resort and the “bus had a Tierra Verde banner hung on its sides.”
The mural “was innocuous hanging on the wall,” Langhorst said. “No frame or anything. You’d go to the pool and hang out on a Sunday and you’d just go past it. It made you smile. It made me smile.”
According to the event’s press release, “The mural was one of my all-time favorite paintings through my career and I wondered what had happened to it through the years,” said Gruber.
When the resort was being torn down in 2007, “We had to fight [for the mural],” Langhorst said. The owners “were going to sell everything in the hotel rooms and restaurant like at a big huge yard sale.”
The mural was destined for the Guy Lombardo museum in Ontario.
Langhorst said to the owners, “Look, it’s got Ft. DeSoto on it. It’s got Silas Dent. Those people in Canada don’t have a clue who Silas Dent is. What do they care about Robert E. Lee? Please give me a chance to keep it here.” They gave her 24 hours.
“That’s when people got involved,” Langhorst said. Locals stepped forward and carried the mural out of the resort. The county provided climate-controlled storage during the time it took to find a new home for the artwork where the maximum number of people could enjoy it, she said. At one point, Ft. DeSoto was interested in it for the park’s visitor center, but funding cuts prevented the creation of a suitable space.
“We kept it in storage waiting for the right opportunity. And, this new restaurant has the perfect place for it,” Langhorst said. “It’s on loan to them to display it.”
The Island Grille and Raw Bar is located “essentially on the very same land that we carried the mural away from in 2007,” said Langhorst, “which is part of the magic of it.”
During the unveiling event, television monitors throughout the restaurant will feature period photos and a special television episode. Tierra Verde, the Port-o-Call’s LeClub room and Lombardo were featured in a Route 66 show that aired on May 3, 1963 entitled, “What Do You Do in March?” The black-and-white series was broadcast from 1960-1964. To view the vintage 60-minute episode in advance of the mural’s unveiling, visit youtu.be/nTTmGjywFqk. Lombardo makes his entrance just after the 13th minute.