In the outback of Hardee county lies a shiny treasure, full of art, whimsy, and…puns.
In the parking lot, see if you can spot any turtles in the pond. Then head down the Yellow Brick Road (painted with a sponge mop), pass between Knight and Day, and enter the Castle lobby, where you will likely be greeted by Howard Solomon’s wife, Peggy, who is responsible for the beautiful grounds. She or one of the docents will sell you a $10 (bring cash) ticket to tour the Castle galleries and view some of their beautiful home, which features Howard’s stunning stained glass work.
During the tour, it will become apparent that Solomon is truly a multi-media artist, sculpting, painting, constantly making art with anything he can get his hands on. Creative re-use abounds, along with his quirky sense of humor. You will experience MPM (Maximum Puns per Minute) as the docent describes the various works. As Howard says: “What do you call 50 puns? Punishment. If you do any more, they send you to the punitentiary.”
After the tour, wander the grounds, explore the trails, and have a meal at the Boat in the Moat. You may just see Howard hanging out for lunch.
In 1972, Howard Solomon bought 40 acres of swamp land, and set up a trailer while considering what kind of home to build. He decided that a man’s home is his castle. A large moat was dug, and the fill used to raise the ground level for building. The original structure included room for Solomon’s glass and art studio, a gallery, and a small living space. Later that same year, at the urging of curious locals, the Castle was opened to the public for one day a month. By the early 80s, Howard had added a gracious home to the front of the castle, and covered the outside with printing plates, giving the structure its shining armor.
He didn’t stop with the Castle. Tireless, Solomon is always looking for the next big project. A Spanish galleon, complete with piratical stained glass and gun ports, was built in the moat. The galleon houses the Boat in the Moat restaurant, run by Howard’s daughter, Alane, and her husband, Dean. Restaurant seating extends to the next project: the Lily Lighthouse, topped by stained glass windows depicting lighthouses from around the country. Look for the stained glass mermaid. “Her name is ‘Too Much Fish to Eat, Not Enough Woman to Love.’ Her measurements are 36″-24″-$1.95/lb.”
One would think that with a castle, a ship, and a lighthouse (not to mention all the sculpture and other art) that Howard Solomon would be done building. One would be wrong. A Texas vacation brought home the idea of the Alashmo, a replica of a famous fort with a similar name. The inside is not open to the public, but if the doors happen to be standing wide and you get a peek, you will see artwork that overflows from the main gallery.
At 80, Howard hasn’t slowed down much. He still works every day in his studio behind the Alashmo, and tools around the grounds in his golf cart, saying hello to folks who visit from all over the country. Is there a next big project? Sorry, we’re sworn to secrecy.
If you plan to visit the castle, be sure you have a full tank of gas. It really is out there. Don’t trust your GPS (though if you can program it, the coordinates are N 27 22′.56″, W 81 58′ 37.03″), and don’t trust Google Maps. The Castle is about 45 miles east of Bradenton, and just west of Arcadia. From SR64, turn south on CR665. From SR70, turn north on Lily (listed as Pine Level on Google Maps). There are signs to guide you the rest of the way from either direction.