Friday, February 19, 2010


S. F. Travis & Co. Hardware, down in Cocoa, Florida, is what I like to call a big funhouse.

It's three buildings and two floors and a good quarter block of tin ceilings, old fittings, a labarynth of narrow corridors and old shelves stocked with almost everything that you can imagine, and everything you can't find in your standard nation-wide chain hardware stores.

But, I don't really go there to shop (although, when I was there yesterday I did buy a stopper-plug for my bathroom sink, so that I can convert it into a rinsing tank for when I do my cyanotype prints.) Being a photographer who likes old things - I go there to take pictures.

Most stores, when you whip out a camera and take off your lens cap (There are very few stores I'd actually do that in, most just don't appeal to me.) will ask you to either put away the camera, or leave. The people at Travis see you with a camera, and they'll even suggest places around the store that have some neat, photogenic stuff in it. They've even hosted bevies of college photography students who comb through the old, well-worn, but well-loved labarynth for good shots. It's no wonder, as the possibilites there are endless, as there's just so many things to look at, which have all been there since the beginning

There are three structures comprising the complex, which (if I remember correctly) saw its first structure built in 1885. The majority of the largest structure (which is basically two buildings abutting one another) dates from 1907, which is stylistically confirmed by the art nouveau tulip motives that are visible on the second floor pressed tin cornices along the ceiling. The third, northern-most building, dates from approximately 1916 and is the last of the major structures to have been constructed on the site (I'm doing this from memory, so apologies if I get some dates mixed up, any information you know is incorrect I'll be happy to correct.)

Each building has its own individual staircase, and each building is connected to one another through various means. This is where the fun part comes in: in the summer months, you can traverse a sloping, slanted skybridge across the separation from the 1907 building to the the 1916 building which drops you right in front of what had been a freight elevator. The front of the second floor of this building has a plain tin ceiling painted in mellows colors that remind me of the cast-iron buildings of New York City. Down the stairway and out the rear of the building, across a narrow yard, you come to a covered area, which is the traffic hub of Travis's employees, the confluence of all walking traffic between the three buildings. Here, you'll see to your left a narrow hallway that is barely shoulder-width. It takes a hard right, over a grate into which rainwater drains from the gutter, and there is the pipe room. At the very end of the long, narrow outbuilding is where the original riverbank of the river was located, and where the complex was accessible to barges going up and down the river. The whole complex once sat directly on the riverfront of Cocoa.

But, that, along with many other things around Travis Hardware has changed. The river was filled in and now the riverbank is basically two blocks to the east from the rear of the property. All but one of the buildings directly in front of the store have either burned down or been demolished, and the hotel, bandstand, and numerable other businesses and storefronts have disappeared, since replaced by the east and westbound lanes of State Road 520.

Travis Hardware, however, has seen very little change, and that is very much evident when one enters it, and is very much a good thing. It has been in the same family since the company's founding in 1885, and they're almost always busy, something which I hope is indicative of the business, and its incredibly photogfenic complex of buildings, being around for a great deal longer.

So, go down there and have a look around. They're on the southeast corner of Delannoy Avenue (or State Hwy 515) and King Street (eastbound State Rd. 520) in downtown Cocoa. They're all very friendly, and will know exactly where something is if you're looking for something hardware-related. Take some pictures, and buy something, even. I'm sure they'll appreciate it.

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