A coffee-table tome covers the cottages and castles of Naples
This nearly 5-pound book is many things at once. It is a glorious homage to the spirit of Naples and the enterprise and good taste of its residents. It is a well-scribed, delightful history of the once- sleepy little Gulf Coast town. It is a huge and astounding color gallery of vintage and recent photographs and — more amazingly — paintings by Paul Arsenault, the man who could be called the painter laureate of Naples.
It is also a fundraiser, as Robert and Carole Leher have determined to donate all net proceeds from the book to the Naples Historical Society.
It will be a collector’s item and, I’m sure, a popular holiday gift.
While I’m enjoying a copy from the second printing, a confident run of 2,000, I understand that a third printing has been ordered for January delivery.
The book, which focuses on residences in two adjacent communities — Port Royal and the Gulf Shore Boulevard environs — tells and shows a story of families and generations. It’s fascinating to discover how an address has been attached to several residences, passed from one owner to another. Sometimes the successive owners have honored the original design; on other occasions, they have begun anew. Changes in style and size mark the comings and goings of original builders, relative newcomers and returnees who left Naples but just had to come back. Or perhaps their children or grandchildren made the return.
Often, though I won’t name-drop here, we discover the prestigious accomplishments of neighborhood residents, both before and during their Naples sojourns. It’s a who’s who, to be sure. The authors do a fine job of describing distinctive, colorful personalities and of capturing in words the special architectural details of note and giving a sense not only of individual homes and families but also the larger picture of community evolution.
In fact, it’s clear that they envisioned this project as a safeguard against the disappearance of what has made these neighborhoods special. What’s special is lovingly preserved in this handsome book.
Nostalgia is mixed with an upbeat, even whimsical tone that is captured well in many of the chapter titles: “From Coconuts to Easter Eggs,” “The Friends That Made Milwaukee Famous,” “Off to the Mad House,” “Once Just a Fish Camp” and “A Contract on a Cocktail Napkin” are invitations to charming tales packed with information.
The inclusion of a generous number of Mr. Arsenault’s paintings in his unmistakable style provides a continuity and elegance to the text and photographs. He, too, is a preserver of the past — and of the present that must recede into the past.
The pulse of constancy and change through stories and images gives “Naples Beach Homes” its abundant energy.
The front-matter accoutrements include a foreword by Elaine Reed of the NHS, an authors’ statement by the Lehers and an artist’s statement by Mr. Arsenault as well as a fine prologue by local history guru and veteran realtor Lodge McKee.
A carefully prepared index, list of art and photo credits and acknowledgments of assistance complete the attractive volume. These additions help other lovers and would-be historians of Naples who need to follow their curiosity in order to learn more about this amazing town.
If your coffee table is sturdy enough, you should obtain a copy.
Where you can get it: Aldecor Custom Framing, Arsenault Gallery, Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club, BRuno, Collier County Museums, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Deb’s Touch of Florida, Mel’s Diner, the Naples Area Board of Realtors, Naples Art Association at The von Liebig Art Center, Naples Botanical Garden, Naples Grande Hotel, Naples Historical Society at Palm Cottage, Ooh La La!, Paper Merchant, Regatta, Summerfields, Tory’s Hair Salon, Traditions and online at NaplesHistoricalSociety.org. ¦
— Phil Jason, Ph. D., United States Naval Academy professor emeritus of English, is a poet, critic and fr eelance writer with 20 books to his credit, including several studies of war literature and a creative writing text.