Stop 78: Bonita Flower & Dixie Auto Parts
Exquisite mosaics of many people and services offer clues in the puzzle of Stop 78! The buildings of over 103 years old in 2023 have indices of every occupant. Pasco County Property records document the age.
The location at 14342 7th Street has stunning and complex history of both culture in the form of beauty and music as well as the unpretentious necessities of a growing industrial economy that reflected the might of Dade City as a business on the international scale.
There are some missing pieces in this story and we invite additions and suggestions.
To reveal the stories we have uncovered, we have showcased personalities and families who have contributed to the evolving community.
A mystery is the marrying of the two sections of the building: one on the north which has been known most recognizability as a flower shop and the one which runs parallel horizontally with 7th Street, Dixie Auto & Truck Parts.
Were they separate entities at one time? Property records were not available until the late 1940’s so information will have to be harvested from stories, newspapers, and city directories.
THE BEAUTIFUL SPACE of BONITA, LOU & LOUISE and JEWELL!
Focusing first on the north shop which sets slightly diagonal to 7th Street, Bonita Flower Shop has been a presence in town since 1933. Prior to Bonita’s Flower Shop, Marie’s Flower Shop operated in Dade City but appears to have no relationship to Bonita’s. The proprietors of the Bonita’s Flower Shop are like an unveiling historical novel.
By 1933, Bonita Beckton Williams was operating Bonita’s Flower Shop in Dade City. Bonita was a starring Cello player with the Oklahoma Symphony Orchestra when she was 15-year-old under the conductor, Ralph Rose. She and her sister, Colata were young virtuosos as Colata went on to have a life-long career playing concert violin. In the case of Bonita, she studied music after graduation from El Reno High School in Oklahoma at the Kansas City Conservatory of Music and then Oklahoma State University. Bonita’s extended family resided in Plant City as her father, George moved the family to Oklahoma to take a government job when Bonita was a child.
After a failed marriage to Albert Gibson, Bonita resumed her study of music and eventually remarried a shopkeeper, Leon Bonaparte Williams from Plant City. Leon and Bonita moved to Dade City and named the flower establishment, “Bonita’s Flower Shop.” Bonita’s shop was originally at 310 North 13th Street and moved to the current location on July 6, 1951. At that time there was one other florist in town, Flower-land Flowers operated by William Trautmann and Henry K. Walker.
A hint from the historic occupants of the place reveal that Bonita did maintain her musical interests. She is listed in the society columns of the Banner, and curiously Port’s Music Shop occupied a portion of the space over time. Verne Thomas Port’ specialty was vintage violins, some of which he restored back from circa 1835. One wonders if Verne and Bonita talked about string instruments? Bonita was credited with innovative marketing including the perfection of FTD as a wiring service for her florist shop.
In 1953, The Banner announced that Bonita Flower Shop was under new management. “Your continued patronage is invited by the new owners, Colonel and Mrs. Lou J. Herrmann.” He and his wife, Louise were both born in Bridgeport Connecticut. Lou had an interest in incorporating more botanical and landscaping elements into the business. His wife, Louise passed away in 1969, the same year Lou sold the flower shop to Jewel Hattaway. Lou so enjoyed teaching Jewell the ropes of the business, he stayed to volunteer for many years. Lou married second wife Dorothy and lived until 1987, active in many civic groups.
From 1969 to 2016, Jewell Hattaway had the helm of the Bonita Flower Shop. Historian Carol Hedman wrote, Jewell sent flowers when babies were born, when people celebrated birthdays, and when people died. For 48 years, she owned and operated Bonita Flower Shop, one of the oldest businesses in Dade City.
Similar to Bonita Williams, Jewell was musical. She was known for her spectacular voice, singing with The Joy Landers and The Rhythm Riders, performing on the radio in Lakeland and WDCF in Dade City.
Jewel worked her way up the ladder at the telephone company for 19 years in Dade City. When retired in 1968 she became the third owner of the Bonita’s Flower Shop. Jewell’s entire family was involved in the flower shop for over four decades.
Laura Beagles, granddaughter of the Herrmann’s remembered of the location of Bonita’s…always the fragrance of plants mixed with the burst of cold in the refrigerated storage space is a forever memory.
Roy Gant’s Barbershop was also in the south end of the building that housed Bonita’s underneath a staircase to the second floor of the adjoining building that was the gathering place on Saturday night for men. Gant moved from next to Coca-Cola Bottling Plant to this building when that part of town was developed by Mr. Madill who built the National Guard Armory and his customers followed. It helped that he also played on a local semi pro baseball team (Pasco Packers) made up mostly of WWII Veterans. He occupied just a portion that is now Bonita’s. He later moved his shop across to west side of 7th St to larger space and added a couple of barbers. Customers all followed.
THE GARAGE COMPONENT OF THE BUILDING
In regard to the garage part of the building complex that parallels, 7th Street, one of the early proprietors was Suber Auto Parts, believed to be operated by Emory Suber and his wife, Florence as bookkeeper. History buff Tim Barfield also believes Carter Auto Parts occupied the space.
Successors to Suber Auto Parts was Dixie Auto & Truck Parts, Inc. On May 15 of 1958, Luther D. Harris filed for a corporation entitled Dixie Auto and Truck Parts Inc. at 402 North 7th Street. Luther was president and secretary-treasurer was Peggy S. Harris, his wife.
During this time frame and the decade of the 1960s, both sections the buildings were painted a striking white which was in contrast to the two-story Case Hardware Store that bordered on the north (The vacant courtyard to the north was the location of Case Hardware) Both David Brown and Clyde Hobby commented that the dazzling white paint rendered a few comments from town folks.
The services of the auto and trucks parts store included not only auto and truck parts, but also parts for orange grove machinery and tools. In sync with the rise of Pasco Packing, the benefits of this company were realized in thriving Dade City and nearby community industries.