Dear N.C.: Yes, it’s true, but unfortunately, Surfside 6’s odyssey ended when it sunk to the deep six 22 years ago. The 60-foot-long steel-hulled houseboat had a storied history before its watery end. Three hip private eyes — played by Troy Donahue, Van Williams and Lee Patterson — lived and worked on the houseboat, which was anchored on Indian Creek across from the famed Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach. During the series’ run from 1960-62, the trio solved high-society crimes. Diane McBain was a socialite whose yacht was moored next to their houseboat, while Margarita Sierra was the nightclub singer, Cha Cha, who crooned in the hotel’s Boom Boom Room.
After the show went off the air, Larry King used the double-decker vessel to broadcast his late-night radio talk show, with such guests as Frank Sinatra, Charlton Heston, Ed Sullivan and Sammy Davis Jr. Later, it was used into a floating restaurant in South Florida.
Earlier, Jacksonville plastic surgeon Lewis Obi said he had become fascinated by Surfside 6 when he drove by it every day while attending medical school in Miami. Obi bought it in 1983 with plans to lease or sell the houseboat to Jacksonville’s Diamond Head Restaurant, co-owned by Fred Levy. Obi had it towed to Jacksonville, where it was docked for a time at Diamond Head, at the foot of the Acosta Bridge. Diamond Head wanted to use it as a bar and dining area.
After a lengthy process, it ultimately won approval from the Florida Cabinet, but that didn’t float with local regulatory agencies that said it didn’t meet fire and health standards for the intended purpose, the Times-Union reported.
Another effort to turn it into a floating restaurant near the Gulf Life Tower was scuttled. Finally, Obi said he gave up on the idea and moved it to a dock on the northeast side of the Mathews Bridge near Jones College. It remained there from five to seven years and became something of a landmark, Obi said.
Then he worked out a deal to donate proceeds from the boat to the Savannah College of Art and Design as a tax write-off. The school wanted cash rather than the restaurant. So Obi’s friend, Gordon Varnedoe, who was on the board, proposed buying the boat, with Obi donating the proceeds.
Varnedoe had it towed to Savannah. The Savannah Morning News reported in November 1992 that it was docked at the Sheraton Savannah Resort on Wilmington Island when it started taking on water. Submerged pylons at the Sheraton dock had damaged the boat’s hull. Attempts to tow the vessel to dry dock failed. So did efforts to raise the vessel from the Wilmington River where it had sunk. Varnedoe sold the boat for scrap, sinking his dream to open it as a floating restaurant and bar.
Dear Call Box: I renewed my license by mail the last time. I wanted to know if I could do it again this year since I haven’t gotten anything by mail. It expires in late August.
Dear R.M.: You will have to renew it in person this time so you can get a vision test and have a current photo made, said Robert Amos, manager of Driver License Services for the Duval County Tax Collector. The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles only allows one electronic or mail-in renewal. Previously, a license was valid for a maximum of six years, so that allowing one mail-in renewal would have a motorist passing a vision test and getting a new picture once every 12 years, he said.
The license duration was changed in the last few years to eight years, making the duration now 16, Amos said. Motorists 80 and over are limited to six years, he said.
Dear Call Box: I hope you can help me find a good home for 27 volumes of Christmas With Southern Living from 1981-2007. They are all in good condition. The earlier-year volumes still have their dust jackets. The later ones were not produced with dust jackets. If you are not familiar with them, they are filled with recipes and wonderful ideas for decorating the homes for the holidays.
Dear Call Box: I have a big bunch of magazines, some of them current. Most are Southern Living and Reader’s Digest. I hate to throw them away and would like to know if someone would like to have them.
Dear C.C. and S.B.: We called Chris Buckley at the Teacher Supply Depot, which gives free school supplies to teachers. She said the depot, which is at 3108 Lenox Ave., goes through several pallets’ worth of magazines a year and will be glad to accept them. Other items they can use include old or new binders, new or used office supplies, craft items, paper and holiday supplies and old fabric. For more information, call (904) 381-7480.
Submit questions by calling (904) 359-4622 or mailing to Call Box, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL 32231. Please include contact information.
Sandy Strickland: (904) 359-4128