Everywhere I went in the small village of Safety Harbor, Florida, people told me the same thing: “You have to see the bowling ball house.” It was easy to find, but even without directions it would have been hard to miss the pyramid of 200 bowling balls stacked on the front lawn. Fascinated, I walked around the corner lot. Crazy quilt pathways of multi-colored ceramic tiles wound through grounds where bowling balls lined garden beds, balanced on pillars, and peeked out from beneath jungle vegetation. Even the mailbox sat on a stack of bowling balls.
A creation of husband and wife artists Todd Ramquist and Kiaralinda, “Whimzey” began when Kiaralinda saw a single bowling ball decorating the cactus garden in front of a house. “I thought it was a neat idea, but I wanted more.” Not long afterward, she spotted a rack of bowling balls at a flea market. “The sign said: ’10 free bowling balls per person.’ In those days we were driving some little car that could barely fit two people, but we crammed it with 40 free bowling balls.”
When Todd and Kiaralinda set up an outdoor table and began painting the balls, neighbors wandered over to see what was going on. “Kids started asking if they cold paint a bowling ball, so we gave them all brushes and let them go,” said Todd. Before long, people began dropping off old bowling balls to be used in the design. Wondering what to do with the surplus, they invited artist friends to paint a bowling ball. To their surprise, many accepted the offer; these creations, affectionately dubbed the Bowling Ball Art Museum, are displayed in a detached shed at the rear of the property.
I wandered the grounds, finding delightful surprises every few feet. Whimsical animal yard sculptures created the “Whimzoo” and a curtain of hanging beads surrounded a seating area tucked into the lush vegetation. Low walls around flower beds were constructed of emerald green glass bottles, while cobalt blue bottles were turned upside-down on a coat-rack contraption, creating a vivid glass sunburst. At the rear of the property, an elevated gazebo painted in riotous colors was decorated with the duo’s personal wire sculpture art.
As the outdoor decor emerged, the house began to change. “It sort of evolved with the bowling balls,” said Kiaralinda. Originally two-tone, it gradually morphed into a phantasmagorical multi-colored gingerbread cottage with every surface painted a different color. Along the way, the couple purchased other houses in the neighborhood and began transforming them as well. Casa Loco, directly across the street from Whimzey, has a Mexican theme, while Tiki-Tiki is Hawaiian and Cabana Bay has a Caribbean decor. Even the neighbors have embraced the concept; several have asked Todd and Kiaralinda to help create themes for their homes.
The interior of “Whimzey” can only be seen once per year, when the artists open their doors to the public as a charity fund raiser. However visitors are welcome to walk the grounds of “Whimzey” and stroll around “Whimzeyland” any time of the year. To find this neighborhood of quirky homes, travel south on Main Street from downtown Safety Harbor, cross the railroad tracks, and turn right on 12th Avenue N. “Whimzey” is on the corner of 12th Ave. N and 3rd Street. Safety Harbor lies at the head of Old Tampa Bay, surrounded by the major cities of Clearwater and Tampa.