In 1913 a young plow salesman from Indiana by the name of Waldo Sexton came to town and fell in love with the tropical paradise he encountered. He invested all of his $500 savings as a 10 percent down payment on two parcels: 100 feet of oceanfront property and 160 acres on 12th Street. He spent the next few years developing, farming and raising a family. In 1933 a hurricane blew down his barn and the legend of Waldo Sexton began.
Waldo salvaged the wood from the destroyed barn and hauled it over to his beachfront property where he began to build a four-bedroom cottage as a weekend retreat. Carpenters were hired to build the structure solely from Waldo’s verbal instructions. Fortunately, they understood Waldo’s eccentric ways and understood his vision. His creation was referred to as the Breezeway because it was built with two rooms on the first floor separated by a 25-foot wide-open area that did not restrict the view of the ocean. The second floor had rooms directly over the ones below but a combination kitchen-dining bridging over the breezeway connected them to each other. Hand crafted furnishings were built from driftwood that washed ashore from a nearby shipwreck as well as mahogany, cherry and walnut from North Carolina.
The building was completed in 1937 and had already generated a great deal of attention, so Waldo’s wife Elsebeth put up a ‘for rent” sign in the window. There were no bellboys, no room keys, and no room service but the unique charm of the Driftwood Inn quickly drew visitors from around the world. Business was booming and sometime in 1938-39 a second wing was added which brought the capacity to 14 rooms.
After the WW2, tourism became big business and in 1947 Waldo acquired an additional 100 feet of property to the north. $500 bought all the War Surplus cottages at the Army Demolition Camp and they were moved the four miles to the north edge of the property and finished with cypress paneling and oak flooring. With the additional rooms to rent the existing dining room was inadequate. A new two-story structure was built to house the dining room and four guest rooms on the second floor. The entrance to the new dining area, now the home of Waldo’s restaurant, brought visitors through massive wooden doors with tile inlay. Three immense “outrigger” timbers support the 2nd floor porches. Guests dined family style, side-by-side, at an enormous solid mahogany table that was 25 feet long.
Waldo’s eccentric tastes are seen all over the Driftwood property with additional buildings built from old barn wood, washed up driftwood, demolished houses and basically anywhere he could salvage wood. He collected oddities from around the world and furnished the rooms with chairs from presidents and bishops and swindlers. He loved bells and couldn’t pass one up when he saw one at auction. There was really no rhyme or reason to his collection. He just loved finding treasure in someone else’s junk.
The Sexton family sold the property to timeshare developers in 1979. They took great pride in maintaining the charm and character of the original Driftwood and it still remains the gem of Vero Beach. The Driftwood Inn was named to the Registry of Historic Places in 1994.
Waldo’s Restaurant Legacy of Philanthropy
Waldo’s Restaurant is known within the community just as much for its generosity as it is for its great food, fun times and the great view of the Atlantic Ocean. Now under the leadership of Lee Olsen, Waldo’s hosts a plethora of non-profit and school fundraisers. The list of groups Olsen has supported both personally and professionally includes Youth Guidance, The Source, Camp Haven, Love Doctor’s Charities, Marine Corp Toys for Tots, IRC American Red Cross, Lauren’s Way, Healthy Start Coalition of IRC and the Vero Beach Lifeguard Association. Last year, when tragedy struck at the Orlando Pulse nightclub, Olsen organized a candlelight vigil and a successful fundraiser for the employees of the club. “You just have to follow your heart and do what’s right,” he explains.
Olsen’s approach is unique as he targets the entire community with the goal of uniting people. Olsen was recently nominated for the National Philanthropic Days Unsung Hero award, with both his mother and father in attendance. This category recognizes an individual who demonstrates exceptional leadership skills for major fund-raising projects and motivating groups for the benefit of the cause. Olsen reasons, “Waldo Sexton was a great philanthropist and worked for many good things on behalf of this community. He IS Waldo’s…and we believe it is our duty to continue his good works. Thirty years ago, when I first came to Vero Beach I knew I wanted to be connected to this place. And now I am here to celebrate the Driftwood’s 80th and Waldo’s Restaurant’s 70th Anniversary!”
Come celebrate at Waldo’s on Vero’s beach! For more information call Waldo’s at 772-231-7091 (www.waldosvero.com) or to find out more about accommodations at the Driftwood Inn call 772-231-0550 (www.verobeachdriftwood.com).