Monday, July 20, 2015

The Candy Store, sleazy ghost of Fort Lauderdale's Spring Break past

The Candy Store was adjacent to the Tradewinds Hotel

By Jane Feehan

A few years ago, someone suggested I write histories of restaurants and clubs in Fort Lauderdale and Miami. I pointed out that unless establishments made the news, there wouldn’t be much to write about; owners are/were too busy trying to keep the doors open to think about legacy. Most go out of business.

But a few spots did make the news. One of them was the infamous Candy Store at 1 North Atlantic Boulevard on Fort Lauderdale beach, adjacent to then-named Caribbean West Trade Winds Hotel.* Popular for its wet T-shirt, Teenie Weenie Bikini, belly flop, beer guzzling contests and a lineup of other slothful student activities of the Spring Break years, the Candy Store packed in 2,000 during the day and 3,000 patrons at night during the height of its popularity, which one manager deemed was 1986. That year, more than 325,000 young people swarmed the beach for the six-week bacchanal. (Some news stories indicate 380,000 Spring Breakers visited the city in 1985.)

Owner Bobby “Van” Vannuchi, opened the Candy Store in 1977 (its beloved beach predecessor, The Button Lounge opened in 1970). A friend of football great and party hearty guy Joe Namath, Van also had an interest in Namath’s Bachelor’s III, and owned Mr. Laffs and Mr. Pips, all in Fort Lauderdale.

According to Van, he employed as many as 350 at the Candy Store during Spring Break. That’s what he told Daytona Beach officials in 1989 where he was opening another Candy Store on Grandview Avenue (he also owned one in New York City.) He was getting nervous about things in Fort Lauderdale; the welcome mat for students coming to that city was about to be pulled.

The Spring Break business climate was changing in Fort Lauderdale. Commissioners had had enough of the city’s demeaning party image. It wasn’t attracting the development needed to expand its tax base. And, in 1987 as many as 12 students were killed in Florida during Spring Break in alcohol and drug-related incidents. The Candy Store was emblematic of all the city was trying to get rid of so it became a major target—and tactic—of dismantling the festivities that began in 1935 and increased in popularity with the 1960 release of the film Where the Boys Are.

The City of Fort Lauderdale cited the Candy Store for 52 code violations in April, 1989 that included plumbing, electrical and fire and safety infractions. Additionally, it was to lose its liquor license, which was predicated upon the club operating adjacent to a hotel with at least 50 rooms. That hotel, the Caribbean Tradewinds, entered bankruptcy in 1988 or 1989 and was to close.

Van also had problems in Daytona. He paid $375,000 for his new 15,000 square foot club and about $500,000 for renovations. City officials raised zoning concerns and tried to block the opening for six months; its pending moratorium on issuing building permits was overturned by the 5th Court of Appeals in March 1989. Van planned to go ahead and open before the end of that year’s Spring Break. The Candy Store in Daytona remained open until March, 1991. He retained part ownership rights on the building and leased it to another nightclub impresario. (The fate of the NYC club is unknown to this writer.)

Meanwhile, Fort Lauderdale could claim success in its re-imaging efforts: only 20,000 students flocked to its beaches in 1989. By 1990, business at the Candy Store was reportedly off 50 percent (at least). The club limped along until 1993 when it shut its doors. Bobby Van remained in the restaurant biz as late as 2005 when he owned Jilly’s CafĂ© at 2761 E. Oakland Park Boulevard; it has since closed.

The Candy Store still evokes fond memories. On one message board, a man asked recently if anyone knew the tall blonde bartender he went out with in 1986. He wanted to reconnect but lost her name and phone number (hilarious - she could be a grandmother now). Others remember Paul W. Lorenzo, managing partner in 1983 who dressed in shorts, tuxedo jacket and tie and one of his 700 zany hats. Anyone who gave him a hat earned a free lifetime membership to the Candy Store. Today, that membership is to a hall of memories of Spring Break madness. The only place still operating along the strip is the Elbo Room first opened in 1936 or 1938. No doubt people gather there on occasion to share stories about Bobby Van's place.

Note: The Ritz Carlton Hotel currently sits at the old site of the Candy Store.

*The original Trade Winds Oceanfront Hotel was built in 1940, one of the city's largest at the time.

Tags: Fort Lauderdale clubs, Fort Lauderdale in the 1980s, Fort Lauderdale Spring Break

Lakeland Star Ledger, April 3, 1983
Star News, Feb. 19, 1987
News-Journal, Feb. 4, 1989
News-Journal, Feb. 17, 1989
Ocala Star Banner, Nov. 25, 1990
News-Journal, Feb. 19, 1992
Sun-Sentinel, Nov. 15, 1996
NBC News, March 17, 2008

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Yankees film in Fort Lauderdale - Safe at Home!

The Yankee baseball team held Spring training in Fort Lauderdale during the 1960s after local hotelier Bob Gill encouraged the club’s owner, Dan Topping Sr., to come to the growing city. Stories about team legends Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Whitey Ford abound and firmly claim a place in this city’s celebrity history.

Part of Yankee history includes filming of the kid’s movie Safe at Home! in 1961 in Fort Lauderdale and Pompano. Hollywood, as captivated as the nation was with Roger Maris’s successful bid to break Babe Ruth’s homerun record during the 1961 season, thought a movie with Mantle and Maris would be a hit. (Where the Boys Are also filmed in Fort Lauderdale, was released in 1960).

Local public relations guru, Jack Drury, who played a small part as a police officer, arranged for the film crew to stay at the beach side Trade Winds Hotel (later associated with the wild Candy Store and its wet T-shirt contests).  
Trade Winds Hotel (built 1940)
The movie starred Mantle, Maris, Don Collier, Patricia Barry, William Frawley (of I Love Lucy fame) and Bryan Russell as the kid who told friends he knew the players, but did not. Team Manager Ralph Hauk also appeared. According to Drury who has written about Fort Lauderdale’s celebrity past, it was Frawley’s last feature film.

From Herald Journal Apr. 21,1962
By all accounts, working on the film provided Spring training diversion for players. Mickey Mantle claimed he forgot a few of his lines but wasn’t concerned because “they didn’t want me for my acting ability.”

Safe at Home!, while not a box office hit, was continuation of a Hollywood tradition featuring sports stars in their productions; Babe Ruth appeared in 10 films, Olympian swimmer Johnny Weissmuller played Tarzan in a number of films and the tradition continues …

Safe at Home! Is available to rent or purchase from Amazon. See below.

Drury, Jack. Fort Lauderdale, Playground of the Stars (Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2008).
Sun-Sentinel, Apr. 21, 1989

Tags: Fort Lauderdale history, Filmed in Fort Lauderdale, Yankees in Fort Lauderdale, Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford William Frawley, film researcher Jane Feehan

Friday, June 19, 2015

Flash and grab at the Yellow Rolls Royce - A 1970s Fort Lauderdale story

By Jane Feehan

Long-time Fort Lauderdale residents may remember the robbery at the Yellow Rolls Royce Restaurant in 1976. It was bold, but not quite as big as it could have been. High-profile Miami News reporter Milt Sosin briefly covered the story as did The Associated Press, which sent it across the country. There was something about the place, its flashy patrons—and stylish thieves—that captured headlines. It was the stuff of TV and silver screen scripts.

Long gone, the upscale eatery was located on Northeast 20 Avenue, close to Sunrise Boulevard and the Middle River fork of New River. Between 30 and 40 patrons were enjoying a night out in late March, high season in South Florida, when  a man with a handgun came through the rear entrance to hold staff at bay. A few moments later, a well-dressed couple entered the front door, with the male partner brandishing a gun. After commanding attention and calm, he instructed his young female accomplice to begin passing a bag around. In went wallets and jewelry but not before many took off rings and other glitter to drop into coffee, food and mouths. Personal searches were not conducted, diminishing the thieves’ take.

The dynamic duo warned diners not to follow them; they took off with about $15,000 in cash and jewels, a substantial haul from such a small gathering. As soon as they left, rings and other baubles were spat out or removed from food.  (One may speculate about how much cash the robbers would have gotten away with six or seven years later, when cocaine cowboys were walking around with paper bags of the green stuff before laundering it at jewelry stores and through real estate transactions.)

According to owner Terrence Scott Moser, robbers missed more than they took. He described his customers as the “quiet elite of Fort Lauderdale,” among them women wearing “diamonds by the yard.” Many of them managed to hide the glitter simply by buttoning up their blouses.

Days after the heist, police were still seeking clues to the bold robbery…and the nation was reading about it. The story soon dropped off the radar, as did the Yellow Rolls Royce and Terrence Scott Moser. Any of you remember additional stories about it?

Miami News, March 29, 1976
Sarasota Herald-Tribune, March 31, 1976

 Tags: Film researcher, Fort Lauderdale in the 1970s, Fort Lauderdale history

Monday, May 18, 2015

SOFLA Travelogue 1880s: Of fishing, sailing, an earthquake and more …

Wonderland, by
George Potter of Lake Worth

 By Jane Feehan

In the late 1870s, Ohio physician James A. Henshall (1836-1925) urged a few “chronic” patients from Kentucky who lived on fried food to improve their health by joining him on a trip to South Florida. A “plain diet, pure air and bright sunshine” would go far in curing their ills.

Henshall had been to Palatka and St. Augustine but never south of those towns. He could not find anything to read about South Florida so decided to write of his travels during the winters of 1879-1880 and 1880-1881. What resulted was probably the first travelogue for the area, Camping and Cruising in Florida.  The book provides a vivid snapshot of wild and settler life in the early days of Florida development.

This post will focus on his first Southeast Florida journey.

Henshall and his party traveled aboard his boat, Blue Wing, from Titusville, at the head of the Indian River, to Biscayne Bay on that first expedition. They camped, hunted, fished and visited a few Houses of Refuge along the coast where they made friends and picked up a few travel tips.
Blue Wing, by George Potter

Some of Henshall’s highlights include remarks about:
  • The two best harbors - the Hillsboro Inlet and New River (today Port Everglades), reached from the “outside” or ocean instead of the conventional interior route;
  • Hunting and dining on deer, possum, ducks, squirrels and fish;
  • Bass fish aplenty (“too good of a good thing”) at the south branch of St. Lucie River; bits of white cloth used successfully as bait;
  • Sea cows (manatees) spotted in St. Lucie River and shares a story about Captain Estes who shipped two sea cows to Philadelphia for the Centennial Expo where they died in a fire opening day;
  • Redfish near Merritt Island 20 pounds and more;
  • Sharks, pompano, drum fish, green turtles, oysters, bluefish, kingfish and crabs in or just "outside" Lake Worth in the ocean;
  • Lake Worth residents (25 families on east side of the lake) who say the climate there is better than that of Southern Italy. They grow pineapples, coconuts, sugarcane;
  • Thousands of green turtles (20-200 pounds) caught, held in pens and shipped north each year;
  • New River (winding through downtown Fort Lauderdale today) … “the straightest, deepest and finest river I have ever seen in Florida.” Thousands of fish visible in its clear, amber-colored waters, include an abundance of Crevalles (jacks) 10-30 pounds. Also largest alligator (12 feet) of the trip spotted in New River;
  • The beauty and silence of the Everglades and its friendly Seminoles;
  • Their experience of an earthquake Jan. 12, 1879 at 11:30 p.m., which threw oil out of the lamp of the Jupiter Lighthouse and shook its brick foundation (one of several recorded in Florida and was felt for 25,000 square miles);
  • Jupiter Lighthouse, which provides “one of the grandest and wildest views of land and water in Florida.” (It still does);
  • The Biscayne Bay area, with fewer than 30 residents, is cooler in summer than any other portion of Florida because of the trade winds. It does  not get as hot as New York City. One day it will be a “popular health resort or sanitarium.” (Today the Magic City and Miami Beach lie at the bay's edgesanitariums indeed.)
An avid angler, Henshall is chock full of fish tales—the kind that would have today’s anglers pining for time travel.

Current Fort Lauderdale resident, famed fisherman and author Steve Kantner says fishing is not the sport it used to be because of one thing: habitat destruction. Pollution from development and  over-population has affected natural environments.

It’s interesting to note that Henshall did not mention tarpon in New River. Kantner, also known as the Landcaptain, caught one weighing 135 pounds; others have landed giants of 200 pounds.  (See link below to view his book.)

"Fishing in Lake Worth or in the ocean “outside”remains remarkable," said Kantner. "That’s because only one canal, the C-16, pours into it and the Gulfstream flows closest to that area." The Landcaptain knows of one fisherman who snagged a tuna in the Lake Worth lagoon.

Fishing there may one day be closer to what it was in Henshall's time. Plans are underway to restore the salinity and original habitat of Lake Worth.  

Dr. Henshall, who has since been referred to as the “apostle of the black bass,” left medicine to write several other books on fishing, some included in the American Sportsman’s Library. His Camping and Cruising in Florida (see link below to view book) remains the centerpiece of his legacy.

James Alexander Henshall, M.D., Cruising and Camping in Florida. Cincinnati: Robert Clarke & Co., 1884
Kantner, Steve. Ultimate Guide to Fishing South Florida on Foot. Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books, 2014.

Tags: Florida travel, Florida fishing, Steve Kantner, Florida history

Thursday, February 19, 2015

WWII titans meet in Pompano Beach 1941

Crimean conference, 1945 L to R: 
Sec. of State Edward Stettinius, 
Maj. Gen. L. S. Kuter, Admiral E. J. King, 
Gen. George C. Marshall, 
Amb. Averill Harriman, Admiral William Leahy, 
President F. D. Roosevelt. Crimea, Russia. LOC

For more Florida history visit my other blog, 

Among the famous and powerful to visit South Florida during the 1940s was General George C. Marshall (b. 1880-d. 1959), U.S. Army Chief of Staff, who flew in unannounced to the Fort Lauderdale Municipal Airport Nov. 16, 1941.

Marshall “blitzkrieged the entire county” while he paid a visit to Edward Stettinius, Jr. (b. 1900 - d. 1949), former lend-lease administrator who was vacationing in Pompano Beach. The visit was termed social but turmoil in international affairs hinted at another reason for the brief overnight stay. Pearl Harbor was a few weeks away.

Pompano remained “blissfully unaware” of the confab until after Marshall’s departure at 7 a.m. the following day aboard a Great Douglas Bomber or C-41 (Eastern Airlines acquired a few C-41s and changed the designation to DC-3). The four-star general and his pilot, Major L.R. Parker, headed to North Carolina to fly over a maneuver area before landing in Washington, D.C.

Stettinius, who later served as secretary of state under President Truman, hosted Winston
Churchill in Pompano a few years later. It gave rise to the local myth that Churchill and President Roosevelt met at Cap’s Place for dinner when, in fact, food from the restaurant (and former gambling hub) was delivered to the Stettinius residence for the prime minister’s visit. Roosevelt had suggested Churchill visit Florida (without the president) when he needed a breather from the prime minister who had been in Washington. (In Pompano,Churchill totally disrobed at the ocean's edge and fell into the water, dousing his cigar, according to a Secret Service agent.) 

General Marshall encouraged U.S. assistance in the post-WWII economic recovery of Europe, thus the naming of the Marshall Plan, an unprecedented $17 billion program that helped restore war-ravaged countries. Marshall also served as the nation’s third secretary of defense and as secretary of state under Truman.

Fort Lauderdale Daily News, Nov. 17, 1941.
Manchester, William and Reid, Paul. The Last Lion, Vol. 3: Defender of the Realm. 2012. 

Tags: WWII, Pompano Beach history, Florida during WWII, Gen. George Marshall, Edward Stettinius, Jr., film researcher

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Lustron House: Solution to post WWII housing comes to Fort Lauderdale

A California Lustron house 

For more Florida history visit my other blog, 

By Jane Feehan

A housing shortage affected the nation—and South Florida—after World War II. Among the reasons was pent up demand and a dearth of building materials (see my post at ).

Carl  G. Strandlund, then 48,  set out to remedy the problem with his idea for a prefabricated house. He launched Lustron Corporation in 1947 with $1,000 jointly invested with his wife, some other private capital and a loan of about $37.5 million from the federal government. It was a controversial loan because of its risk, one that had many detractors in Washington, but the housing need, as defined by President Harry S. Truman, was critical. Strandlund, an engineer, put up his patent for his prefab house as collateral.

Strandlund’s plan was to build 150 a day or a total of 17,500 houses in a plant in Columbus, Ohio with thousands of employees. Lustron Corp. built about 2,500 units, which were delivered as kits. Walls, ceilings and roofs were made of porcelain-enameled steel. Plumbing fixtures were constructed of enamel. The automotive and aircraft industries provided the templates for wiring and lighting. The houses were low maintenance, simple structures of one or two bedrooms but they had low curb appeal.

Lustron Corporation declared bankruptcy in February, 1950. 

There were production delays and lack of a distribution strategy. Also, little thought went into community or site planning. But a few were sent to Florida, with the largest number to Sarasota. Records indicate there was one located at 110 Hendricks Isle in Fort Lauderdale. One remains in this city, the Alfred and Olive Thorpe Lustron House, at 1001 NE 2nd Street (see Broward link below for photo). It was entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 2007. A Lustron house in Boca Raton is recorded as demolished. One may still exist on Biscayne Boulevard in Miami and another is listed as being on 59th Street near the Miami International Airport.

The largest assembly (60) of Lustron houses, was at the U.S. Marine military base in Quantico, VA. Information and history about the low-maintenance units is still being researched and compiled by the Lustron Preservation Organization ( Some estimate that 2,000 still exist, a testimony to their structural integrity.


* Fetters, Thomas A. Lustron Home: The History of a Postwar Prefabricated Housing Experiment. McFarland and    Company. Jefferson, NC: 2002
*Lodi News-Sentinel, March 26, 1948
*Miami News, Jan. 13, 1951
* Wikipedia

Monday, January 5, 2015

Hiaasen: name among novelists, journalists and Fort Lauderdale pioneers

Fort Lauderdale
By Jane Feehan

Fans of award-winning writer Carl Hiaasen usually associate his name with one of his many novels set in Miami or with the Miami Herald, where he contributes a column. But few know that his grandfather Carl Andreas Hiaasen was a Fort Lauderdale pioneer.

The elder Hiaasen was born in North Dakota in 1894. After earning a law degree at the University of North Dakota in 1922, he was enticed to come to booming Fort Lauderdale by World War I buddy Charles McCune. Hiaasen gladly went south to seek adventure but his plan was to return home.

The native North Dakotan’s early adventures in Florida included teaching and preaching. Then McCune asked him to join a law firm—Fort Lauderdale’s first—that he established with attorney C.P. Weidling; Hiaasen took up his friend’s offer and never returned to North Dakota.

He didn’t have much time to think about home. There was enough work at the law office to keep two dozen lawyers busy 24 hours a day. Hopeful developers were flocking to the fledgling Fort Lauderdale (established in 1915) and needed legal expertise for their land deals.

The firm became known as McCune Hiaasen and later McCune, Hiaasen, Kelley (and Fleming was added). Carl Hiaasen served as Port Everglades attorney, as counsel to Hollywood founder Joseph Young, to the City of Fort Lauderdale and to a number of other high-profile clients.

Hiaasen married and had one son Kermit Odell, who also practiced law and is father of today’s novelist, Carl Hiaasen.  The senior Carl Hiaasen worked until his firm disbanded in 1990. During his career, the Fort Lauderdale pioneer was lauded in at least eight Who’s Who books and was a member of the bar of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1926. He died at his Coral Ridge home in June, 1994, a few weeks after his 100th birthday.

Palm Beach Post, Feb. 14, 1935
Miami News, April 12, 1950
Boca Raton News, June 16, 1994
Weidling, Philip J. , Burghard, August. Checkered Sunshine. Gainesville: University of Florida Press (1966).

Tags:Fort Lauderdale in the 1920s, Fort Lauderdale pioneers, film researcher, Carl Hiaasen