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

Saturday, December 20, 2014

First U.S. high-speed hydrofoil sails from Port Everglades

For more Florida history visit my other blog, 

By Jane Feehan

The nation’s first oceangoing hydrofoil, the H.S. Denison, sailed out of Port Everglades February 2, 1964 for a sea trial. The vessel, first of its kind designed for high speeds over rough waters, was scheduled for passenger service between Fort Lauderdale and Nassau.

Capt. P.O. Clarke ran the vessel through an impressive test. At 23 knots, the 104.6 foot Denison began to rise from the water. At 30 knots it was free from the seas and at 50 knots it was “flying” on its foils with the hull five feet above the ocean.

Though its sea trial was impressive, the Denison remained an experimental vessel, a disappointment to many. The project, initially developed by the Marine Administration (MARAD) of the U.S. Department of Commerce, Aircraft Engine Corporation and General Electric, was coordinated by enthusiastic supporter Charles R. Denison in 1958. The group’s objective was to research possibilities for express cargo shipping and passenger travel at 200 knots. Dension died early in the ship’s design, which diminished impetus for and focus on the project in the years that followed.  

It was reported that 73 companies collectively invested more than $8 million to develop the hydrofoil named posthumously for its most ardent supporter. General Electric built a 14,000 horsepower gas turbine engine for the experimental 94-ton ship. The vessel was completed and launched June 5, 1962 by Grumman Corp. in Oyster Bay, Long Island. Sea trials commenced a few days later and were conducted along the eastern seaboard from Maine to Florida in ocean waters as high as nine feet.

The U.S. Navy withdrew its support of the project to pursue development of its own hydrofoil, which affected commercial plans for the H.S. Dension. Today, a ferry service from Port Everglades to Bimini operates at about 32 knots for passenger and cargo transport—considerably slower than Charles R. Denison envisioned during the 1950s. Maybe speed is why a solid business model for ferry service in this market seems elusive.

Miami News, Feb. 2, 1964

Tags: Fort Lauderdale history, Fort Lauderdale historian, Port Everglades history, film researcher, hydrofoils, maritime history

Friday, November 14, 2014

Kalem films Miami: "Paradise of the eastern south, the California that is right at home"

Opening in Jacksonville, 1914*
Robert Vignola, director; Kenean Buel, 
writer, actor, director, studio manager

By Jane Feehan

Miami attracted a series of filmmakers in its early days (see labels for additional posts on the subject), including D.W Griffith in 1919. One of the most prolific in the business was the Kalem Company who filmed daily life in Miami as early as 1913. 

Kalem's L.A. Darling came to Miami in March of that year and his activities made front page news of the local paper.

He produced 14 films in a matter of days capturing shots of tourists at the Royal Palm hotel, millionaire yachtsmen returning from a day of fishing, the Great Commoner William Jennings Bryan—a new resident of Coconut Grove—and pioneer and large land holder Mary Brickell. He also filmed six Seminoles in traditional dress. It was reported that the “film was to advertise to the continent the Paradise of the eastern south, the California that is right at home.”

Darling’s mission was to film an accurate representation of life in the sub-tropics, including its ocean waters, palm trees and coconuts. One film, aimed at the “lady suffragettes,” showed Mary Brickell “bossing the job” or directing a man as he gathered coconuts. Another shows one of Seminoles at “Indian headquarters, Girtman’s Cash grocery,” who, only after much cajoling, moved around for the camera. The Seminoles were convinced Darling didn’t know what he was doing; they assumed the only pictures were still shots.   

Political celebrity William Jennings Bryan, who served as congressman for Nebraska, ran for U.S. president three times and later argued for the state in the Scopes trial, came to Coconut Grove to build a home in 1913. Darling caught him on film with his sleeves rolled up directing construction workers on the site.The filmmaker regretted he hadn’t stopped by three weeks earlier when he could have found Bryan hoeing in his radish patch.
Bryan home in Coconut Grove, 1922. **

Darling also captured shots of a grapefruit packing house, residential neighborhoods and traffic in business areas. His work took a matter of weeks, including the making of negatives to sell to local movie houses. Theater owners needed lots of product to change up programs on a weekly or even daily basis.

Established in New York City in 1907 and operating from 131 West 24th Street, Kalem Company filmed on location throughout the U.S and Ireland. They opened studios in California and Jacksonville and in doing so, became the first company to film year-round. The company made the first Ben-Hur and the first adaptation of 
Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde. Its legacy includes more than 1,200 films including several about Florida: The Seminole’s Vengeance, A Florida Feud: or, Love in the Everglades, In Old Florida, St. Augustine, Florida, the Celery Industry in Florida, and Cypress Logging in Florida.

Kalem was purchased in 1917 by Vitagraph Studios.

*State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, - opening in Jacksonville 1914

** State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, bryan home by Fishbaugh, W. A.(William A.), 1873-1950

See more on William Jennings Bryan at Jane's Bits:

Miami Metropolis, March 12, 1913
Miami Metropolis, March 13, 1913
Mast, Gerald. A Short History of the Movies. New York: Pegasus, 1971
Florida Memories

Tags: early filmmakers in Florida, Fort Lauderdale historian, Miami historian, Florida movie studios, Kalem Company,Jane Feehan film researcher, Miami history