Sunday, March 13, 2016

MGM: California soaking the rich; move studios to Florida (1935)


File:Aleja Gwiazd w Hollywood 84.JPG
By Mateusz Kudła (Own work) 


By Jane Feehan

During the early days of filmmaking, Florida held a place in the collective mind of the industry. A few studios were established during the early 1900s in Miami and Hialeah (see index). But they closed as California evolved into a movie making epicenter with the founding of Warner Bros* in 1923 and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1924. Other studio giants followed: Fox, RKO, 20th Century Pictures.

For one last time the spotlight turned on Florida in 1935 as a potential haven for the film industry. MGM threatened to lead a movie studio exodus from California to the Sunshine State to escape high taxes. Key MGM player (and later 20th Century Pictures co-founder) Joseph M. Schenck voiced apprehension about California’s tendencies toward “soaking the rich.”   

The 1930s saw a huge increase in federal income taxes; California followed suit. As a result, highly paid actors and directors chose to work less. Schenck pointed to a proposed 35 percent tax on film industry incomes as reason to leave the state. He called for the people of Florida to raise $10 million through subscriptions to build motion picture studios to be rented to the film industry for $250,000 a year. The interest rate for the arrangement would not exceed 2.5 percent. Schenck told The New York Times he was about to meet with Sidney Kent of Fox Studios in Boca Raton to discuss the plans. Florida would be fine as a new locale, he said. Good transportation to and from the state was an asset. And, most scenes were shot indoors. If mountain scenery was needed, North Carolina was nearby.

The plan was probably a threat; the movie industry was firmly planted in California by 1935. During that decade of the Great Depression, a roster of movie classics was produced that includes: Wizard of Oz, The Public Enemy, King Kong, Petrified Forest, Gone with the Wind and Little Caesar. And the actors soaring to fame through those and other films—Bette Davis, James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, Judy Garland – were synonymous with Hollywood. It was after, all the “Golden Age of Hollywood.”

Whether threat or plan, Hollywood’s complaining in the media about taxes during the 1930s earned its place in popular debate about the subject—and about politics. And Florida still holds a special mention: The state continues to attract the film industry with its production locations. In 2006 the state ranked third in the nation (behind California and New York) in the film industry.

Let’s hope Florida's incentives for filmmaking are renewed. 

*Albert Warner owned an estate on Miami Beach; it was later sold to make way for the Eden Roc Hotel.

Sources:
The New York Times, Mar. 5, 1935
Film History: An International Journal: Vol. 22 (2010) Number 1
IMDB
MGM



Tags: Florida history, film industry, Jane Feehan film researcher, MGM history, Florida film industry

Monday, February 15, 2016

Touring Florida in the 1930s: Of air shows, citrus groves, wildlife, and trailer camps


By Jane Feehan

Florida was hit by the Great Depression before most other states, especially after the 1926 hurricane slammed Fort Lauderdale and Miami, scaring off land speculators and developers. By the 1930s, the entire country was affected by a severe economic downturn.

But tough times didn’t stop people from visiting Florida, especially those with cars. New roads and inexpensive tent and trailer camps welcomed “swarms” of tourists during the winter season, which back then started after the holidays.  

There was plenty to see by car, according to travel writers. The roads that made sightseeing possible were State Road 441 from the Georgia line south to Miami and US 1. In the late 1930s, Route 1 was to undergo widening from St. Augustine to Palm Beach. From the Palm Beach area to Miami that well-traveled road was smooth and wide at the time.

Motorists could travel through Central Florida along the Orange Blossom Trail (parts of 441, adjacent routes U.S. 17/192 and other roads).* A recommended itinerary would include a stop at Clermont, Gem of the Hills (now Choice of Champions), and Howey-in-the-Hills, then touted as the “largest citrus development in the world.” Drivers could also stay at Winter Garden, a mecca of vacation trailers, Lake Apopka, a sweet spot for bass fishermen or Winter Haven, the “Citrus Capital” and site of the annual Orange Festival. They might also like to see Palatka, the “new rival” to Ocala (how things have changed …).

The lower coast of West Florida offered Sarasota, “which has more valuable old masters than any other American museum except for the Metropolitan." South of that town sat Fort Myers, once home to Thomas A. Edison (1847-1931) where Edison Day was “still celebrated.” (And celebrated today.)

A tour to East Florida could include driving on sand along the ocean at Daytona Beach or stopping at Merritt Island to see flocks of birds rising like clouds from its marshes. Nearby was Pelican Island, a wildlife refuge off Vero Beach. Also in Vero was the McKee Jungle Gardens, opened in 1931 (and now named McKee Botanical Garden). Cape Canaveral, about an hour north, was a prime spot for catching jumbo shrimp; the town claimed a yearly 400-ton-catch from its adjacent ocean waters.     

Travel on the Overseas Highway down to Key West was interrupted by damage from the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 but motorists could visit the Lion Farm in Fort Lauderdale (see my post: Where lions once roared at http://bit.ly/1xyXdBA ), Hibiscus Gardens in Dania or stay at one of the many fishing camps in or near Key Largo.

And there was an air show—held south of Miami—that featured planes from 12 airports and seaplane bases. The U.S. Coast Guard provided some of the best acts, according to some. For visitors who made it that far, a visit to Miami could include a wager placed at Tropical Park or a much-needed rest at a comfortable hotel room near Biscayne Bay or along the ocean.

Much has changed since 1937 but some things stay the same: nomadic tourists seeking warm winters, sightseeing and … air shows. 
  
*Not to be confused with the seven notorious miles of illicit activities dubbed the Orange Blossom Trail near today’s Orlando.

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Sources: New York Times, Wikipedia, Cities of Howey-in-the Hills, Daytona Beach


For Florida trips today, see below:



 Tags: Travel, Florida tourism, tours, Florida history, South Florida history, Central Florida, West Florida, Jane Feehan film researcher, Florida in the 1930s, Florida during the Depression

Friday, December 11, 2015

Prohibition arrests leave Broward, Fort Lauderdale high & dry without local law enforcement

Man raising his glass in a toast. 19--.
 State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.


By Jane Feehan

Liquor flowed to and from South Florida during Prohibition (1920-1933) and according to Jacksonville-based Federal Prohibition Administrator P.F. Hambsch, many across the nation knew about it.

In 1926 Hambsch decided to clean up that reputation.

In April that year, he wrote to Broward Sheriff Paul C. Bryan outlining the problem and asked for monthly reports on arrests of bootleggers and seizures to refute the widely-held notion that little was being done to enforce the law. According to Broward County Sheriff historian, William P. Cahill, Bryan said he “was ready to cooperate.”

Cooperation included Bryan’s invitation to send agents so he could get to know them. Unbeknown to Bryan, two agents were sent to work undercover as bootleggers for three months, gathering evidence for arrests. They paid $750 to the sheriff and his men in weekly installments of $5-$15.  

With protection payments, bootleggers enjoyed full police protection to make and then distribute booze to Miami, Palm Beach and other east coast resorts. There was evidence a few bootlegging rings were financed by some wealthy and respected citizens of Broward County and Fort Lauderdale. (And so evolved the moniker, Fort Liquordale).

In January 1927, raids were conducted by 18 agents, and a few Coast Guardsmen and customs inspectors, resulting in 41 (some say 32) arrests, including Sheriff Bryan, Broward County’s second sheriff, all six of his deputies, Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Bert Croft and eight patrolmen. The raiders seized eight large stills, 10,000 gallons of mash, 300 gallons of moonshine and a quantity of bottled beer.

The arrested lawmen were brought to the Coast Guard Station (near today’s Bahia Mar). They were heavily armed but their weapons were confiscated. Bail was set at $5,000 for Bryan and Croft; for the others, $2,000. The arrests left Broward County and Fort Lauderdale without local law enforcement, but according to Cahill, Bryan served out his term until 1929.The Broward Sheriff’s website states he served until 1927.

Paul Bryan, son of Louis H. and Elizabeth Bryan, was born in Volusia County in 1891 and came with his family to Fort Lauderdale in 1900. His father helped lay out the town of Fort Lauderdale. After Paul left the Sheriff’s Office, he helped run the Dania café owned by his wife, Maude Henson Bryan. Bryan died in 1942; his wife died in 1988 at age 90. Local history is framed (and here, peppered) by Bryan family civic contributions.

Sources:
The New York Times, Jan. 28, 1927
William P. Cahill, Broward Legacy, Vol. 24, No. 2 (2004)
www.sheriff.org
Roots Web


         

Monday, November 23, 2015

Florida frontier justice: execution by alligator


Two gators in search of a meal, picture courtesy of Steve Kantner

According to a New York Sun Times news story datelined Fort Lauderdale, Jul. 23, 1897, Florida Seminoles* acknowledged two capital crimes in the late 1800s: theft and adultery. The newspaper published an account given by Seminole James Jumper that underscored the negative views held then about one of those crimes.

It was reported that Tiger Cat, a member of an Indian camp near Tamiami Trail, ran off with the chief’s wife, enraging their entire community. A group set out to find the law-breaking couple; two weeks later they were apprehended and brought back home to face justice. For more than two days the governing council debated punishment. They settled on execution … by alligator.

The convicted pair was brought to Little Gator Key (perhaps an Everglades hammock; there is no Florida key by that name). The two were stripped of their clothes and tied to the ground about 50 feet apart. A dog, which was to initially attract feeding gators, was attached between them. The couple waited all day in the blazing heat until sundown, when a gator emerged from the water and quickly devoured the dog. Other gators joined the dinner frenzy and finished off the errant couple, who were by then most remorseful.

*Note: It is not implied that this group was part of today’s Seminole Tribe of Florida, which has its own constitution, police department and modern and humane due process of law.  



 Tags: Florida in the 1800s, Jane Feehan film researcher, Everglades, alligators

Monday, November 9, 2015

Wolfie's: memories of good and plenty and ...


By Jane Feehan

During the 1960s, before malls became popular high school hangouts in Fort Lauderdale, Wolfie’s Restaurant on Sunrise Boulevard was the place to be seen. The deli was a winner among all ages with its overflowing bowls of tiny breakfast Danish, mouth puckering dill pickles and crunchy coleslaw, overstuffed pastrami sandwiches and creamy New York cheesecake. 

For those of us who spend a lot of time in Fort Lauderdale, the restaurant’s demise is but one of many markers on the road of long gone and forgotten … until someone who moved away while it was still open asks “whatever happened to Wolfie’s?” A Publix now sits near that once-hallowed spot.

Wolfie’s history is complicated—except for its beginning. In the beginning was Wilford or “Wolfie” Cohen. He got his start in the restaurant biz working as a kid in the Catskills. He came to Miami Beach during  the late 1930s and bought Al’s Sandwich Shop at 23rd Street and Collins. He made it a popular place—one that Al Jolson and Milton Berle visited. Customers seeking a glimpse of celebrities and a good meal flocked to Cohen’s restaurant.

But Cohen set his sights on a larger empire. He sold his place (with Wolfie's name rights) at four times what he paid for it to Meyer Yedlin in 1948.  Wolfie opened another winner, Pumpernick’s, in the 1940s and sold it in 1955, according to a Miami News obituary.  When Cohen died at 74 in 1986, he had also owned the Bull Pen, Mr. Mahzik, and the Rascal House (restaurant names should be unforgettable he once said). At the time of his death, he owned only the *Rascal House, which he left to his daughter actress Robin Sherwood. (Sherwood appeared in Brian de Palma’s Blow Out, in Death Wish II opposite Charles Bronson and in other films.)

Meyer Yedlin opened Wolfie’s in two Miami locations, at Lincoln Road and Collins Avenue and another at 163rd Street in North Miami Beach. He also opened one in St. Petersburg in 1953 (sold it in 1955) with partners and incorporated Fort Lauderdale Wolfie’s in 1958.  Joseph Sloane, a partner in the St. Petersburg venture, was also listed as owner of the Fort Lauderdale Wolfie’s. As I said, this ownership history gets complicated.

As tourism grew in South Florida so did the national reputation of Wolfie’s, especially among New Yorkers. In 1961, a U.S. Appeals Court ruled that the Wolfie’s name could not be used by a deli in Brooklyn; only the two restaurants in Miami had rights. The Brooklyn partners claimed they did not steal the name; “Wolfie” was a nickname earned by one of them for a reputation as a ladies’ man. The judge didn’t buy it.  Yedlin (who died about 1960) or his relatives had their hands in various Wolfie’s, thus the permitted use of the name at some other locations.

In 1968, during the Republican National Convention in Miami Beach, Chef Craig Claiborne wrote in The New York Times that Wolfie’s, open 24/7, was worth a visit but to conventioneers he recommended the breakfast spread at Pumpernick’s, by that time out of Wolfie Cohen’s hands.

Long after Wolfie’s closed in Fort Lauderdale—the corporation involuntarily dissolved in 1984—it was announced that Wolfie’s Deli Express was set to open a number of franchises in South Florida. I’m not sure about the genesis of this corporation or whether it was even related to the Wolfie’s we all knew and loved.  In 1998, the president of the company claimed this was to be the “biggest news” in franchising since McDonald’s. Anybody hear of it?

In 2002 Wolfie’s closed on 21st Street in Miami Beach. The last owner of the one on Lincoln Road was Samuel Kaye who died in 2012, but I'm not sure when that Wolfie's shut its doors; the same fate was dealt the restaurant on Sunrise Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale. International residents and exotic palates have replaced the taste for Jewish borscht, bagels, lox and cheesecake but not the fond memories woven into Fort Lauderdale and Miami history.  And it all began with Wolfie Cohen ...  Copyright 2015. Jane Feehan
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*Rascal’s closed in 2008, and is currently the site of Epicure Market.

Sources:
St. Petersburg Times, Dec. 18, 1953
Miami News, Sept. 21, 1958
The Reading Eagle, Feb. 13, 1959
The New York Times, Jan. 22, 1961
The New York Times, June 10, 1961
Evening Independent, Aug. 13, 1964
Miami News, Oct. 7, 1986
Schenectady Gazette, Jul. 3, 1987
Boca Raton News, June 3, 1998

Tags: Wolfie's, Wolfie Cohen, Fort Lauderdale restaurants in the 1960s, Miami Beach deli restaurants


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Why Fort Lauderdale was the last major city in Florida to get northern air service

Merle L. Fogg Field expansion construction 1935
State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory


By Jane Feehan

From nine-hole golf course to the Merle L. Fogg Air Field in the 1920s and the Naval Air Station in the 1940s, today’s Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport ranks as one of the top 25 busiest airports in the United States. Its growth parallels that of South Florida from a winter season vacation destination to one of the most desirable places in the country to live and play year round.

Significant commercial activity came to the field after Broward County commissioners leased the airport back from the Navy in a series of temporary agreements commencing in 1948. A ten-year lease was signed between the two parties in 1949 but the county assumed formal ownership in 1953 and operated it as the Broward County Airport (some sources named it Broward County International Airport).

Non-stop flight service from the North to South Florida began in the 1950s, but the routes were to Miami. Routes were denied Broward County Airport because it was considered too close to its sister city. Travelers took Greyhound limousine service from the Miami airport to Fort Lauderdale and other cities. But the 1,200-acre Broward airport, one third the size of Miami’s, had a lot going for it. It was the only airport adjacent to U.S. Highway 1, a major traffic artery, and it sat four miles south of downtown Fort Lauderdale.* Also, it was poised to serve the fastest growing city in the state; the number of Fort Lauderdale residents doubled from 1950 to 1955, which outpaced Miami’s growth. By the late 1950s, this ocean side city was the last major city in Florida to obtain air service from the North.

The first major carrier to fly to Fort Lauderdale was Northeast Airlines. Service began in December, 1958 with one flight a day from Idlewild (now JFK) that left at 10 a.m. and arrived four hours and 35 minutes later. Return service left Fort Lauderdale at 4:30 p.m.  Soon after, flights were scheduled from Washington, D.C., Boston and Philadelphia.
 
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International
Airport today: 

Courtesy of  ZiggyMarley01, Wikipedia 
Prior to 1958, the airport handled 400 landings and take offs a day but traffic consisted of cubs, Convairs, private and executive planes. To modernize the facility and accommodate northern service with larger aircraft and ancillary traffic, Broward County Airport (renamed Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in 1959) lengthened its four air strips from 5,000 to about 6,000 feet, and paved taxi ways, aprons and access roads (yes, it was that primitive).  The new $340,000 terminal featured a self-service baggage area, "which eliminated the need for tipping," and a U.S. customs section with a check out station similar to those in supermarkets. Modern indeed.

National, Delta, Eastern, and Northwest Orient airlines followed with service to Fort Lauderdale during the next two years. Also operating were the smaller Mackey International Airlines, Bahamas Airways, and Aerovias Q servicing Cuba and its Isle of Pines.  

Customers lined up for Fort Lauderdale winter hotel packages that started at about $68 per person, double occupancy, for six nights, seven days.  Little wonder air traffic to this city grew 178 percent from 1958 to 1959. Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. Jane Feehan.
  
*At one time in the 1960s, Broward County considered proposals for an airport at U.S. 27 and State Road 84, but that’s another story.

Sources:
Miami News, April 25, 1950
The New York Times, Jan. 18, 1959
The New York Times, Nov. 6, 1960
Broward.org
USATravel.About.com
Wikipedia



Tags: Fort Lauderdale airport, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, Florida aviation history,  

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Hotel Havana Riviera: Meyer Lansky gambles on Cuba



By Jane Feehan 

Social and political pressure nearly shut down casino gambling in Dade and Broward counties during the late 1940s and early 50s. Organized crime figure Meyer Lansky ran the Colonial Inn, a posh casino in Hallandale Beach, for three short years until the government closed it in 1948. The
high-profile Kefauver Crime Committee hearings, which arose out of concern about the growth of syndicated crime after World War II, ramped up scrutiny of illegal gambling operations in Florida and around the country. It was time for Lansky and friends to look for a more hospitable environment.  

That place was Cuba, where exiled mobster and Lansky associate Lucky Luciano held court under the cooperative eye of Cuba dictator Fulgencio Batista, an old Lansky friend.  Gambling brought tourists, so the Batista regime granted state loans to cover 50 percent of a hotel/casino valued at least $1 million. Honors went to Meyer Lansky who built the lavish 19-story, 354-room Hotel Havana Riviera along the waterfront. Seventeen other casinos were also partially financed by Batista.

Lansky had gambling interests in Las Vegas, where state law prohibited operators of gambling concessions from simultaneously running another casino. That included Havana, so Lansky tapped others, including businessmen Harry and Ben Smith, as owners/stockholders. A cadre of individuals listed as operators of the Havana Riviera was surreptitiously headed by Lansky.

Valued between $12 and $15 million, Hotel Havana Riviera was the first large hotel and casino to be constructed since the Gran Casino Nacional 27 years prior. With gold-plated slot machines and other amenities, the hotel opened December 10, 1957 with a floor show that included Ginger Rogers and an audience comprised of American press, and television and Hollywood celebs.  On Jan. 19, 1958 TV personality Steve Allen broadcast (NBC) from the Riviera with transmission made possible with new technology, the “over-the-horizon microwave system.”

It wasn’t long before the Cuban tide of fortune changed for Lansky and his associates. A violent storm that shattered windows and flooded the lobby of Hotel Havana Riviera on Jan. 4, 1958 foreshadowed the downturn. The growing July 26 movement, launched by lawyer and rebel Fidel Castro in 1953, was gaining momentum. By 1958 U.S. support for Batista waned after his army was routed by rebels. The breakdown of Cuba’s air force soon followed as did Castro’s repatriation from Mexico, Jan. 1, 1959.  Batista, purse heavy with state money, left quickly for the Dominican Republic.

The casino at the Riviera, looted as others were during the coup, was closed by Castro within days. Lansky arrived in Miami from Cuba on Jan. 7, hopeful that the new leader would soon change his mind. He told reporters that hotel employees were about to ask the government to reopen the casinos to save their jobs. Lansky returned and Castro reopened casinos (only to non-Cubans) on Jan. 18, welcoming U.S. tourists to his “beautiful land of happy people.”

Summary trials and executions by firing squads were the order of the day with support of many. In late January, a group of mothers whose sons had reportedly been killed by Batista met with 300 members of the international press in the lobby of the Riviera. Trials and executions continued, people fled to Florida and relations with the U.S. deteriorated. In May, Lansky’s brother Jake and colleague Dino Cellino who also worked at the casino, were detained 25 days in the Tiscornia Emigration Station. They were released, according to the Cubans, when they had word the two were not wanted by the U.S. government.

Hotel Havana Riviera lost an estimated $7 million by the time Castro seized the hotel and outlawed all casinos in 1960. Cuba anticipated a U.S. invasion. A bomb went off at the Hotel Havana Riviera Oct. 31, 1960, destroying a room and furnishings on the 12th floor. The hotel was nationalized, the mob left, and gambling prospered in Las Vegas, the real land of happy people.

Today, Havana Riviera remains a popular, if not luxurious hotel, with rooms selling for less than $100. It is recommended to business travelers and honeymooners, an odd juxtaposition of guests.
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. Jane Feehan.

Sources:
Miami News, Jul. 21, 1957
Miami News, Dec. 1, 1957
Milwaukee Sentinel, Dec. 12, 1957
The New York Times, Jan. 4, 1958
The New York Times, Jan. 2, 1959
Ocala Star Banner, Jan. 8, 1959
The New York Times, Jan. 18, 1959
The New York Times, Jan. 25, 1959
The New York Times, May 31, 1959
The New York Times, Oct. 31, 1960