Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sears story in Fort Lauderdale didn't begin with Searstown

By Jane Feehan

Sears, Roebuck and Company, founded in 1886, has had its ups and downs over the years. The largest retailer in the United States until 1989, it now occasionally announces store closings. When it does, many Fort Lauderdale residents wonder if Searstown on Federal Highway at Sunrise will be shutting its doors. As of this posting, the landmark department store remains open. Few know the history of Sears in Fort Lauderdale; it did not begin with Searstown.
Opening day on South Andrews, 1937

Sears opened its first Fort Lauderdale store Jan. 7, 1937 at 101 S. Andrews Ave. Mayor Lewis Moore (in office 1937-39) officiated at the event along with Chamber of Commerce President J.D. Camp. A reported 2,000 residents “thronged” to the 19,000 sq. foot store. With plenty of product lines to choose from, the store also operated an automotive department offering free tire and battery servicing to those who purchased the products at Sears. Opening day was so busy Store Manager E.E. Carroll summoned additional help to assist at registers and in the aisles.

Sears’ business continued to expand in the growing city. In 1955 the new Searstown opened at 901 N. Federal Hwy where it entered memories of current long-time residents. The transition day between the closing of the store on South Andrews and the opening on Federal was the first business day
Rendering of Searstown before opening in 1955
 Sears had closed in its then 18 years in Fort Lauderdale.  Searstown, touted as having plenty of parking, which it still does, was anchor store to a collection of 15 other businesses by 1958: grocer Piggly Wiggly (second largest in the center), Billet Doux Card Shop, Stevens Bakery, Dr. Harold S. Doubleday, optometrist, Pribbles Jewelry, Searstown Beauty Salon, Chat-N-Nibble Sandwich Shop, Deluxe Barber Shop, Monty’s 5 & 10, Gift Box, Broward Drug and Surgical Supply, the Religious Shop, Dr. William Migden, physician and surgeon, and Town Properties Realty.

By 1958, Searstown was upgraded in the Sears roster of highest revenue producers to number 75 out of its top 122 stores. I wonder how it ranks today … 

Fort Lauderdale News, Jan. 6, 1937
Fort Lauderdale News, Jan. 7, 1937
Fort Lauderdale News, Aug. 10, 1958

Tags: Fort Lauderdale history, Florida retail history, South Florida history, Broward County history,

Jane Feehan

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Fort Lauderdale's Victoria Park - then and now

January, 1925

This advertisement came out less than two years before the devastating hurricane of 1926 that ushered in the Great Depression in Florida before it cast its shadow across most other states.

And today? Recent sales include homes from $490,000 to $1.1 million. Others on the water exceed that. The area, which sits behind the Gateway Theater and along the Middle River, includes 30 percent of Fort Lauderdale's historically significant properties. About 10,000 residents call this beautiful neigborhood home.

Tags: Fort Lauderdale neighborhoods, Fort Lauderdale history

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Florida's floating islands

By Jane Feehan 

Lakes with floating islands dot the globe in countries with marshlands, notably in Tasmania, Brazil, Congo, Burma, The Netherlands and the U.S. Central Florida touts a number of them, drawing the interest of tourists and scientists.

Orange Lake, located in Florida’s Alachua and Marion counties, and part of the St. Johns River system, floats several of these aquatic wildlife habitats. In 1937 this body of water made headlines and postcards as “Lake of a Thousand Floating Islands.”

A floating island, or tussock, comprised of plant root systems of cattails, reeds, bulrush and other species, occurs when water runs too deep for roots to reach bottom, so they orient toward the surface for oxygen. Some islands are small, others expand to acres in size and grow trees. One island with a maple tree was featured decades ago in Robert Ripley’s Believe it or Not compendium of the bizarre. Some say these island trees serve as sails when windy, eerily moving a root system across the water. Documented as growing eight to 50 inches in diameter, island-dwelling trees generally live a decade or two.

Floating islands in Florida serve as home to raccoons, aquatic rabbits, a variety of birds and at times, alligators. Bass fisherman and tourists flock to Orange Lake, which loses about 30 percent of its water each year through a network of sinkholes, an important feature of the area’s hydrology.
Orange Creek Basin,
Osceloa Co.

Orange Lake may be the best known Florida lake for floating islands but others are located in Lake Yarbo in Winter Garden, and Lake Buckeye and Lake Idyl in Winter Haven. Anglers find floating islands to be a nuisance. So does the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Invasive Plant Management, which spent more than $18 million in 2004-2006 for cleaning up organic buildup adversely affecting fish and wildlife habitats. BIPM is the largest program in managing invasive species on public lands in the U.S.

Tourist attraction or nuisance, Florida’s floating islands add to the area’s semi-tropical mystique.  

Ocala Star Banner, Dec. 28, 1953
Ocala Star Banner, Jul. 31, 1986
St. Johns Water Management District
University of Florida
Florida Department of Environmental Protection

Florida, Jane Feehan, floating islands, tourism, semi-tropics, history, Orange Lake

Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day and somber numbers

Memorial Day is about remembering those who died in the service of our country.  Beginning each class I taught in American history with this sad tally, I hoped to establish a perspective and to set the context for the rest of the course.

Not all conflicts are listed below and many more died serving America. Some numbers are estimates and may differ, depending on the sources, but the point is made.

US War for Independence 
6,800 to 8,000  
About 17,000 servicemen were thought to have died from disease

Civil War
620,000 to 750,000

World War I  - The Great War
110,000-116,000 (Great Britain lost more than  900,000; France lost one in four of its male population)

World War II
About 407,000

Korean War


Afghanistan and Iraq
About 6,700

Tags: US Military deaths, Memorial Day

Sunday, May 8, 2016

What Depression? Miami economy kicks it - 1937

Though most of the nation was struggling to climb out of the depths of the Great Depression during the late 1930s, Miami’s Mayor Robert R. Williams waxed optimistic about greater Miami's  growth:

In 1937:
  • Hotel inventory reached 350, with 60 built that year.
  • Visitors could also find lodging among 6,000 available apartment units.
  • More houses were constructed—3,500—in 1937 than in any year of its history.
  • Eastern Airlines was doubling round trip winter flights between New York (five) and Chicago (three)  and  Miami; it was adding five new 21-passenger Douglas DC-3s
  • October air passenger traffic to South America from Miami was up 20 percent  from the previous October.
  • Florida East Coast and Seaboard Airline railways added extra equipment to transport passengers from Jacksonville to Miami.
  • Out of  eight million pounds of fish caught and shipped from Florida, five million were fished from waters off Miami.
  • The first of many expected mega yachts arrived at the Miami Yacht Basin, the 188-foot Arcadia owned by Mrs. Huntington Reed Hardwick of Boston.
  • Bayfront Park at Biscayne Bay was to host 45 operas and concerts that winter season.
  • The Orange Bowl (played since 1935), the Lipton Trophy sailing race, and the Miami to Nassau sailing race were expected to draw thousands of spectators.

Sources: Wall Street Journal, Dec. 18, 1937

Tags: Miami in the 1930s, Miami tourism, Miami history, Jane Feehan, film researcher, Eastern Airlines, Douglas Aircraft

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.

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

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 ), 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.


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