1926 LA Times Article: Stakes Hid in Weeds, Florida “Cities” Abandoned

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“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”

–George Santayana

 The cycle of boom and bust has long been a part of Florida’s history.  The following story of overzealous real estate speculation and subsequent crash of the market could have been written today.  Contemporary Florida’s deflated real estate bubble bears a striking resemblance to the events described in this article authored in 1926.

In fact, Florida has matured a great deal over the past century.  Florida’s major cities have grown from little more than frontier outposts to metropolises with millions of inhabitants.  Seasonal visitors are now greatly outnumbered by year-round residents.  Diverse national and international businesses have established firm roots.  Arts and culture are blossoming.  As Florida moves past its adolescence, the stability of its communities will hopefully serve to temper the more exuberant swings of future booms and busts so that the natural cycles of real estate can be harnessed for more predictable progress over time. 

See below for a transcript of the article.

 Stakes Hid in Weeds, Florida “Cities” Abandoned

State Dotted from End to End With Townsites Now Gone Back to Scrub

Ten Thousand Land Parcels in Miami and Dade Counties Sold for Taxes

[This is the third of a series of four articles written especially for The Times by Mr. Haight, an expert observer who was in Florida through the boom and after. –Ed. Times]

BY PUTNEY HAIGHT

TAMPA (Fla.) July 26, [1926] (Exclusive)

Under the blistering heat of the tropical Florida sun there lie a thousand developments scattered about the State, over-run with rank vegetation and animal life, with here and there a half-completed building, a former field office or a lonesome shack, marking the graves of the hopes of armies of investors a year ago.

Mile after mile, across the State from Palm Beach to Tampa: through swamp and timber lands, along the scummy shores of Lake Okeechobee, around acres and sections of scrub palmetto, subdivision follows subdivision, but of occupants there is practically none.  Even the small villages of new buildings that dot the way here and there, are deserted.  A negro head may pop up from an outbuilding occasionally, but for that one might be traveling through a country of the dead.

Up and down each coast, and through the center of the State corner stakes, curb lines, sometimes lighting poles, flaring billboards and pennant signs, an occasional water tank and here and there a building – these are the remnants of the world’s greatest real estate boom.

In the citrus-growing counties the subdivisions have over-run the groves and in the garden counties subdivisions have over-run the fields.

Almost down to the last subdivision of rural acreage, they are failures.  The promoters have departed.  The original owner of the grove or garden will have years of work to restore his property.  Yet only a few months ago glib salesmen pointed out the locations of great hotels-to-be and palatial dwellings-in-prospect, schools, churches and public works and from the motor coach loads of prospects invited to the property, the flow of cash was so generous that the promoters almost believed it themselves.

There was no end of money in sight, and there was no end to the great improvements that such money might provide.

“PICTURE CITY”

In all the State perhaps the prize “development” was that of “Picture City”, a location on the Dixie Highway north of Palm Beach which was to disrupt the picture industry of Hollywood, Cal.  The townsite was six miles from north to south.  A huge sign stood at the northern line.  It read: “You are now entering Picture City.”  From that point an unbroken landscape of palmetto and pine until another sign loomed up two miles to the south.  It read: “North limits of studio.”  There were more palmetto fields, and then still another sign.  It read: “South limits of studio.”  More palmetto: two more miles.  Then the sign: “You are now leaving Picture City.”  Four sign boards.  26,000 lots (unmarked).  One negro’s shack!  Picture City!

Along the north shore of Okeechobee Lake, near the end of Connor’s highway, in springy, reed-grown flats, is another “town lot” enterprise in which some investments were made, for three or four tumbledown shanties far from other human habitation lean grotesquely among the trees.  The lot stakes extend for miles in either direction, with the word “sold” posted on many.

Then there is Croisant Park, south of Fort Lauderdale, with a 100-foot boulevard, bordered by ornamental light posts and occasional (unconnected) water hydrants, stretching for miles between wild tropical undergrowth.  This subdivision was entirely sold out and the guaranteed improvements completed.  But there is yet to be a house or business block erected.

Pinellas Point, at St. Petersburg, Sunset Shores between Tampa and St. Petersburg, Interocean City, “a city where a city ought to be.” Near Kissimmee, Royal Palm City, forty miles into the swamps south of Miami, Tampa Shores, Seminole Heights and a thousand and one more of once major enterprises only a short year ago, today stand houseless, or almost so, and in many cases time and vegetation have obliterated the few puny efforts made to give the property a semblance of human settlement.

But for each of these “developments” there was a Moorish Palace on Flagler Street or Central avenue or LaFayette street, or on all: and in these palaces the most lavish furnishings had been installed.  Exotic, tropical, luxuriant, were the keynotes.  One of the most extravagantly furnished offices in all Florida was that of the Floranada Club development to which Mrs. E. T. Statesbury and her daughter of Philadelphia advanced $500,000.  The setting cost $100,000, it was said.  The Floranada Club in spite of the patronage of numerous British nobility became insolvent.

On July 14, the $100,000 furnishings sold at auction for $2,800 and now delight the eye of soft drink patrons in a Flagler Street drug store.

DELINQUENT TAX SALES

Although great sums of money were poured into Florida by outsiders, it was and is not all beer and skittles for the native Floridian.  In Miami there has just closed a most remarkable sale.  The stock consisted of 10,000 parcels of property in Miami and Dade county, upon which taxes were delinquent.  Officials complained that the dereliction on the part of owners has put them to great trouble and little gain.  Many parcels did not bring the routine costs of publication and notification.  Some brought a few dollars, but no real Florida price, as one conceives Florida prices, was found among the bids.

Land, unimproved, in acreage or subdivided, is about the cheapest thing there is in Florida today, while only a year ago it was pointed out that land in Florida was the scarcest and most valuable treasure existing in the wide areas of the United States.  The fact can not be walked away from.  In every portion of the State the same condition exists, namely: the holder of property can not get money for it.

 

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