SMITH COLUMN: The allure of Miami

Published 10:30 am Saturday, January 8, 2022

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

It is the water that makes Miami so alluring. That has been the case since post World War II when air conditioning, mosquito control and air travel made deep South Florida an accessible garden spot.  The azure waters and the white beaches have been an attraction historically, but development and transportation did not become entrenched for years.

The land boom of the twenties, The Great Depression and a couple of hurricanes set Miami back, for the most part, until the late forties when development became rampant and tourism was over the top.

Dating back, if you recall, the incumbent rich — the Rockefellers, the Gould’s, the Goodyear’s and the Morgan’s — made Jekyll Island their winter playground.

In the early years of the 20th century, Aiken, South Carolina became a haven for many of those with Northern addresses, especially those of the horse set. This is why Cot Campbell, an erudite Atlanta advertising executive, set up shop across the Savannah River and became the first syndicated racing entrepreneur. Dogwood Stable produced a number of champions including Preakness and Belmont winners and had a plethora of stakes winners in his years of owning Dogwood.

Weather in the Aiken/Augusta area had always been a little more favorable than vacation spots in undeveloped Florida.

The famous Wilcox Inn, with its white pillared Colonial Revival construction, was frequented by the well-to-do heirs of those who became wealthy during the American Industrial Revolution. 

The area was well-known to the famous golfer, Bobby Jones, which is how the Augusta National Golf Club came to be located in Augusta. Sportswriters, from distant sections of the country, have always asked that question upon seeing the club for the first time.

World War I had interfered with the super-rich traveling to the French Rivera which meant in the U. S., the wealthy were first attracted to Aiken and subsequently Augusta after the first world war. Traveling south for the winter became the thing to do. At the time, Florida was pretty much a wilderness. The railroads did make South Florida accessible but there wasn’t much going on when you arrived. 

Major league baseball teams began flocking to Florida after the second world war and that made the “Sunshine state” more popular as Northern tourists, including an abundance of Canadians, made their way south.

Interestingly, the retirement homes and villages then brought so many tourists to Florida, traffic eventually created a negative for many of the baseball teams. This is why the Atlanta Braves, with a plush facility at Disney World, chose to move to its current location, south of Tampa, so it would be more convenient to schedule games with teams in the area.

Florida experienced a land boom in mid-twenties, almost a hundred years ago. That brought land speculation, swindling and shoddy construction and unending bankruptcies. Yet, sunshine-in-winter got the attention of the masses.

One unflinching Miami Beach developer, Carl G. Fisher, purchased an oversized billboard in Times Square that blathered, “It’s June in Miami.”  Those without the resources to buy land, found their way to Miami to work in construction and other jobs.

If you were gainfully employed, the living environment was hard to beat. There were those white, pristine beaches and palm trees waving in balmy weather. 

Suddenly things turned bleak across the board.

Those with intent of buying land and flipping it soon discovered there were no buyers. The boom fizzled. Everybody went broke. It filtered on down to the working class which brings about recall of this story.

A couple of guys from Valdosta had gone to Miami to find work during the boom, but were unsuccessful. Flat broke and not sure how they would get home, they walked by a restaurant that advertised big, thick steaks and strawberry shortcake for dessert.

Undaunted they went in, ordered two big steaks, all the trimmings and dessert. When the check came, they moseyed up to the cash register. One asked the proprietor what he would do if two guys came into the restaurant and ordered steak dinners that satisfied their hunger but had no means of paying.

The proprietor said, tersely, “Why I would kick them square in the rear.” With that, the penniless diner bent over and said, “In that case, take out for two.”