I lived in Florida off and on from 1964 until I moved back to the Cleveland area about 4 years ago. To say it changed significantly in that time would be a gross understatement. The Florida of today is as unlike the Florida I moved to in 1964 as the moon is unlike Venus. When my family first ventured into Florida we stopped for a while in Port Charlotte, one of many planned communities on the west coast or Gulf Coast. A waterfront community on the west side of US 41 — The Tamiami Trail [ Tampa to Miami] and the gulf club community on the east side. The interstates had not been built yet so US 41 on the gulf coast and US 1 on the east coast were still the main routes.
At the time the most homes there were newish, built in the late 1950′s and early 1960′s. The first thing we learned upon living there was that Florida gave a new meaning to the term “laid back.” Nobody was in a rush to do anything. We also leaned that real estate developers were even more dishonest than used car dealers. Having toured the sales area of The Gulf American Corporation where they tried to sell homes for a community that had not been build yet, and if not enough homes were sold, it would likely never be built.
Eventually we settled in Naples, Florida, on the south west coast of Florida after my father passed away, in a house not unlike this one. With a tar and gravel or pebble roof, jalousie windows with aluminium casings or slender types and terrazzo floors. Nearly all the houses in Florida were like this with the possible exception of areas in Miami – I will get to Miami later.
Florida was a retirement mecca at this time but the next real estate boom was beginning. These houses were built this way for a number of reasons. The roofs were heavy and resisted hurricane winds. Jalousie windows could be opened even when it rained to let the wind through and being low to the ground also helped in the event of a hurricane. The flat tar or pebble roofs were light in color reflecting the sun and being flat with a metal eave, collected water when it rained.
And the rains. Florida rains are unlike those in the north — which Floridians called drizzle. These were tropical rains like monsoons. In the summer the warm humid sea breezes from the gulf and the Atlantic would bring in daily or nearly daily torrential rains. The rain would last anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours. So hard sometimes one could not even see across the street and nearly always accompanied by heavy winds, hence the need for jalousie windows. Couple that with the occasional tropical storm or hurricane.
At that time and for a few years central heat and air was uncommon in Florida houses. It was expensive to install and expensive to use. Only businesses had AC and even then some did not or only used it when the heat and humidity of summer was most intense.
Naples had one radio station that ran automated for FM and had a MOR (Middle of the Road) format for the AM station. Cable was big as the nearest TV station was in Fort Myers, about 30 miles to the north. If you wanted any other channels you had cable or a very big antenna pointed to Miami or Tampa. Miami was usually easier to get. The cable company was locally owned as was the telephone company. You got all three networks with cable, from Miami.
Naples was about the size of Middlefield Ohio at that time. And Punta Gorda was no bigger. Fort Myers was about the size of Chagrin Falls Ohio maybe bigger as it would get a mall with a Sears and a Maas Brothers store.
There were few if any national big box department stores except Sears and maybe a Montgomery Wards in Florida at that time. The department stores were either Maas Bros., Burdines, Jordan Marsh or Robinson’s which were headquartered in Miami and Tampa.
Naples had a rich people area, Port Royal to the south of town. It was a gated community but with the gates open during the day. It had, among others, the Briggs Estate (of Briggs and Stratton and Outboard Marine Corp.) and Ric O’Barry, the owner/trainer of the dolphins used in the TV show Flipper. He also had a few manatees as well. Very big with huge waterways and pools for them.
Most places in Florida were similar to Naples with the northern part more southern than the south part. Floridians could be (and most were) very racist. But except for those in the very north and the panhandle, not the southern style like one would find in Alabama or Georgia or Mississippi or the Carolinas. No … this was Northern style like that of Ohio and Illinois or Indiana or Pennsylvania. For this is where most of them hailed from. The under your breath, euphemistically said kind of racism. Most in Florida were northern transplants. The few native Floridians live in the interior part of the state, those related to the original settlers.
Which brings me to the economy. Florida’s economy at that time relied on 3 things: Tourism, Agriculture and the Military. They had a lot of military. McCoy AFB in Orlando, MacDill in Tampa, Patrick AFB just south of Cocoa, Homestead AFB south of Miami, Jacksonville Naval Air Station, Pensacola Navel Air Station — to name but a few.