In around 1920, Joseph Wesley Young began buying up land in South Florida, specifically, five plats of land in the Allapattah section of Miami.
“Sales of these acres were strictly to furnish funds toward his goal, land for his dream city,” explained Joan Mickelson, PhD “At the very end of 1920 he purchased a square mile of land from Stephen Alsobrook, a Dania farmer.” This purchase was noted in the Jan. 14, 1921 Fort Lauderdale Sentinel (Lukach bio. P. 47-48).
This land was “pine and palmetto” and lay on the west and east sides of Flagler’s railroad bed on the coastal ridge, the highest ground in the area.
In a separate purchase Young acquired a beach island described as a low-lying prairie, with a salt water marsh border and a thin strip of beachfront along a barrier island to the east.
The only inhabitants in the area at that time were American farmers of Danish extraction from the Chicago area. To the north, in the town called, not surprisingly, Dania (incorporated in 1904), and some in the unincorporated area to the south, known as Hallandale after Luther Halland.
According to Dr. Mickelson, “Halland was the brother-in-law of James Ingraham, an associate of Henry Flagler. Flagler needed people to use his railroad between Palm Beach and Miami, so he established towns along it, including Deerfield, Pompano, Dania, and Hallandale. What Halland did was to send notices, in Swedish, to Swedish cities telling of farming opportunities in this newly settled area. Some Swedes did arrive, and did farm in the city they called Hallandale. I went to school with their children.”
After acquiring one square mile of land, Young began to build a “Dream City” modeled after the City Beautiful movement that was popular at the time.
The City Beautiful movement, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, was an American urban-planning movement led by architects, landscape architects, and reformers that flourished between the 1890s and the 1920s. The idea of organized comprehensive urban planning arose in the United States from the City Beautiful movement, which claimed that design could not be separated from social issues and should encourage civic pride and engagement. Its influence was most prominent in major cities such as Cleveland, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.
Like Coral Gables and Miami Springs, Hollywood is unique in that it is one of the few ‘20s boom-time cities that were planned cities. Many other cities at that time grew up around agriculture and industry. Most were created out of a hodgepodge of different developers buying tracts here and there, all doing their own things individually. If you have ever driven around Miami Springs or Coral Gables, you can see how early planning and layout has affected the attractiveness of these places, especially as they continued to grow.
Young started a publishing company to advertise his city, Hollywood By-the-Sea, all over the country. He purchased a bus fleet to transport potential new residents to the area and showcase his new developments. He even created a boat works and a trip along the Miami River, ferrying passengers from the larger Miami metro area, up the present-day Intracoastal Waterway, to show visitors the exciting, newly emerging, City of Hollywood.
One of the most important aspects of J.W.’s dream city plan was to have pleasing and interesting architecture. To achieve this goal, Young hired the architectural firm of Rubush & Hunter to draw up specific architectural guidelines and designs.
Rubush & Hunter was already making its mark in South Florida, doing work for Carl Fisher in Miami Beach. Some of their early buildings are still standing today.
In Hollywood, all new builders and residents had to adhere to their design guidelines. J.W. insisted that all new buildings be one of three styles: Adobe, Craftsman Bungalow, or the most popular, Spanish Mission Revival.
“Hollywood is being created with the idea of making it the most beautiful city in America,” said a Hollywood Reporter article in December 1922. “Homes are to be artistic and harmonious with the surroundings,”
Where have you gone, Joseph Wesley Young? Our city turns its misguided eyes to you!
It’s interesting to note that most people identify Hollywood’s historic architecture as Spanish Mediterranean, when it is in fact Spanish Mission. Young was from California, and he was influenced by the Mission Revival movement there. He brought this style to Hollywood, along with its iconic name.
(Side Note: the name Hollywood was not associated with being a movie capital at that time. It was just a suburb in the county of Los Angeles, and while there were some studios in the Hollywood area, there were many in Long Beach as well. Originally, our city was known as “Hollywood By-the-Sea” to differentiate it from Hollywood, California, which is not near the ocean.)
If any city official happens to be reading this article, would you please introduce a bill to revisit our historic moniker, and go back to our Hollywood By-the-Sea name?)
But back to the architecture. Some features of Mission style architecture include off center towers, sloping parapet roofs, and the use of bells and bell towers on buildings, along with decorative rooftop urns. Joe Young’s original home, a Rubush & Hunter design built in 1924 at 1055 Hollywood Blvd., is a perfect example of this style. Luckily, it is in near-original condition, with all the exterior ornamentation still intact, including the Mission bell on the east side of the house.
One of the grandest Mission Revival, Rubush & Hunter, buildings still standing in Hollywood is the Hollywood Beach Hotel at the foot of Hollywood Blvd. at the Broadwalk. Unfortunately, and sadly, this jewel has been stripped of all of its original exterior ornamentation. These embellishments included seven large mission bells in the parapet roof, off center towers and massive spiral columns, and four gigantic statues perched on the corners of the rooftop tower.
If you look at that same tower today, you can still see the flat platforms where these statues once stood. Why and when they were removed is a sad mystery to me.
The tower has been converted into a penthouse and now has a small window on the front. Totally out of place and scale. The open pergola on the roof has been completely removed.
When this hotel was completed in 1926, it was the largest poured concrete hotel in Florida. The concrete was shipped over from Belgium, since a railroad embargo had caused a shortage of materials here, and the hotel was built in three months — it was called the 90 day wonder! (Obviously, there were no permitting issues in 1926!)
The interior of the hotel was just as spectacular as the outside, with hand painted, exposed wood beams, which are still present, although hidden under beautiful white square drop ceiling tiles that were installed to accommodate A/C ducts and other modern equipment. The dining room had many beautiful ornamental features which made it one of the most elegant and formal dining options for tourists and residents alike in Hollywood and the surrounding areas.
People often wonder about the fate of this historic and wonderful edifice. The truth is, many of these features could easily be brought back to the structure, but unfortunately, this property has a very complicated ownership structure, and is currently in a terrible state of limbo with no movement or plans for rehabilitation in the foreseeable future.
The Hollywood Beach Hotel was very similar in style and grandeur to the Biltmore in Coral Gables and the Breakers in Palm Beach. Unfortunately, our Grand Hotel sits in a perpetual state of decay while the Breakers in Palm Beach and the Biltmore in Coral Gables have celebrated and readapted their historic hotels and are reaping the benefits of treasuring their past by preserving and using these important buildings.
And I doubt there is one single resident of these cities that is saying, “Gee, we really should have torn these old hotels down”.
Other Rubush & Hunter buildings still standing in Hollywood include
- The Casablanca Hotel on 20th and Polk, originally a dormitory for Young Company employees; it soon became a hotel and now serves as an assisted living facility.
- Hollywood’s very first building on the NE corner of Hollywood Blvd. and 21 Ave., built in 1922, which was originally a bus garage for Young’s sales fleet. It became a shopping arcade and today it serves the community with shops and restaurants and the newly opened Camp Cocktail.
- The Kagey mansion on Harrison Street which was a private home, a funeral home, and now serves as the Art and Culture Center/Hollywood. This fine home was constructed for Joe Young’s top salesman, and has all the hallmarks of the Rubush & Hunter style.
Rubush & Hunter’s last commission for Young was the original Hollywood Bank building built in 1926- 27 at 2001 Hollywood Blvd. Joe Young wanted a more imposing and formal appearance for the bank, to signify the strength of the institution and of the city that it was going to serve.
Breaking with the Spanish Mission style, this building looks more like Greek Revival with its eight gigantic round Corinthian columns and its imposing height, standing taller than any other structure downtown. Between the columns were arched windows with hand-painted, wood spindle frames. A large concrete medallion hung on the front of the building above the columns.
Today the columns are still present, although buried beneath a plainer frontage in a historic façade renovation performed in the ‘90s.
Through numerous name changes, hurricanes and even the great depression, it was one of the few banks that never closed. Up until very recently, this was the longest continually-running bank site in Broward County.
Now, however, the future of this Rubush & Hunter building is uncertain. Early application plans were recently submitted for new development on this site which did not include this building. The Hollywood Historical Society and many residents of the City of Hollywood are alarmed that this important historical building could be considered for demolition, and negotiations are still underway for the development’s approval.
While Rubush & Hunter made their mark on Hollywood, Young also enlisted Martin Luther Hampton, another well-known talent in south Florida who was doing work for George Merrick in Coral Gables. Hampton, who trained under and worked for Adison Mizner in Palm Beach, was tapped by Young to design the clubhouse for the Hollywood Beach Country Club. The building originally sat at 17th Avenue and Polk St. on the South East corner of the golf course. This location made sense due to the proximity of this site to the downtown area. It was easily accessible by visitors and residents living downtown.
This most notable structure was second only to the Hollywood Beach Hotel as an important landmark for the new City of Hollywood. In 1924, almost 1000 people showed up for the grand opening, coming from as far away as Palm Beach and Miami.
Featuring the prominent off set tower, it had two large wings extending from the center away from a central courtyard. The center courtyard had a glass block dance floor with colored illuminated lights underneath and a retractable roof for dancing under the stars.
Unfortunately, when this incredible structure was demolished, it was decided to place the new clubhouse in the middle of the course, accessible only via Johnson street. Today, with that clubhouse just recently demolished, the city is wisely placing the new country club building back in its original location, where once again it will be connected to downtown and the new hotels and apartments being built today.
Other significant early buildings designed by Hampton included the Hollywood Beach Bathing Casino, also long gone and the current site of the Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort, and the Great Southern Hotel downtown.
The Casino was an incredible structure which included three saltwater pools fed by an underground line from the ocean through which the water was continually recycled.
Many large events were held at this venue; it was the center of all activity on the Broadwalk.
The Great Southern was Joe Young’s second hotel and is still standing, long-vacant, in its near original condition, but soon most of this structure will disappear under a new building slated to rise from the center. Only the north east and west part of the west façade will be saved.
Hollywood is the only city in Florida listed on the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places with an intact historic business district. The Great Southern contributes to this important designation, and there is some question if the near total demolition of the building will affect this unique designation.
After the 1926 hurricane and subsequent market crash of ‘29, Young’s strict standards were no longer adhered to. The few remaining buildings left from the “Young” era attract people to our city and remind us that this is an old place, that this place has a past, that this place was here before a lot of other places sprang up.
Old urban cores are being gentrified and retrofitted all over the country. The reasons are simple. Architecture and scale. We are unique and we are lucky to have these buildings still standing here.
Will we learn from the past or we will continue down a path of destruction for our few remaining, most important historical buildings left in the city?
It is my wish that the city and developers finally wake up, clear the money from their eyes and see what’s left, and realize that these buildings are priceless pieces of our past, and that their future is important for future generations to enjoy. They tell the story of our city.
Without them we are just another piece of land with no past.
One of J.W. Young’s most enduring historical legacies is the architecture he chose for our city. He specifically chose the Spanish Mission Revival look for Hollywood, and it was a good choice that lends itself well to our subtropical climate. The architecture he chose sets the tone and feeling when you drive around the city and downtown. You’re able to witness his dream in real time, not in a museum with storyboards of buildings that were once gracing our wide city streets and boulevards.
As we approach our centennial, just a few short years away, I hope we can celebrate and be proud of these reminders of a man with a dream for a new city that was to be like no other in Florida.
It is my hope that we can protect and cherish these historical treasures for future generations to enjoy.
Joan Mickelson, PhD contributed to this story.