Planned Paradise: Making the Florida Dream

By Scheuerman, Dan | Humanities, September/October 2007 | Go to article overview

Planned Paradise: Making the Florida Dream


Scheuerman, Dan, Humanities


THE SCENE WAS BASIC TRAINING, BUT THE BACKDROP WAS STRICTLY PALM TREES and orange groves for millions of American soldiers preparing to fight in World War II.

"Imagine you've spent your youth in Fargo, North Dakota," says Gary Mormino, professor of history at the University of South Florida. "You come to Miami Beach and what you see is all these troops training on golf courses. And the barracks is the Black Stone Hotel in the Art Deco District of Miami Beach." This, Mormino says, is how the Sunshine State cast its spell on a generation. "They all pledged to return. And they would, as transplants, as retirees, as tourists."

Over the next fifty years, the population boom that began with World War Il transformed the southern state from a sleepy backwater of three million to an international mecca of more than eighteen million. The economic, social, and environmental effects of this starry-eyed stampede are the subject of The Florida Dream, a documentary sponsored by the Florida Humanities Council, which is airing on Florida Public Television on October 14. The film is based on Mormino's 2005 book, Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams.

The Florida that Mother Nature provided was not quite tenant-ready when millions of returning soldiers prepared to finance new homes through the Gl Bill. Air conditioning, exhaustive dredging of the coasts, and savvy marketing would be needed to transform Florida from a tropical wild into a picture of postwar domesticity.

"The heat was pretty unbearable," recalls Thomas C. Wilcox, a former Army Air Corps private who attended gunnery school in Fort Myers in 1943. "We did a lot of perspiring." Initially viewed as a luxury, air conditioning became a competitive necessity for hotels in Miami by 1955. Wilcox says he would not have considered vacationing in Florida until AC came along, but he did so afterward, finally retiring there in 1980.

The city Wilcox chose for retirement, Cape Coral, did not exist in 1 950. …

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