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March 2016 Posts


A Short History of South Florida Residential Landscaping (1 and 2)

A Short History of South Florida Residential Landscaping (3-6 )

A Not Totally Accurate Map Indicating Land usage in 1940's Florida (7)

A Short History of South Florida Residential Landscaping (8)

A Short History of South Florida Residential Landscaping (9)

A Short History of South Florida Residential Landscaping (10)

by Leigh M. Fulghum

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3/19/2016 by Leigh M. Fulghum, Botanist

A Short History of South Florida Residential Landscaping

8. 1950's South Florida: in the lull between the Depression and the next Boom

Development of the first Land Boom plats thus meandered in a casual fashion from the Great Depression to the mid-fifties when I came upon the scene with an unquenchable curiosity as to how things came to be the way they were. The older plats still had vacant lots, which were my idea of natural areas, though laden with sandspurs and filled with sand which made your keds or sandals equally miserable to wear. Things were so sandy, when we weren't riding bikes, we didn't wear shoes so we could keep brushing our feet free of the grit.

We were severely warned at home and at school against tunneling in sand piles heaped upon some of these lots. There were some boys I knew who had actually contrived a mimic mining type cave in one of these piles- lining the roof with cardboard held up with planks of wood found around construction sites. I peered inside in disbelief- what sort of boys ignored all the tales of children suffocated under sand piles, or by becoming locked in abandoned refrigerators?

My neighborhood was older and mostly complete, though, wonderfully free of fences and walls. Of course privacy screens of crotons, ixora, hibiscus, and surinam cherrry were planted between houses, but the very back of the yards were left open. It was possible to traverse the neighborhood completely along the property lines of backyards, and a convenient back route to a friend's house on the next street over. I enjoyed the change of perspective from street view to back view; we were told it was all right to walk along the edge of the yards but not venture inward. Perhaps because this was actually easement area, known by our parents who held the deed.

I gained close up perspectives on most every house in my neighborhood by being a child peddlar. I started quite early with loomed potholders I sold for 10-15 cents. They were amazingly popular. It was safe to let a properly instructed young child range their neighborhood in those days. Though I could not enter a stranger's house by rule, soliciting got me up the front walk onto the porch, while many people left their doors ajar while getting their money. I was fascinated by different styles of houses, walkways, driveways, and plantings. Progressing over the years through Girl Scout Cookies, Candy for the School, and ultimately Christmas Cards, as a door-to-door sales child I came to know every yard of interest, every secret garden, on both sides of the Florda East Coast Railway tracks which ran through the plat where I lived.


4/3/2016 by Leigh M. Fulghum, Botanist

A Short History of South Florida Residential Landscaping

9. 1950's South Florida: in the lull between the Depression and the next Boom (continued from 8.)

So there we were in the mid-fifties, no fences, no walls, Jamaican Tall Coconut Palms reaching to the sun everywhere in a jumble of mostly West Indies shrubb

tion ery added piece-meal to home yards as time had passed since the Boom.

There were more pines throughout the neighborhoods, though the forestry department says there are no pines in the state left which were planted before 1940 in Florida. The St. Joe Company and International Paper had harvested them all by then and replanted certain forests as required or would be needed for future lumbering. Before cinder blocks became vogue, many early wood houses and floors had been built of "Dade County Pine," which was Florida Slash Pine, Pinus elliottii, from the shallow soils of upland Dade County, the hardest pine wood available. Where history has not been leveled and replaced with newer architecture, these houses endure, with their pioneery, woody fragrance, able to withstand almost a century of termites, humidity and hurricanes.

Houses were constructed without attics, but crawl spaces, as anyone who had so many possessions had also a larger home in the north with a full attic and basement. Basements in Florida are an impossibility due the high water table. Rather, houses were constructed at least 18" above ground level, with steps, the higher the better, to accommodate storm waters which at times would almost reach floor level. The space beneath the house was sometimes left open with a foundation planting covering screening, but usually walled to the ground, with screened cut-outs to allow sheet water to settle beneath the house and percolate.

Above ground sheets of water could take sometimes thirty days or more to recede in a rainy year accompanied by a hurricane or two. This was natural drainage, and rather a problem in our neighborhoods built with septic tank systems. Temptation to go wading, rafting, and catching tadpoles was powerful, and though we kids understood it not, the water was forbidden, for most of us, at least, since it was presumed the septic drainfields mingled their microbial contents into the temporary disaster.

The mini-floods would ultimately settle in unfilled vacant lots which still dotted most neighborhoods, bringing on mosquitoes and the dreaded mosquito fogger trucks. It being well before 1970 and the shocking revelations of environmental DDT in Florida, and this being a DuPont state after all, I am fairly certain the fogger trucks inundated us with DDT as they slowly, noisily cruised the neighborhood streets in a systematic grid. Spraying was usually before dusk, another danger to we kids who for some reason loved the smell of the fog, longing to run behind the ominous vehicles celebrating life in clouds of mosquito killer. A few kids were hit by cars doing this. Like tunneling in sand caves on a new construction site, or wading in flood water, playing in the mosquito fog was another South Florida neghborhood forbidden adventure.

Rather, when she heard the rumble of the trucks in the distance in late afternoon, Ma would rally us to hurry and help her get all the windows closed so the fog woudn't enter the house. She said the oil in it settled on the furniture. Perhaps this saved us a good deal of exposure too in the long run, for all the work and hysteria over the approaching foger trucks. Unlike modern times, we had no air conditioning, but hundreds of windows and jalousies to open for cool fresh air and close for pouring rains and DDT.



A Short History of South Florida Residential Landscaping

10. 1959 South Florida: Professional Landscaping Comes to Fort Lauderdale

Before I-95 was built, U.S.1 and A1A were our main residential by-ways which for the most part kept family lifestyle in a much more compact range than we traverse in today's urban sprawl. A trip from Fort Lauderdale to the Miami Seaquarium on Federal Highway was an all day affair.

We lived in about a twelve mile radius. Friends, relatives, school, church, shopping, recreation were all in the neighborhood. Nevertheless, even with occasional trips south to Miami, I was never impressed by landscaping until the building of the Mai-Kai Restaurant in 1959, on a vacant weedy field on U.S.1.

At the time, many business persons believed Fort Lauderdale was slated to be a great tourist town. Winter the roads and small beach hotels were packed with cold people seeking a warm holiday, and the building of this once exquisite Polynesian paradise was a timely stroke of genius. There were very, very few restaurants of quality in town to begin with, and the South Sea island theme fit perfectly with the tourist notion of a tropical holiday.

The project was conceived by two young brothers from Chicago, Bob and Jack. While Bob handled the administrative aspects of the business, Jack was the perfectionist, whose attention to detail and authenticity resulted not only in Mobil Travel Guide 4-star cuisine, but an interior design and landscape design as convincing and more realistic than a Disney World exhibit.

He found a landscape contractor, Pat Wells, who ever since enjoyed fame as one of the area's top landscape designers, an early builder of realistic, artistic waterfalls and pools in tropical gardens, a man who really knew what to do with a two-ton cap-rock landscape boulder. Though from the inside we know it was Jack who imagineered the Mai-Kai's movie-set quality landscape which began indoors with exotically lit pools and little bridges connecting the dining rooms each different, with paths which led the satiated diner outdoors for an amazing after dinner stroll through palm jungles, past waterfalls, giant tikis, firepits, and more beautiful pools surrounded with tropical plantings not of the usual yard fare.

The property was originally quite large, so that though the entry and portico were an ingress directly from U.S. 1, there were extensive gardens on both sides of the restaurant. The second garden had pathways, magnificent boulders, bridges and waterfalls centered around a most authentic looking Tahitian house which was in reality an onsite warehouse for the thousands of specially designed pieces of tableware, lamps, and other decor used in the restaurant.

The Mai-Kai became a famous Florida destination restaurant. I remember suffering afternoons of pin curls when The Mai-Kai was planned for the evening. Once there, in full Sunday regalia, where the fragrance of pikaki was continuously wafted through the air conditioning, where an Oriental person would smilingly place heavenly smelling, refrigerated orchid lei around my neck, I was affixed by the sound of waterfalls, trying for a chance to leave the table and explore the indoor water gardens all on my own, contemplating the walk through the gardens which we would take after dinner. I am glad my parents never rushed that part of the evening and allowed me to fully enjoy what turns out to be a few of my favorite things- plants and trees. Likely they were too intoxicated to resist, now that I think about the cocktails. But I was a child and what a splendid place it was! As a professional botanist and landscape designer, I will always regard Jack as a landscape genius who inspired me on the garden path.

None of this is as it was, nor will it ever be again. Firstly, U.S. 1 was widened at some point, which shaved off a good portion of the front landscape. To a landscape designer, this instantly puts the property out of scale. The first landscape built around an original plan of architecture was balanced for the lot size, building size, and greenspace. It was perfect.

Widening the highway, I think at least 35 feet of the front elevation were lost to the DOT. This put the restaurant building more or less right on the highway, not nestled in a palm grove of boulders and pools. The natural waterfalls are now almost right on the highway as if to say "Just past the asphalt, Polynesia begins here." Neither Walt Disney nor Jack would ever stand for such a thing.

But Bob and Jack are gone, owners have changed, and so have the landscape materials. It looks like a mess to me now, but most dramatic of all is the change which was precipitated by the loss of all our original, though not native, Jamaican Tall Coconut palms, which had been the staple landscapes everywhere, to lethal yellowing disease, beginning in 1970.

As the disease is ubiquitous, so its coming ubiquitously altered the face of South Florida from its pioneer days. The ambience at this pivotal point changed the face of the overall landscape from a 50 year jumble of tropical and West Indies what-not, to Home Depot what-not.


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