Over the past 100+ years, Fort Lauderdale Beach has transformed from an army fort base and sleepy beach community to a year-round, internationally acclaimed destination. Each decade seems to bring about further change, as we watch new luxury hotels and condos fill the skyline, modern parking garages and parks the land, and restaurants, retailers, and attractions the shoreline. However, with all the changes, some things remain the same and hold a special place in our hearts and memories. While a bright future is on the horizon, it is comforting to know there is an opportunity to be ever-present at the moment while revisiting the past. With several milestone celebrations taking place this year and next, we would be remiss not to recognize those who stood the test of time and moved forward with them.
Step back 126 YEARS to 1893 and the tropical oasis that was once home to Hugh Taylor Birch, a prominent Chicago attorney, real estate investor, and naturalist, who deeded 180-acres of his hidden paradise to the State of Florida in 1941. Opened to the public as a state park in the early ‘50s, his priceless gift remains an enduring legacy of green for residents and tourists to enjoy. Home to a vibrant eco-system, nature trails, activities, Birch’s home Terramare House (built-in 1940), and restaurant, Park & Ocean, Birch State Park welcomes visitors from around the globe, sunrise to sunset, 365 days of the year.
A beloved landmark attraction, Bonnet House Museum & Gardens marks its 100th anniversary in 2019/20. Bonnet House’s modern history began when Birch gave the Bonnet House property as a wedding gift to his daughter Helen and her husband, Chicago artist Frederic Clay Bartlett in 1919. The newlyweds began construction of Bonnet House in 1920, eager for a winter retreat where Frederic could pursue his artwork and Helen could compose music and poetry. Tragedy struck in 1925 when Helen died from breast cancer. Frederic’s visits to Bonnet House then became sporadic until 1931 when he married Evelyn Fortune Lilly. With this marriage, a renaissance occurred on the site as Frederic and Evelyn entered a prolific period of embellishing Bonnet House with the decorative elements that delight visitors to this day. The 100th Anniversary season will celebrate the milestone with a variety of events, programs, workshops, tours and classes which share the rich history and beauty of this jewel on the beach. Read more about the centennial celebration at www.BonnetHouse.org
Jova House, now the home of Casablanca Café, was built in 1926 for its original owner, Mrs. J. J. Jova. The two-story masonry dwelling, commissioned by Juan Jacinto Jova, was designed by architect Francis L. Abreu, Jova’s grandson. It was the first home constructed on Fort Lauderdale Beach and is the oldest remaining structure. The renovation of the 1926 home started in July of 1993 and has taken almost two years to complete. The owner’s desire was to preserve the beautiful old structure in its original architectural style. Casablanca Café has kept the feel of the original house by incorporating the original working fireplace, wooden ceiling beams, spiral staircase, and terrazzo floors. Nestled in one of Fort Lauderdale’s most scenic beach areas, Casablanca Cafe is the perfect place for cocktails at the bar or a romantic dinner overlooking the ocean.
91 years ago, on January 28, 1928, the City of Fort Lauderdale celebrated the opening of the Municipal Casino Pool (1928-1967), the first Olympic-sized swimming pool in the state of Florida. Located directly on the beach, at what is now known as D.C. Alexander Park, this beautiful Spanish-style facility was engineered by Clifford Root and filled twice a week with salt water directly from the Atlantic Ocean. The facility put Fort Lauderdale on the map as home to the nation's top swimmers for decades and was the impetus for the current day Aquatic Center and International Swimming Hall of Fame.
Jungle Queen Riverboat Cruises was started in 1935, consisting of a few small boats that gave sightseeing tours through the "Venice of America," Fort Lauderdale's New River. It is the longest continuously running variety show in the United States, and welcomed over 18 million guests since their inception. Featuring four specialty cruises, 365 days a year,
While luxury hotels dot the shoreline’s skyline, 83 years ago it was the Lauderdale Beach Hotel who reigned as the first beach resort. The art-deco inspired building designed by architect Roy M. France today houses the Las Olas Beach Club, a mixed-use space of condos, retailers, and restaurants.
While most famous for their supporting role in the 1960’s movie, Where the Boys Are, the Elbo Room originally played a supporting role to the Sea Breeze Restaurant & Lounge, as the second level bar. Opening 81 years ago in 1938, it was not until 1950 when the name changed to the Elbo Room took place.
The site of Bahia Mar Resort & Marina may be celebrating its 70th Anniversary in 2019, but the story of the iconic property is a story in itself. From Army Fort (Fort Lauderdale in fact) in 1839 and House of Refuge for shipwrecked sailors to Prohibition-era Coast Guard station, it was in 1949 the city took the land over and created an island where the New River met the Intracoastal Waterway. Ringing the island with 400 dock slips a citywide contest landed the island its name, Bahia Mar - or Ocean Bay.
Other notable locations celebrating more than a half-century on Fort Lauderdale Beach, include
The Escape Hotel, the first on Fort Lauderdale beach to feature a swimming pool and putt-putt course, opened its doors on New Year’s Eve 1949. Keeping much of the facade structure, the new Gale Boutique Hotel & Residence will soon open on the landmark site.
The Sea Club Resort, which retains many original features of the former Jolly Roger, turns 67 this year. Although there have been many changes in the 50 years since the hotel opened, it maintains a whimsical, pirate ship motif complete with a crow's nest on the roof, porthole windows and the use of local coral rock throughout the structure.
The Wreck Bar, the 66-year-old landmark bar at Yankee Clipper, now a centerpiece of B Ocean Resort and famed for their Mermaid shows, once hosted a large scale Polynesian revue. When the shows stopped in the 1960s, many of the performers moved onto Ft. Lauderdale's legendary Mai Kai. Fortunately, the Yankee Clipper's Wreck Bar, a lounge created to look like an old Spanish Galleon, endured.
The World Famous Parrot Lounge has (and will) further solidify its place in history in 2020 when they celebrate their golden 50th anniversary. Beachgoers and fun-seeking locals have gathered at the world-famous Parrot Lounge, just steps from the Fort Lauderdale Beach, since 1970. This landmark tavern is one of those places where everyone knows your name - or soon will. It's a fun, festive atmosphere that draws in a crowd who loves a neighborhood bar and a welcoming vibe.
For more on the history of Fort Lauderdale Beach, we highly recommend an "off-island" visit to History Fort Lauderdale to explore the significant and inspiring people, places and events that shaped our past and continue to influence the future of our vibrant city.