Watching the volume of traffic increase throughout this month of October reminds me that Hollywood has always been a tourist city, greatly dependent on winter visitors. Today’s season extends from about November nearly through June, but in the lean years following the ’26 hurricane the “season” was more like January into March. This was certainly true of the biggest business in Hollywood then, the Hollywood Beach Hotel (now the Ramada Hollywood Beach Resort). Following the hurricane Joseph Young’s interests sold the hotel to the Rosenthal family, who polished it up even more than Young had time to do, and marketed it as an “exclusive” American-plan resort with all the trimmings, and the hotel remained what we would call a “destination” well into the 1950s.
According to the Hollywood Herald, October, 1936 was a slow month, local businesses still hanging on by their teeth until the winter visitors arrived. Professional people took Wednesdays off, and many businesses simply closed in the summer. It was still the Great Depression, after all. So when the paper announced that the hotel would open early that year, on December 20th, this was music to the ears of local citizens. The announcement was made by hotel manager Oscar T. Johnson, who had been manager at the hotel for one year, and had even remained in town over the summer to prepare. Below: Postcard from the Hollywood Historical Society, 1930s.
In the October 14, 1936 Hollywood Herald, Johnson’s announcement was front page news as he predicted a “brilliant season” for the hotel. Johnson had already initiated “friendly cooperation” with the city, even opening the hotel off-season for local events. The article plainly stated how much income the hotel provided to the city: $495,200 in Depression dollars. This was further broken down to show: payroll, $130,000 (many locals); water and electricity from the city, $19,000; local taxes, $16,000; food and beverages, most spent locally except western meat and imported wine, $250,000, and so on. To entertain guests in 1936-37 Johnson had hired Johnny Farrell as golf pro (the Golf & Country Club belonged then to the hotel group, not the city), the Meyer Davis orchestra, and Arthur Murray who would have a dancing school at the hotel for the season. Locals could join the Country Club or go to dinner and a stage show at the hotel, but most didn’t have the money, or really, the desire to do this. Chiefly Hollywood locals were grateful to the glamorous, expensive hotel for its role in providing jobs.
Oscar Johnson from Hollywood Herald, October 14, 1936 and cover of a brochure of the hotel from the 1930s. Both newspaper and brochure are in the collection of the Hollywood Historical Society. Pages from the Herald have suffered water damage before the HHS received them.
Gambling is legal–Oh, no it’s not
Still in 1936, some local businesses found another means to generate income in those lean years by installing coin-operated gambling machines in their Boulevard shops, or more bluntly, slots, which they merrily operated as independent purveyors not then linked to organized crime. Gambling was legal in Hollywood at that time. But many Hollywood citizens were not happy to have Hollywood Boulevard turned over to the gambling crowd, and in the October papers there are ads from “merchants of Hollywood” asking voters to allow them to continue operating their machines. The November 6, 1936 issue of the Hollywood Herald published the election results. On page 1 disappointed slot machine operators would read that their license law was revoked, 2,625 to 547. But as anyone living in Hollywood then can tell you, gambling simply went underground.
Oscar Johnson had hired a new golf pro for the Country Club in 1936, for the golf course initially installed by J. W. Young in 1922. As soon as the land was cleared of tomatoes grown by the Dania farmers the first nine holes were put in. Apparently that hasty job needed work, and in October, 1922 Young’s Hollywood Reporter announced that the golf course was being expanded to eighteen holes. Johnny Farrell, then a young golfer, had already been playing in Hollywood. To expand the course J. W. Young brought–dragged, almost–an Indiana friend, Ralph Young (no relation) to oversee the course expansion and incidentally correct mistakes in the layout of the first nine holes. Ralph Young’s credentials were as chairman of the greens committee of the Highlands Golf and Country Club in Indianapolis. Interestingly, according to Joe Kelly writing in the Reporter, Ralph Young had “superintended the construction of the new course at his club, a course designed by Willie Park, famous golf architect.” Park had included “some of the very latest ideas in golf course building.” Kelly then analyzed each hole and included this very faint drawing of the course. This is difficult to read in the original, too.
Now, about “famous golf architect Willie Park.” This is not an exaggeration. There are numerous references to Park on the Internet. He was a Scot and son of Willie Park, Sr., 19th century golf medalist. Park Jr. (1864-1925) has a long list of courses that he designed, including the Indianapolis club in 1919. I am indebted to his descendant architect Mungo Park for verifying this. Not only would Ralph Young have been at the Indianapolis club in 1919 to work with Willie Park, Jr., but J. W. Young would also have been there, as an occasional golfer. The cover of the October, 1923 Reporter featured a photo of J. W. Young taken on the Indianapolis Country Club links, according to an article, but the cover has disappeared.
Still in the October 15, 1922 Reporter we can read the headline “Hollywood, the City Beautiful.” The article compared Hollywood By-the-Sea to “choice” California cities like Pasadena and Long Beach. Young had spent his young married years in Long Beach, 1905 to 1915, watching that city and the rest of southern California grow. Now his spokesperson in the Reporter wrote that “Hollywood is destined to be one of the chief attractions between Palm Beach and Miami,” a “City Beautiful where it will be a real distinction to live.” The City Beautiful concept had been put forth by Daniel Burnham of Chicago in 1909. I discuss this in detail in my forthcoming biography, Joseph W. Young, Jr., and the City Beautiful.
Reaching the beach
We are often asked about Young’s development of the beach, Hollywood being one of the very earliest communities in Florida to consider the beach a community and visitor asset. After Young bought land on the pristine barrier island his next problem was to get onto the beach by means other than rowboat. He and his engineers chose Johnson Street as the easiest to extend to the canal, the East Marsh being fairly shallow at that point, and they began building up a farmers’ cart track into a firm rock-based causeway down to the canal in 1922. Incidentally, the street wasn’t named for Oscar Johnson, of course. It was the next president in line of the streets named for U.S. presidents beginning with Washington. This was Andrew Johnson, 17th U.S. president. I’ve written in detail about constructing the crossing to the beach in the Hollywood Historical Society Members Newsletter of Fall, 2010.
Hollywood at the Indiana State Fair
Moving on to October, 1923, big news for that month was a description of the Hollywood Exhibit in September at the Indiana State Fair. Jack Young, eldest son of Hollywood’s founder and a student then at Indiana University, designed the 80-foot exhibit of photos, mounted fish, and tropical plants. This was Hollywood’s third appearance at the Fair, where many lots in Hollywood were sold.
Luis Betencourt was the leader, with five other marimba players and a string bass. In 1923 Young sent these musicians to provide live music for the Hollywood booth at the Indiana State Fair. From the Oct. 15, 1923 Hollywood Reporter.
Young began bringing prospective buyers to Hollywood by all available means, chiefly train and tour bus though some came by boat from Miami. Pictured here is one of the 70-odd White tour buses (made by the White company) purchased in 1923. Top of the line, with leather seats, this looks more like an extended limo.
The Lost Organ
Finally, I’m including a photo I couldn’t locate in September. This is the elaborate organ that Young installed in the Beach Hotel ground floor. It is on a raised stage. In front is a fancy velvet-covered sofa with seashell cushions. The organ is at right. The organist’s seat puts his (or her) back to the wall. In the center is a drum set; there is the outline of a palm tree on the base drum. At the left is a grand piano. Column and overhead beams are all painted and decorated. This single area suggests the amount of ornate detail that filled this entire grand hotel.