Dear Readers, I’m back, after extended travels and time-off in general. In the following post instead of working in one month I’ll be covering some of the entire experience of Hollywood, Florida during World War II.
Before I begin, NEWS UPDATE! I will be signing my book Joseph W. Young, Jr. and the City Beautiful: A Biography of the Founder of Hollywood, Florida, at the Miami Book Fair on Saturday, November 23, 2013, from 11 to 12 noon. Please stop by, browse the book, and say Hello!
NOVEMBER 11: Today is Armistice Day, established to commemorate the end of World War One, the “war to end all wars.” Clearly that didn’t happen, and we now commemorate all our veterans of all our wars.
My father, Tony Mickelson, served in the US Navy throughout the First World War. Hollywood, Florida, of course did not exist at that time. But by the late 1930s it was well-established, a quiet seaside town that was nearly empty in summers when residents went north, then springing to life and hope in the winter season when tourists and winter residents came, bringing a rush of activity, and money.
December 7, 1941 was just the beginning of the winter season. Picture the town of barely four thousand residents, with small shops lining Hollywood Boulevard from the first Circle (then Harding Circle) to City Hall Circle, and homes scattered among numerous empty lots. Joseph W. Young’s beautiful city plan was very much in evidence, with the wide Boulevard anchored at each end by a very large, handsome hotel. The Beach Hotel, on the east end, was very beautiful, with extensive gardens (see my book cover, illustrated above), the former Hollywood Hills Inn on the west end had become more pared-down as it had been the winter home of Riverside Military Academy since the early 1930s. Neither hotel was occupied for much of the year, but in that December of 1941 each would have been polished and readied for reopening in late December/early January. With the bombing of Pearl Harbor, plans began to change.
From January through May, 1942, local residents on Hollywood beach could actually observe tankers in the nearby Gulf Stream being torpedoed by enemy submarines. As I mentioned in my Guide to Historic Hollywood, my childhood recollection of seeing a small black boat washed ashore on Hollywood beach, a U-boat, was corroborated by others. We weren’t allowed near the fascinating object, which seemed empty, and it quickly disappeared, no doubt spirited away by the Coast Guard. War had reached Hollywood.
The two big hotels closed after their respective winter seasons in spring of 1942 and the town went back to dormant mode, but briefly. That June, Oscar Johnson, manager of the Hollywood Beach Hotel, and by extension the Hollywood Golf & Country Club (the two were under the same ownership), arranged through the Chamber of Commerce and the USO to make the Country Club available to servicemen.
Below, Hollywood Golf & Country Club as Service Men’s Club of Hollywood, 1942.
The beautiful Club built by J. W. Young in 1924 and considered a glamorous showpiece with its open air, lighted glass brick dance floor became perhaps the most elegant USO at that time.
Meanwhile the Navy had its eye on all the beachfront towns in south Florida (I can’t speak for elsewhere).
By July, 1942 Navy officers were in Hollywood arranging to take over the western hotel that was then Riverside Military Academy. And on August 4, 1942 it was commissioned as the Naval Air Gunners School. A week later, August 10, 1942, Navy recruits began training there, followed later by Marines and WAVES.
Left, Riverside Military Academy, designed by Rubush & Hunter, and its band, led by Rene Zaza, 1930s. Photo by G. Romer. Courtesy Hollywood Historical Society.
Below, Riverside Military Academy as the Naval Air Gunners School, March 21, 1944. Here, Rear Admiral Andrew C. McFall, chief of Naval Air operational training of 7th Naval District addresses current graduates. Photo from the collection of Virginia E. TenEick. Courtesy Hollywood Historical Society.
The third circle and its hotel were well inland, so what was the attraction for the Navy? For one thing, as a military academy, it was no doubt quickly transformed for use by adult military. But also, these sailors were being trained as gunners. Immediately west of the third circle, the terminus of J. W. Young’s Hollywood, was basically empty in the 1940s. Chiefly the land was occupied only by herds of milk cows as there were numerous dairies lining today’s US 441 from Fort Lauderdale down into Miami. So the Navy pilots could fly over the area west of 441 towing targets for the gunners to shoot at, without danger to civilians. As far as I know, no cows were harmed, either, by falling shrapnel.
I grew up in the Little Ranches on Polk Street, one block north of Hollywood Boulevard. Suddenly my walk to downtown was busily populated by dozens–hundreds–of young men in white. Probably they hitched rides from Riverside, and headed for the Servicemen’s Club, giving me a “Hi, kiddo,” if they noticed a small blonde child at all. I still recall the great burst of energy that filled Hollywood when the Navy moved in.
And the Navy had only begun with Hollywood. On December 16, 1942 Young’s other landmark anchoring his Boulevard, the Beach Hotel, was commissioned as the US Naval Indoctrination and Training School. There were one thousand in the first class of officer-trainees. Two months later when that class graduated, it became a navigation school with subsequent classes of 1,500 and more.
Hollywood Beach Hotel, west facade from the original Boulevard Bridge looking east, in the 1940s. Courtesy Hollywood Historical Society
Access to the Naval school on Hollywood beach was much more restricted than the Gunners school, with the beach open chiefly to permanent residents (and remember, there was only the one bridge to Hollywood beach at that time).
Hollywood Beach Hotel dining room, designed by Rubush & Hunter for J. W. Young 1925-26. Postcard
Hollywood Beach Hotel dining room, June 6, 1943. The decor was the same but the clientele was decidedly different. The caption reads: SWANK HOTEL SERVES AS MESS HALL FOR NAVAL AIR NAVIGATION CADETS. Photo from the Miami Herald, June 6, 1943. Courtesy Hollywood Historical Society.
Postcards and other correspondence from men stationed at the Beach Hotel during WW II show that they could hardly believe how luxurious their surroundings were. The officer candidates stationed here were less likely to wander around town, although they did have what amounted to their own elegant service club, for the Golf & Country Club had also been acquired by the Navy, closing it to all but the trainees at the Beach Hotel. There was a reason for this standoffishness, which was learned only years later. The Navy at that time had a secret weapon, called RADAR. Navigation officer trainees apparently were learning about this in several seaside hotels from Miami Beach to Palm Beach, including Hollywood’s Beach Hotel. Keeping them apart from civilians as much as possible no doubt helped maintain the secret until the war was won.
There is a great deal more to the role that little Hollywood played during World War II.
Photo, right, Theodore Raper, courtesy Hollywood Historical Society
Non-combatant citizens staged highly successful war bond drives. Owners of Hollywood’s 1935 historic house, Vera and Clarence Hammerstein, were among the leaders in the war effort.
Vera and Clarence Hammerstein, far left, at a steak dinner given to buyers of $100 bonds by Mr. and Mrs. John Poulos at their restaurant, Johnny’s Hi-Class Joint. Joining them are, l. to r.: Mrs. Maxwell Leslie, Lt. Lamuel Campbell, Jr., Mrs. Campbell, Comdr. Leslie (drive chairman), Lt. Garfield King and Paul Robinson (back to camera). At far right, Mrs. O. A. Bingham. From the collection of Virginal E. TenEick. Courtesy Hollywood HistoricalSociety.
Here are naval officers on the Boulevard at 19th Avenue. From the collection of Virginia E. TenEick. Courtesy Hollywood Historical Society.
Highly recommended reading is Virginia TenEick’s History of Hollywood and her chapters on Hollywood during WW II. This book is available at the Hollywood Historical Society for $10. Call 954-923-5590 and leave a message asking for particulars.
If you or a relative were actually stationed in Hollywood during WW II at either the Gunners School or the Naval Indoctrination and Training School, PLEASE send me an email and I will help collect this information for the Historical Society. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
And I hope you will think about buying my book, perhaps as a holiday gift this season. It’s available at the Hollywood Historical Society and also through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your local independent bookstore could order it for you. Details:
Joan Mickelson Joseph W. Young and the City Beautiful. A Biography of the Founder of Hollywood, Florida. ISBN 978-0-7864-6880-5. McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers, 2013.