The busted land boom gave Fort Lauderdale an early taste of the Great Depression years before the rest of the country experienced it. But the city's main draw, its waterways, proved an economic lifeline.
While not yet a regular port of call for passenger liners, Port Everglades provided an economic advantage. Freighters, combined with rail lines, became a link in the transportation chain by which inland produce was shipped north. President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited the port several times, often during fishing trips.
Another visitor was the German freighter Arauca, which sought sanctuary after pursuit by the British cruiser Orion. Its crew was held at the County Courthouse pending transfer to Ellis Island for the duration of the war.
Fort Lauderdale was also noted for its floating hotel, the Amphitrite. Named after the wife of Poseidon, god of the sea, the reconfigured Navy ship was docked at the east end of the Las Olas Bridge and offered Northerners unique lodgings with a view of the still largely undeveloped New River and beach.
Foreshadowing the annual Christmas Boat Parade, folks held a "River Revelry" in 1931 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of their city's incorporation. The city still hadn't completed the sewer system that gave impetus to its founding, however; that would come in 1937.
In mid-decade, college swimming coaches began gathering at the Las Olas Casino pool on the beachside, which would later host the annual College Aquatic Forum. The pool gained a reputation for training Olympic-class swimmers and later became the Swimming Hall of Fame.
Some see this as the origin of Fort Lauderdale's ultimately notorious Spring Break.
Two Fort Lauderdale residents competed in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. "Little Katy" Rawls, an international star in swimming and diving, took bronze and silver medals in those respective competitions. A local fellow named Les McNeece played in the first exhibition baseball game there.
Fort Lauderdale also took its first steps in becoming an entertainment destination. In 1938 Brownie Robertson opened Club Brownie, the city's oldest licensed bar. Though 14 blocks from downtown on a dirt road, thousands still trooped there to catch such talent as Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. The bar kept serving until 2009.
The city's first major tourist attraction, the Clyde Beatty Jungle Zoo, opened in 1939 at the site of today's Gateway Shopping Center. The zoo, developed from a nearly defunct lion farm, closed within five years because of complaints from neighbors about roaring lions and roaming monkeys.
Another of the city's many new businesses was a clothing store established by Russian immigrant Isadore Adler Sterling, known as Pop. Because of his legendary charity, Pop was dubbed the "Jewish Santa Claus." His store operated until 1999.
Other Jews were not as beloved. They were restricted from hotels and neighborhoods. During a 1931 visit, Roosevelt's treasury secretary, Henry Morgenthau, was told that while he could stay at a Fort Lauderdale hotel (historical accounts omit its name), his Jewish staff could not. The secretary opted to stay outside of town.
Still, Fort Lauderdale's first temple, Emanu-El, was completed in 1937.
While Jews suffered discrimination, blacks in Fort Lauderdale made incremental strides in the '30s. With blacks not welcomed at Broward General Hospital, Dr. Sistrunk and Dr. Von D. Mizell founded Provident Hospital in a small wooden house on what is now Sistrunk Boulevard.
And John Hill II, the city's first black millionaire, boosted business in segregated Fort Lauderdale when he opened a thriving hotel and nightclub popular with jazz performers.
But any gains made by blacks were offset in '35, when a lynch mob brutally hanged and shot Reuben Stacey, accused of attacking a white woman. Photos of the murder depict Stacey's killers standing proudly over their handiwork while children look on.
Though the country was in the grasp of the Great Depression, desperate folks seeking warm weather and a new start still poured into Fort Lauderdale by car and rail. Its population more than doubled during the '30s, from 8,566 at the start of the decade to 17,996 at its close.
Did you know?
Not just for retirees
Shuffleboard was the sport during the Depression.
The Fort Lauderdale Shuffleboard Club claimed members from 33 states, Canada and the District of Columbia.
Grim double duty
The Fannin Funeral Home's three hearses doubled as ambulances, no doubt the source of some unease for accident victims.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun