Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Florida History: First beach developer sees mangroves, visualizes Lauderdale beach

By Jane Feehan

Only Hugh Taylor Birch’s home (now a state park), the hunting lodge of Birch’s law partner, John McGregor Adams,  and a wooden bath house sat on Fort Lauderdale’s beach when David Clifford “D.C.” Alexander saw the mangrove-covered area and visualized its future.

Ohioan Alexander came to Fort Lauderdale in 1909 after graduating from Stanford University – before the city was incorporated in 1911 and when only a few hundred residents called it home. Most residents lived along New River and looked toward the Everglades as their farming future. Alexander looked east and appreciated the settlement's beach side prospects, especially after spending time on California’s coastline and watching it develop.

During 1913, in a transaction that pre-dated (barely) the development of Miami Beach, Alexander purchased a tract along Fort Lauderdale’s beach that Adams sold to Georgia Sen. Tom Watson.* The land, which included Adam’s old lodge converted into the Las Olas Inn, stretched from today’s Granada Street to what is now Bahia Mar Marina. Alexander sub-divided the property with hopes of selling lots.

No doubt it was considered a risky venture. The beach was accessible only by boat at the time. That soon changed; the Las Olas Bridge was built in 1917-1918 and Alexander’s dream was soon realized.
He later gave property, 100 feet running south of the Casino pool (razed in 1965) to the city to be used as a park, now known as D.C. Alexander Park at 501 Fort Lauderdale Beach Boulevard.

Alexander went on to be president of Fort Lauderdale’s first bank and a prominent civic leader. He lived at 211 South Atlantic Blvd. at the time of his death in December, 1950.
* U.S. Senator Tom Watson (1856-1922) was a well-known national figure during his time. The Populist Party tapped him as both presidential and subsequently, vice-presidential nominee.  After he sold his Fort Lauderdale property to Alexander, he and his wife wintered in Jupiter. Serving Georgia, he died of asthma while in office. 
For more on the Las Olas bridge:
For more on Hugh Taylor Birch:
For more on the founding of Fort Lauderdale, see:

 Fort Lauderdale Daily News, Jan. 1, 1951
Gillis, Susan. Fort Lauderdale: The Venice of America. Charleston: Arcadia (2004).

Tags: Fort Lauderdale beach, Fort Lauderdale history, Fort Lauderdale developers, Fort Lauderdale in the early 1900s

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