Modern Florida started on Dec. 7, 1941


Former University of South Florida history professor Gary Mormino is best known for his book “Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams: A Social History of Modern Florida.”

At 7 p.m. Tuesday at Crocker Church in Sarasota, Mormino will add a professorial presence to a panel with Sarasota County History Center historian Jeff LaHurd and the Herald-Tribune’s Harold Bubil discussing the role World War II played in the development of Florida and its cities.

Bubil interviewed Mormino, who is writing a book on the subject.

Q: Tell us about the event for the Historical Society of Sarasota County.

A: It a conversation, talking about the broad contours of the war, particularly on the home front in Florida, and how it changed life. It would be nice if some veterans were there.

Q: Which community in Florida was most affected by the war?

A: Your assumption would be a big city like Tampa or Miami. Key West was on the chopping block; the federal government seriously considered eliminating Key West and turning it over as a preserve. The city was bankrupt in the 1930s and by 1943 you couldn’t rent a room there.

The most dramatic example might be Camp Blanding. This rural area in Northeast Florida at one time was the fourth-largest city in Florida.

Northwest Florida, which was lightly populated, had so many military bases that the joke was one more and the Panhandle would sink into the Gulf. Even a city like Sarasota — it is fascinating, the dynamics. Bradenton, Venice and Naples had bases.

You could make an argument that the two seminal events in Florida history were the boom in the 1920s, which ended in 1926, and World War II. The birth of modern Florida really begins at Pearl Harbor.

It is a myth, by the way, that Florida was in a vacuum in that 15-year period. Places like Tampa, Sarasota and Miami were growing. Lots of Midwesterners were moving there; it was still a pretty small place. Sarasota had 12,000 people in 1940, and most people who lived in Florida in lived in the cities.

The state only had 15 military bases in 1940. Florida was this underpopulated, underdeveloped state. Florida was the smallest state in American South in the 1940s.

Q: How did the war change the state’s real estate development.

A: VJ Day in 1945 was the happiest day in American history, and that created confidence. Isn’t that what it is all about? Confidence is the reason you are going to pay $300,000 for a bungalow that cost $5,000 in 1915. Was there a more confident time in American history? The boys were coming home, all of them. Our cities weren’t bombed. The economy boomed.

For Florida, the big change was millions of servicemen saw Florida for the first time. Beaches, lakes, year-round sunshine, and they all vowed to return.

You could make an argument that almost all of them did. It was the exposure of the war.

Harold Bubil

Recipient of the 2015 Bob Graham Architectural Awareness Award from the American Institute of Architects/Florida-Caribbean, Harold Bubil is real estate editor of the Herald-Tribune Media Group. Born in Newport, R.I., his family moved to Sarasota in 1958. Harold graduated from Sarasota High School in 1970 and the University of Florida in 1974 with a degree in journalism. For the Herald-Tribune, he writes and edits stories about residential real estate, architecture, green building and local development history. He also is a photographer and public speaker. Contact him via email, or at (941) 361-4805.
Last modified: November 7, 2013
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