1920’s: The Florida Land Boom
Easy credit. Sky-high real estate prices. Speculation.
Sounds like the housing situation of recent years but these trends were the norm in early 1920’s Florida. The Victorian Era was long gone and the new middle class had leisure time and money to travel. Florida was readily accessible through railways and cars. The media took advantage of these factors and portrayed Florida as a tropical paradise where property investments could become a fast ticket to wealth.
People sure believed in the dream. According to the Florida History Internet Center, two-thirds of Florida real estate was sold by mail to people who had never seen what they were buying! The state relaxed it’s real estate regulations to spur growth and eventually the binder boy system was born. Binders, or down payments on real estate, were taken from eager investors/tourists on the streets. Real estate agents preferred this system so they could avoid waiting around in the heat for buyers. There were plenty of binder women, too. Generally, they were young and willing to play a round of tennis or golf with potential investors.
Those who could not afford to invest but wanted in on the tropical scene were known as “tin-canners”. Unable to afford hotel fees, these tourists set up camp in their cars and brought cans of gasoline and food supplies along with them, hence the nickname. Eventually, someone built recreational facilities and cabins for these folks.
The big investors created towns and communities out of nothing – literally dredging islands into existence. For example, Tampa’s Davis Islands and St. Petersburg’s Snell Isle did not exist until an investor decided to create them. In other parts of Florida, investors were busy creating Temple Terrice, Coral Gables, and Hollywood.
By 1925, prices had peaked and people began to sell off their investments. New buyers no longer appeared. The Florida History Internet Center recounts an interesting St. Petersburg story:
St. Petersburg was the most indebted per citizen town in the United States. Key West ranked second. Caught without customers, many realtors folded up business, sending their binder boys home. One clever Pinellas realtor found a way to send his binders back up North without personal cost. He contracted with a funeral company that by law had to escort the bodies of deceased retirees to Northern cemeteries. Instead of funeral employees, the realtor and funeral director cashed in the two-way tickets for one-way tickets and placed binder boys on the trains as escorts.
There were several more boom years to go before the Great Depression hit the country but the Florida Land Boom was over. A deadly hurricane with 125 mph winds in 1926 did much to seal it’s doom. Florida would not see enormous growth again until the post-War era.
Source: The Florida History Internet Center can be found at floridahistory.org
Tampa Bay Real Estate Blog by The HOME Team