Hollywood – in 1926 – was a city of only 2,869 residents. It was a new city, with the first lot having been sold only five years earlier. . . the first city charter adopted in November of the previous year . . . and the first telephones had only been in service for just two years.
Things were booming! Within a few months, the Rotary Club had 43 members. . . so almost anyone who was anybody was a Rotarian.
Like the rest of South Florida, Hollywood was really a product of real estate developers who brought hordes of people to Florida. In 1925 alone, more than 2.5 million people poured into Florida where they were sold land so that they could become part of what was know as “Paradise on Earth.”
Just south of Hollywood were the real boom centers. . . Miami and Miami Beach. There was construction going on everywhere. One land developer alone had 3,000 salesmen in South Florida, who would take your 10 percent down payment to hold your properties for 30 days.
But with the largest land bonanza in America’s history going on right here, investors were buying and selling land so fast that a single lot might change hands a dozen times a day. Miami Police Chief H. Leslie Quigg was so desperate to control the 300,000 people running around Miami . . . that he recruited Georgia plow hands, put them in uniforms, gave them guns and sent them into the streets as policemen.
It was definitely the “good times” in South Florida. Can’t you just imagine the conversations these first Rotarians had as they came together for their weekly meetings?Hollywood was certainly ready and would be the next hot spot. All the streets were in – thanks to Hollywood founder Joe Young contracting with an Ohio road paver by the name of Horvitz –and things were starting to happen.
Then something happened. Much of that hot real estate that was selling like hotcakes was really not land, but paper. Paper profits had gone from hundreds to thousands and then millions. . . but there was no cash to back it up. By the summer of ’26. . . the conversation at this new Hollywood Rotary Club changed from optimism and elation to doom and gloom. They looked around and saw 40 banks close. South Florida’s economy was in a deep depression.
Here is what the national media had to say: “The world’s greatest poker game, played with building lots instead of chips, is over. And the players are now paying up.”
As Florida Historian Michael Gannon describes it:
“The roads north became black with funeral-like corteges. Left behind were financial wreckage, unfinished buildings, garish swinging signs over empty streets, miles of cement sidewalks leading nowhere, jazz bands playing to empty halls, and broken dreams.”
It was the summer of ‘26 and Hollywood’s residents were miserable. If they were not packing their bags and returning north . . . their friends, neighbors, and, yes, their fellow Rotarians, were. Conversation at those Rotary meetings turned to how things couldn’t get much worse and that if you could just hold on, there had to be light around the corner.
There was light around the corner all right . . . except it was lightening that came in the dead of night and was part of a fierce hurricane that slammed into South Florida on September Hollywood’s residents – along with everyone else in South Florida – were not prepared.
Remember – all these people were from the north. They knew nothing about hurricanes. There were no hurricane shutters to lower and no basements to hide in. There was no Doppler Rader to track the course of an approaching storm, there was no TV to issue warnings, and there was no Brian Norcross to tell them what to do.
How bad was it? The Ocean, Biscayne Bay and the Intercoastal Waterway all became one. All the property on Miami Beach was covered, as was much of downtown Miami. Along the coast, 92 residents were killed. Between Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, 5,000 homes were destroyed and 9,000 more were damaged.
There are old photos that show boats that had been docked on Hollywood’s Intercoastal Waterway, moved to property just east of Federal Highway. The storm was so fierce that boards were driven through the trunks of trees. . . railroad tracks were stood on edge like picket fences. . . and hundreds of automobiles were washed out to sea.
As one survivor later described it: “It blowed a crooked road straight, and scattered the days of the week so bad that Sunday didn’t get around ’til late Tuesday morning.” Needless to say, membership in the Hollywood Rotary Club began to decline. By the end of the first year, they had lost half of their Charter members. Those who remained stuck together and tried to put their lives – and the fabric of Hollywood – back together. Both 1927 and 1928 were a time for rebuilding.
Then something happened. Much of that hot real estate that was selling like hotcakes was really not land, but paper. Paper profits had gone from hundreds to thousands and then millions. . . but there was no cash to back it up. By the summer of ’26. . . the conversation at this new Rotary Hollywood Club changed from optimism and elation to doom and gloom. They looked around and saw 40 banks close. South Florida’s economy was in a deep depression.
In September of 1928, Hollywood’s residents got a real scare as another hurricane skirted Broward County and slammed into Palm Beach. Nearly 2,000 people were killed, three-quarters of them Black laborers from the sugar cane fields around Lake Okeechobee.
The last half of ’28 and the first half of ’29 the conversation at Rotary Club meetings took another turn. Things weren’t getting any better. In fact, they were getting worse. More banks were closing, shops were boarded up, restaurants turned off the grills, there were hobos on the streets in South Florida.
Then the unthinkable happened. It was October 29th, 1929. Florida was already in financial ruin when the ticker tape machines fell silent. The stock market crashed. The whole nation was in a depression. . . the great depression.
In Florida, more banks closed their doors. Property values dropped by 25 percent. County and municipal bonds defaulted. The winter tourist season failed to materialize, business people and farmers went bankrupt. Both the East Coast and the Seaboard Railroads both went into receivership.
By the end of 1933, the Rotary Hollywood Club had only nine members and no money in the treasury. So that the Club wouldn’t loose its charter, the dues for Rotary International were paid by the Hollywood Land and Water Company.
But through it all, the nine Rotarians stuck together and things started to turn around. The economy got better and the Club’s membership began to grow. Some of the former members rejoined and new businessmen were invited to become a part of Rotary. Hollywood was on the grow and the population had increased from 2,800 to 3,355.
It was in 1935 that penny post cards were mailed to the wives of all club members, inviting them to an afternoon organizational meeting of the Rotary Ann Club. The purpose of this new woman’s group was “to promote friendship and good fellowship among the wives of Rotarians and to assist the Rotary Club in carrying out the Rotary program.”
Let me give you a little flavor of the day and a peek at the attitudes of society back then. . . by reading to you from a history that was written by the women of the early Rotary Ann Club.
“Although busy with small children, many members were also helping their husbands become established in their businesses and professions. . . in the office, doing paper work at home, and running errands. All of this, however, did not keep the Rotary Anns from enjoying privileges and fulfilling their obligations as the wives of Rotarians.
Club meetings were usually held in the afternoons at the homes of members. Light refreshments were served and conversations were humming with discussions of projects and plans for evening parties with the Rotarians.
Benefit parties, ranging from ladies’ card parties to an elaborately decorated Halloween party at the Alhambra Dance Studio, not only added to the treasury, but welded the girls into an unusually close relationship.
In 1937, when the first “Fiesta Tropical” was staged, Rotary Anns were right there at the reviewing stand. . . selling hot dogs and coca colas.
The Rotary Ann Club affirmed its faith in the renascence of its community and joined the brand new Chamber of Commerce.
Rotary Ann activities made big headlines in the Hollywood News, the weekly newspaper. . . and the Club’s elaborate parties set the pace for the town’s society. Mrs. Duling’s Dining Room – on the southeast section of the circle – was the scene of many a Rotary Ann Luncheon.
The Grand Ballroom of the Hollywood Beach Hotel was the setting on February 28th, 1938, for the first formal Bridge-Tea. The party was so appealing to the feminine set from Ft. Lauderdale to Miami, that it was destined to become an annual affair. Seven dozen card table covers and two dozen aprons, purchased from Nathan’s, were the first prizes. About $123 was made from this dazzling benefit.”
It may have been this growing treasury that gave the men of the Rotary Club the confidence to step out and purchase a clubhouse. In 1936 the purchased the building at 205 North 20th Avenue, for $3,700. They paid 10 percent down, with a 10-year loan at six percent interest.
This was an exciting and an interesting time in history. Only two years earlier, Adolph Hitler became the supreme dictator of Germany and John Dillinger was termed “Public Enemy Number One.” Just one year earlier, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had signed the Social Security bill into law. The best selling book in 1936 was “Gone With The Wind.”
While everyone else in America was looking forward to next year’s completion of the Golden Gate Bridge, Hollywood was excited about this new Rotary clubhouse. One of the main reasons that they purchased this old dance hall building was that there was no place in town big enough to hold their meetings in the winter, when the snowbirds flocked to South Florida. So while the men worried about the mortgage, the Rotary Anns worried about the furnishings.
They spent $32.09 at the Holly 5 & Dime, for pots, pans, china, and silverware. With a deposit of $10.25, they purchased a stove on the “installment plan.” They painted the kitchen and then decorated “their powder room” in the Rotary colors of blue and gold.
Then came World War II. Everyone’s lives were changed because of happened following the 1941 Attack on Pearl Harbor. Many Rotarians and sons of Rotarians went to war. Everyone pulled together.
The Rotary Ann’s history gives us additional insight:
“Gas rationing did not interrupt meetings, for Hollywood was still so small everyone lived within walking distance, or a very short driving distance, of everything that was going on.
Rotary luncheon meetings, however, were another problem. There was no cook-and no food ration stamps! Rotary Anns fed their men by bringing to the clubhouse, sandwiches they had made at home.”
This first building was used for 11 years, when it was sold in 1947 for $13,000 cash. They used the money to purchase the lot – here at 24th & Taylor Street – and they secured a $12,000 mortgage to built their own building that would be twice the size of the first one. Despite the fact that the new clubhouse was a controversial decision – it passed the Board of Directors by only one vote — the new clubhouse was dedicated in June of 1948 and they satisfied the mortgage five years later.
In 1953 the property across the street was purchased for use as a parking lot. The Club House was remodeled and upgraded in 1979.
Through the years, the members of the Rotary Hollywood Club considered community service a top priority. The most visual and enduring project is probably the joint effort with the City of Hollywood that resulted in what is still called Rotary Park. Thousands of kids have used the fields there as they participate in various sporting events.
It was the Rotary Club that founded the South Broward High School Band – know then as the South Broward Rotary School Band — providing them with uniforms and instruments.
They sponsored a “Wheel Club” for the boys at South Broward. There were kids who need funds for college and a new hospital that was looking for help. Rotarians were there to make a difference.
During the first 32 years, the Club used all the traditional ways to raise money including sales of various items, special events, and pancake dinners.
This all changed in 1958 when the Rotary Hollywood Club held its’ first Rotary Radio Auction. It was a five-day event – Tuesday through Saturday – with auctioning and sales done over the radio. WGMA would broadcast directly from the Club House and listeners would phone in their bids.
Ed Foster was the first auction chairman and he made sure that everyone supported the event. During auction week, a live bull was caged outside the Club House. Those who didn’t contribute to the “Bull Club” were threatened with the prospect of having Ed deliver the bull to their house, where he would live until the next auction. With that kind of persuasion, everyone belonged to the Bull Club.
They raised $2,000 from their first auction and everyone realized that they had found a great new way to raise funds and the Rotary Radio Auction continued for several years. The proceeds would be dedicated to youth work in the Hollywood area.
For the third Rotary Radio Auction, the Rotary Anns – an auxiliary whose membership and enthusiasm was disappearing — were invited to conduct a Country Store, for the sale of used merchandise, and open a Country Kitchen. As was recorded in the Rotary Ann’s history: “when Rotary offered their girls a chance to work on their third Radio-Auction, the Club fell to the task with heart and soul.”
For their work, the Rotary Anns would receive a percentage of the net income to be used for their charitable work. This arranged continued until the Rotary Ann’s disbanded in 1999.
In spite of the devastating hard times during this club’s formative years, it survived and grew. Membership peaked at over 125 men who embraced the Rotary creed of “Service Above Self.” Jewish men and Christian men . . . white men, oriental men, and Hispanic men all worked as one as members of the Rotary Hollywood Club.
Rotary International was conceived as a mens service club. Women were not permitted to join. Finally in 1988 the leadership of the Rotary Hollywood Club said enough is enough. If the face of much controversy and public debate, women had already been accepted into the Hollywood Kiwanis Club.
In advance of an eventual change by Rotary International, Hollywood Rotarians followed the lead of the Hollywood Kiwanis Club and inducted the first female member. Mara Giulianti was inducted in December of 88 and continues to be an active and an enthusiastic member. The first black member, Eric Spivey, was inducted in July of 2000.
The tradition of the Hollywood Rotary Auction continues. Each year we continue to band together to conduct a four-day auction and raise funds for youth work. A partial list of the organizations that have benefited from the proceeds are printed each year in the auction brochure.
What isn’t included is a listing of all the individuals who have received help from the Rotary Hollywood Club – ranging from scholarships and money for a field trip – to uniforms and sporting equipment. Such a listing would contain thousands of names as the good works of this club continue to extend throughout the community.
With all the adversity. . .you have to wonder how the Rotary Hollywood Club ever survived. What kept them going? It was their desire to make their community a better place and to help others, especially the youth of the greater Hollywood area.