Fort Lauderdale: Into the Next Century

Photo by Ron Bernthal

From the mid 1950s to the late 1980s,  Fort Lauderdale was “Spring Break Capital of the World,” with beachfront hotels bringing in enough revenue to carry them throughnthe year.

The city eventually grew tired, though, of seeing its reputation sinking faster than vodka seeping into sand.

After an ambitious 20-year revitalization plan, striking new hotels line the city’s beachfront, and downtown’s River Walk is a beautiful, upscale entertainment district.

These days it is the cultural venues, high-end restaurants, several yacht-filled marinas, and trendy night-spots that draw visitors to the city, on a year-round basis.

It’s taken 100 years to get to this point.

Back in 1911, a small, quiet village along the New River, which had grown to about fifty residents since the railroad arrived, was incorporated as the City of Fort Lauderdale.

The Stranahan House still stands as the oldest building in the city, a small, wooden house with a front porch overlooking the New River.

“The story of the Stranahan House is the story of Fort Lauderdale,” says April Kirk, Executive Director of the historic house and museum, a national landmark.

“Our entire history as a city started here, on this very site, when this spot was a trading post for the local Seminoles,” she adds. “It’s great that this structure was preserved and restored, and is open to any visitors who want to experience what early Florida used to be like.”

Fort Lauderdale’s growth continued through the Florida land boom of the early 1920s, but in 1926 the city was hit by a devastating hurricane that killed 350 residents in the region, and damaged much of the city. Coupled with the stock market crash three years later, total recovery took years,

Photo courtesy of Arts & Entertainment District

Even into the late 1980s, Fort Lauderdale remained a small town, living within the huge shadow of Miami, 25 miles to the south.

But in recent years, it’s worked hard to find a place for itself.

Hotel companies are taking note of Fort Lauderdale’s growing upscale tourism market. A deluxe Ritz Carlton is on the beach now, along with a trendy W Hotel.

The newest hotel to open along the city’s beachfront boulevard is B Ocean Fort Lauderdale, part of the expanding B Hotels and Resorts brand. The refurbished hotel, where all 240 deluxe guest rooms have ocean views, perhaps best symbolizes the city’s efforts to reinvent itself.

“There has been a complete renaissance in Fort Lauderdale in the past ten to fifteen years,” says Joel Darr, B Ocean’s General Manager.


Photo by Ron Bernthal

“People are coming here throughout the year now, from other cities in Florida for long weekends, and even from Europe. We have something great to offer them.”

Such as the 20-year-old Broward Center for Performing Arts, and the rest of the attractions on the downtown Riverwalk Arts and Entertainment District.

Also here are the Museum of Art, the Museum of Discovery and Science, Himmarshee Village, with its collection of restaurants, clubs and bars, Parker Playhouse, and the Fort Lauderdale History Center.

Fort Lauderdale’s mayor, Rob Dressler, is not content to let the city sit on its laurels of the past two decades, and they want to spend city money on a consulting firm to help Fort Lauderdale formulate a vision for its future.  

What everyone in this city of 166,000 residents seems to want, however, is for the city and its nearby communities to continue to draw visitors by maintaining and expanding the 1991-opened Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center; Port Everglades, the nation’s third busiest cruise port; and Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport (FLL), the fastest-growing major airport in the country building.

These three facilities, along with The Wave, a proposed 2.7-mile electric streetcar system costing $125 million, using federal, state, and local funding, is being planned for downtown Fort Lauderdale in the near future.

For this ever-changing city, time never stands still.