Fifty years ago, a Tampa businessman named Harris Mullen published the magazine’s first issue (April 1958), which comprised 32 pages. The cover — reproduced here in this issue — featured a stylized missile taking off from Cape Canaveral. It was a timely choice. The U.S. missile program, goosed into high gear after Russia’s launch of the Sputnik satellite a year earlier, had already produced 15,000 jobs in Florida and was expanding rapidly, the magazine noted.
The inside front cover of that first issue featured a promotion for U.S. Savings Bonds. On the back cover was an ad for Tampa Armature Works and Turner Electric Works in Jacksonville, touting the firms’ “switchboards and control panels.’’ Pictured was a massive control booth for a suction dredge “now being used in South America.” Those businesses still operate, combined under the Tampa Armature name, and are still owned by the family that founded the business. Another original advertiser, Tampa Electric (TECO), is still in business as well. Likewise, of course, U.S. Savings Bonds. Other advertisers in that first issue included a photographer, a “hot-dip galvanizing” company and a men’s store.
What’s interesting about the feature articles in that first issue is not just the vintage haircuts in the photographs and references to things like carbon paper that have since disappeared from common use. More striking is the degree to which many issues with which the state grapples today had already emerged, or were present in seed-form. One example involved growth: The magazine noted Florida’s “matchless climate” as a factor in growth, which by 1958 was already perking along at 225,000 new residents a year. Then the ironic kicker. B.R. Fuller Jr., executive director of the Florida Development Commission, was quoted as saying “ ... an increasing number of states are encountering water shortages. Thus, Florida’s plentiful supply of good water will become more of an asset than ever in years ahead.”
As we observe our 50th anniversary this year, we will explore those links that tie the present to the past and shape the future. And we’ll continue to keep Trend forward-thinking. This past year we introduced a new aspect to our news coverage by producing, on our website, a daily digest of the most important statewide business news. The digest, available each morning as an e-mail, has been well-received; we look forward to expanding and improving it. The site will feature covers from Trend’s past 50 years during the course of the year.
This issue also marks the appearance of a new regular feature called Cutting Edge. Barbara Miracle, who’s been with Trend for 18 of its 50 years, will report on the research and discoveries coming out of universities and private institutes all over the state that will, in time, define an increasingly larger portion of the state’s economic foundation.
I need to take note of another milestone as well. I met Robert Tolf, Florida Trend’s restaurant critic for the past 34 years, shortly after I came to work at Florida Trend about a decade ago. He was visiting the magazine’s offices (he lives out of town), and John Berry, my predecessor, brought him into an office where several of us were engaged in some sort of water-cooler discussion. From nice-to-meet-you, Tolf springboarded into a tour de force of storytelling and stream-of-consciousness verbal gymnastics that I came to learn were his hallmarks. It was not always clear where his train of thought was headed, but when it got there, it always arrived with great drama and panache. He used up a lot of oxygen, but he was mesmerizing.
He brought the same style to the annual Golden Spoon dinner, the best meal served in Florida each year, where one restaurateur-honoree cooks a multicourse feast for all the others that Tolf has selected to receive Golden Spoon awards. During the meal, he handed out the Spoons in a rambling discourse that almost always lasted long past dessert. I once had to make closing remarks after he finished. I teased him that I felt like a soldier sent onto the battlefield after the fight to shoot the wounded.
Behind the verbiage, however, is a keen intelligence and an unfailing nose for quality that has served this magazine extremely well for more than three decades. During his tenure as restaurant critic, Tolf established the Golden Spoon awards as the most coveted restaurant prize in the state. And over the past 11 years, it has been my pleasure to get to know him from more than a spectator’s vantage point. He’s as good a listener as he is a talker, as gentle as he is jovial, and one of the best dinner companions you could ever wish to have. Multilingual, he once astonished a tableful of lunch companions by discerning the hint of a Scandinavian accent in our waitress’s voice and seamlessly shifting into Norwegian to engage her in conversation.
This month marks his final column for the magazine, pushing back, as he says, from the restaurant-review table after 34 years. He’s as sharp as ever, and he’ll continue to advise us on the Golden Spoon awards, which will continue, and the restaurant scene in south Florida, where he lives. The column will continue in the hands of Chris Sherman, formerly the restaurant reviewer for the St. Petersburg Times. In addition to covering restaurants, he’ll also be writing about all manner of trends in dining and wining, from chocolatiers to premium vodka makers. I’m happy that the past, present and future will remain linked as our restaurant coverage moves forward.
Anniversaries are double-edged propositions — they can make you feel old, or they can remind you how vital you are. We at the magazine feel very strongly that we are operating in the vital mode. For the past 50 years, Florida Trend consistently has been ahead of the curve in writing authoritatively about the issues, people and trends that define Florida. Going forward, we will continue to take seriously our role as the only journalistic voice with a statewide perspective on Florida — and we will continue to fulfill Harris Mullen’s promise in that first issue to “report those things, good and bad, which will enlighten your actions and decisions.”