April 19, 2024

Urban Living Celebrating 50 Years

Tale of Two Neighborhoods

Two Florida communities -- unlike demographically and geographically -- followed similar paths as they declined, then rose again over the past 50 years. Today, they face the same challenges going forward.

Cynthia Barnett | 9/1/2008

As the neighborhood declined, its identity crisis became so acute that in 1967 the city formed a Committee To Keep Greater Miami Beach Young. But as Howard Kleinberg writes in his book, “Miami Beach,” the campaign couldn’t alter the destiny imposed by the area’s senior-dominated demography. In 1973, the city created a South Shore Redevelopment Area that aimed to get rid of every structure south of Fifth, save for Joe’s Stone Crab restaurant. City leaders imagined the $400-million plan would revitalize the southernmost point of America’s Playground. Instead, it all but guaranteed the area’s decline.

Lake Eola/Thornton Park: 1960s-70s

Lake Eola
Downtown Orlando’s Lake Eola was always a centerpiece of urban life, with residents congregating for dances, radio broadcasts and band performances (above). The lake’s fountain was first installed in 1912 at a cost of $10,000. The city built a replacement in 1957 dubbed “the Millennium Fountain.” [Photo: State Archives]

Lake Eola/Thornton Park: For the first half of the 20th century, the area east of downtown Orlando was home to cattle barons, then to citrus growers and the bankers who loaned them money. They built brick streets and neo-classical and Tudor homes. After World War II, Lake Eola/Thornton Park boomed with families and businesses that grew — just as in SoFi — along a Washington Street. The future looked bright in 1957, when city leaders spent $350,000 for a fountain in the middle of Lake Eola. But in the ’60s, the neighborhood began a swift decline — embodied in a different fountain, this new one at Orlando’s first shopping mall, Colonial Plaza. Only two miles away from Lake Eola, the suburban mall featured a Woolworth’s counter and a multistory Jordan Marsh. The city also began sprawling westward, where Glenn Martin Co. — later Martin Marietta, later Lockheed-Martin — built a missile factory in what had been the boondocks.

The mall may have begun the demise of downtown Orlando and its neighborhoods, but Disney World cinched it. When Disney opened its doors in 1971, it didn’t just draw tourists. It further lured population, highway infrastructure and businesses to the west of the city — on the other side of town from Lake Eola/Thornton Park and other eastern neighborhoods. “Disney had a real glamour, and many people wanted to be part of that,” says Sara Van Arsdel, executive director of the Orange County Regional History Center. Just as in SoFi, Thornton Park’s population began to age, and young professionals were looking for more youthful neighbors — along with bigger homes and yards. There were, of course, exceptions: As a young married couple, Sue and George Macnamara bought their white colonial on East Washington Street in Thornton Park from his parents in 1972. They had noticed aging neighbors and lots of turnover “but had fallen in love with the house, and that was that,” Sue Macnamara says.

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