The City of Destiny

If you’ve ever looked at a map of Charlotte County in print or online, you’ve probably noticed something a little unusual on the northeast bank of the Myakka River near Port Charlotte. State Road 776, which crosses the Myakka River at that location, appears to run right through a series of concentric hexagons, with a circle at the middle. At first glance, it might appear to simply be a creatively designed neighborhood development. When this area was first laid out in the 1920s, however, its developers had much bigger, even utopian visions in mind.

Map showing parts of Charlotte County, including the location of El Jobe-An, indicated with a purple arrow (2014).

Map showing parts of Charlotte County, including the location of El Jobe-An, indicated with a purple arrow (2014).

Map showing El Jobe-An and the surrounding area (1990).

Map showing El Jobe-An and the surrounding area (1990).

This is El Jobe-An, once billed as the “City of Destiny” by the Boston and Florida Realty Trust, a group of investors who planned to turn the land in between the forks of the Myakka into “a cosmopolitan world port city of the first rank.” This ambitious vision might seem a bit over the top, but you must keep in mind that this was the 1920s, the era of the Florida Boom. Too often we think of the land boom as being something that happened only around Miami and Palm Beach, when in reality Florida real estate was being sold and developed all over the entire state.

El Jobe-An’s founders were caught up in this wave of real estate enthusiasm. Joel Bean, trustee of the Boston and Florida Realty Trust, acquired the property in 1923 when it was foreclosed upon. The land had previously belonged to a turpentine operation, during which time it was called “Southland.” Bean named his new possession by rearranging the letters of his own name, so that JOEL BEAN became EL JOBE-AN. These days, most folks just spell it “El Jobean.”

Plan of the El Jobe-An community, included in a promotional pamphlet (crica 1923).

Plan of the El Jobe-An community, included in a promotional brochure (circa 1923).

Cover of a promotional brochure on El Jobe-An (circa 1923).

Cover of a promotional brochure on El Jobe-An, part of the Florida Collection at the State Library of Florida (circa 1923).

Southland had already been platted out as a town, but Bean had the old plat invalidated in favor of his new plan, which featured the unique series of interlocking hexagonal wards. There were six such wards in the original plan. Each had its own civic center bordering on a circular plaza surrounded by a 100-foot boulevard from which additional roads radiated, so as to connect the plaza with the rest of the ward and the neighboring wards. The lots fronting the civic center in the middle of each ward would be for business; the remaining lots would be for residential purposes.

Bean planned for both public and private buildings in the new community to be built as much as possible in the “attractive Spanish type of architecture.” This policy and Bean’s choice of name for the place demonstrate his desire to tap into the exoticism that pervaded many real estate developments during this period.

 

El Jobe-An’s investors rested their hopes on the community’s proximity to excellent South Florida farmland. An early promotional brochure noted that the territory between the Gulf Coast and Lake Okeechobee was some of the best in the nation for growing profitable food crops. Moreover, the land north of the planned community had been set aside for farming operations. El Jobe-An was located near the Tamiami Trail, the Seaboard Air Line railroad, and an outlet to the Gulf of Mexico. The promoters were certain this was going to be the next major Florida port.

Developers looking out over the Myakka River, with plans in hand (from a promotional pamphlet, circa 1920s).

Developers looking out over the Myakka River, with plans in hand (from a promotional pamphlet, circa 1920s).

El Jobe-An never became Florida’s next great port, but it did become a busy community. El Jobe-An Farms produced bell peppers, lettuce, and celery, which were shipped north for distribution. A number of northerners purchased lots in the new community. Mrs. Elizabeth Adams, owner of the Adams chewing gum and chiclet empire, was perhaps the most famous among them. Bean also opened the El Jobe-An Hotel, which offered lodging to visitors considering buying a lot or just looking to escape the winter cold.

The decline of the Florida Boom and the arrival of the Great Depression put a damper on construction at El Jobe-An. Commercial fishing and farming became the primary sources of income, although the hotel did a little business now and then. When RKO Pictures began shooting the film Prestige (starring Ann Harding and Adolphe Menjou) nearby at Warm Mineral Springs, El Jobe-An and the hotel were so full of people the restaurant kitchens and fishing guides could barely keep up.

Joel Bean eventually retired from guiding his investment, and El Jobe-An grew into a more traditional Florida coastal community. A few relics of the original public buildings and fishing lodges appear to still be around, as photos surface from time to time online. The striking pattern of the street grid in El Jobe-An is perhaps the best reminder we have now of Joel Bean’s higher vision, yet another seldom-told story of Florida’s peculiar past.

The State Archives of Florida does not currently hold any photos of buildings or people at El Jobe-An. If you or someone you know has photos and would be interested in donating them to the Archives for preservation, we would be honored to use those images to help promote the study of Florida’s unique history. Contact us for details.

Ghost Hotel: The Unfinished Ringling Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota

Many people think of the Florida Land Boom and the bust that followed in the 1920s as something that happened mostly on the Atlantic coast. Tales of land being sold “by the gallon” on the edges of the Everglades or lots changing hands three times in a single day tend to be associated with Miami or Palm Beach more often than they are with Tampa or Fort Myers.  The story of the unfinished John Ringling Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Sarasota’s Longboat Key is a reminder that the Florida land bubble had a much wider reach.

The cupola of the unfinished Ringling Ritz-Carlton Hotel is shown here (1959).

The cupola of the unfinished Ringling Ritz-Carlton Hotel is shown here (1959).

By the 1920s, Sarasota had become a major center of resort development on the Gulf Coast of Florida. New railroads, paved roads, and automobiles made it easier than ever for visitors to reach the southern tip of the peninsula from anywhere in the United States, and promoters beckoned them southward with promises of luxurious vacations, greater health, and easy living.  For investors, they promised unrivaled profits.

Bird's-eye view of a new tree-lined road heading toward the beach at Venice in Sarasota County. During the heady years of the Florida land boom, new developments popped up all along the Gulf Coast (1926).

Bird’s-eye view of a new tree-lined road heading toward the beach at Venice in Sarasota County. During the heady years of the Florida land boom, new developments popped up all along the Gulf Coast (1926).

John Ringling, who along with his brothers had made a fortune in the traveling circus industry, became a resident of Sarasota in 1912, and very soon he became closely involved with developing the resort city and the barrier islands just offshore. Along with developer Owen Burns, Ringling ventured into the hotel business, buying up the southern tip of Longboat Key with plans to erect a hotel to become part of the Ritz-Carlton franchise.

John Ringling is pictured in the center of this poster advertising the family's circus business (1897).

John Ringling is pictured in the center of this poster advertising the family’s circus business (1897).

Construction began in 1926 with great interest from locals and Florida enthusiasts farther north, but trouble was in the offing from the start. The feverish boom in land speculation and development that had fueled South Florida for years was beginning to wane. Sarasota continued as a resort city, but a large new hotel such as Burns and Ringling’s Ritz-Carlton proved too tall an order to fulfill. Construction stalled on the project, and the arrival of the Great Depression signaled its final doom. Ringling promised to finish it, but was never able to do so. Following a dispute with his business partner Burns, he settled for purchasing Burns’ lavish El Vernona Hotel in Sarasota and renaming it the John Ringling Hotel.

The El Vernona Hotel before it became the John Ringling Hotel following a dispute between John Ringling and his business partner Owen Burns (circa 1925).

The El Vernona Hotel before it became the John Ringling Hotel following a dispute between John Ringling and his business partner Owen Burns (circa 1925).

A postcard view of the John Ringling Hotel (circa 1953).

A postcard view of the John Ringling Hotel (circa 1953).

Meanwhile, the imposing skeleton of the hotel at the tip of Longboat Key continued to deteriorate under the hot Sarasota sun. Before long, trees and shrubs began reclaiming the site of the building, while bats and owls made their homes in its unfinished rooms. Vandals and curious trespassers prowled around the property at night, and at least one person died after falling from one of the upper floors.

An aerial view of the unfinished Ritz-Carlton Hotel at the southern end of Longboat Key (1952).

An aerial view of the unfinished Ritz-Carlton Hotel at the southern end of Longboat Key (1952).

The unfinished Ringling Ritz-Carlton Hotel fades slowly into the landscape (1959).

The unfinished Ringling Ritz-Carlton Hotel fades slowly into the landscape (1959).

The property eventually entered the holdings of the Arvida Corporation, which began making plans for building the Longboat Key Club that exists there today. Having no use for the crumbling hotel building, the company decided to tear it down in 1964. Joseph Steinmetz, a world-renowned commercial photographer whose work documented a wide variety of scenes from American life at all social levels, captured several shots of the hotel as it was being destroyed.

The unfinished Ringling Ritz-Carlton Hotel falls victim to the wrecking ball after years of neglect (1964).

The unfinished Ringling Ritz-Carlton Hotel falls victim to the wrecking ball after years of neglect (1964).

Clouds of dust fill the air as the cupola of the unfinished Ringling Ritz-Carlton Hotel collapses during demolition (1964).

Clouds of dust fill the air as the cupola of the unfinished Ringling Ritz-Carlton Hotel collapses during demolition (1964).

The legacy of John Ringling remains strong in Sarasota, which features the John Ringling Causeway linking Lido Key with the mainland, as well as the imposing John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art.

A view of the gardens and courtyard of the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota (1961).

A view of the gardens and courtyard of the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota (1961).

Miami Golf in the 1920s

William A. Fishbaugh worked as a commercial photographer for more than 40 years. During his tenure as an employee of real estate developer George Merrick, Fishbaugh captured a remarkable visual history of the 1920s Florida Land Boom, particularly the development of Coral Gables, Miami, and Miami Beach. In addition to photographing homes, businesses, and attractions, Fishbaugh also documented area golf courses.

Miami Biltmore, early 1920s

Miami Biltmore, early 1920s


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