Major William Lauderdale commanded a detachment that built “Fort Lauderdales” during the Semilnole Wars in the 1838. By 1842 the fort was abandoned and for the next 50 years the area remained completely undeveloped. If William Lauderdale were around today he would be stunned to discover that a major American city was named for him, let alone than 10,000,000 million people each year include his namesake town on their vacation agendas.
Downtown Fort Lauderdale has a similar gaping hole in its heritage. The very first building constructed in town, at the landing of Frank Stranahan’s ferry in 1893, still stands and several buildings associated with the town’s pioneers are extant. But there are hardly any other buildings constructed before the 1970s to be seen.
With over 100 miles of natural and artificial waterways, Fort Lauderdale likes to fancy itself the “Venice of America” so the natural place to launch our walking tour will be down by the water...
20 North New River Drive
According to Tequesta Indian legend their village here was transformed overnight after an earthquake and torrential rainfall. They named the resulting river “Himmarshee” or New River. In the 1980s Sort Lauderdale residents approved more than $7 million to create the Riverwalk Linear Park.
FACING THE NEW RIVER, TURN LEFT AND WALK UP THE RIVERWALK. THE WATER IS ON YOUR RIGHT. STOP AT THE RAILROAD DRAWBRIDGE.
2nd Avenue Railroad Drawbridge
at New River
This historic rail that once opened South Florida to northern tourists today only carries freight trains. With only a dozen or so trains a day the bridge stays in the upright position most of the time to accommodate the busy river traffic. There is talk of making this a commuter line as well but there would be so many passenger trains that the bridge would have to stay down, an untenable position.
TURN LEFT AND WALK AWAY FROM THE NEW RIVER.
New River Inn
231 SW 2nd Avenue
This is Broward County’s oldest standing hotel building, constructed in 1905 of hollow concrete blocks. Edward T. King, the area’s first contractor, helmed the project that set a standard for future construction around Fort Lauderdale. Hotel guests could enjoy running ice water and light from carbide lamps. The 24-room guest house operated until 1955 when it was purchased by the City and converted into a city hall annex. After dodging the wrecking ball it now contains the town history museum.
229 SW 2nd Avenue
This was originally a single story house when Edwin T. King, the town’s first builder, constructed it in 1907. It also wasn’t here; it was built on the south bank of the New River. Crafted of Dade County pine, King, a boatwright in the days before Fort Lauderdale, used sturdy timber salvaged from ships for his joists. It was the third house King, who was also a pioneering citrus grower, had raised in Florida. A second floor was added in 1911. King’s eldest daughter Louise lived here with her husband Bloxham Cromartie most of her life. In 1971 the 150-ton house was barged upriver to prevent its demolition and it began a new life as a house museum.
Philemon Nathaniel Bryan House
227 SW 2nd Avenue
Philemon N. Bryan, a Confederate veteran of the 9th Florida Volunteer Infantry, was a shopkeeper and a citrus grower who served as mayor of New Smyrna. With his groves destroyed by the historic Florida freeze of 1894-95, Bryan accepted Henry Flagler’s offer to construct the section of his expanding Florida East Coast Railway from the New River to Pompano. Bryan recruited 400 African-Americans in New Smyrna and ferried the workers down the coast to lay track. The first train to Miami rolled down Bryan’s roadbed on February 22, 1896. Philemon and his sons acquired land on either side of the railway tracks in what later became downtown Fort Lauderdale. His classically-flavored home was constructed in 1905 by Edwin T. King using hollow concrete blocks. Nearby you can see a small structure that was built at the same time to house an acetylene gas generator to provide light for Bryan’s house and his New River Inn.
Hoch Heritage Center
219 SW 2nd Avenue
Now the home of the Fort Lauderdale Historical Society and named for a long-time trustee, this low slung building began life in 1949 as a post office annex.
TURN RIGHT ON SECOND STREET, CROSS THE RAILROAD TRACKS AND TURN RIGHT ON SW 1ST AVENUE (BRICKELL AVENUE).
300 Southwest 1st Avenue
This building has hosted many businesses since it was constructed on this corner of the first commercial street in Fort Lauderdale, then known as Brickell Avenue after pioneering settlers William and Mary Brickell who owned much of the land around New River. It was once the town bus station. The longest tenant was Tibbitt’s Jewelers which operated here for over three decades.
west side of Brickell Avenue
This hotel with an arcaded Spanish Colonial facade opened with great optimism in 1922 as the Bivans Hotel. About that time rampaging hyacinths began to clog the transportation canals and the Dixie Highway was routed past the old town center, crippling commerce on Brickell Avenue.
220-230 Brickell Avenue
You won’t see many brick buildings in South Florida - its use was a reaction to a fire in 1912 that wiped out most of the town’s business district that was still filled with wooden frame buildings. The only building here that was not destroyed was the Osceola Hotel that would go up in flames the next year. Tom Bryan, an early town promoter, constructed the two-story red-brick building that looks much as it did a century back.
FOLLOW THE ROAD AS IT BENDS LEFT AND EXIT THROUGH THE RIVERFRONTGATE. CONTINUE ACROSS ON LAS OLAS BOULEVARD.
Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale
One East Las Olas Boulevard at Andrews Avenue
In 1958, the Junior League founded the Fort Lauderdale Art Center as a gathering place where the public could come to enjoy exhibitions and participate in art classes for children and adults. The first exhibition took place in an old hardware store. In 1986 the collections moved into a modernist building that was one of the last design projects in the long career of American architect Edward Larrabee Barnes, a body of work that would earn him the American Institute of Architects’ highest award, the AIA Gold Medal. Emphasizing 20th century work, among its 6200 pieces are a significant collection of ceramics by Pablo Picasso, a collection of contemporary Cuban art representing the contributions of more than 125 artists, and North America’s largest exhibition of work from the Copenhagen-Brussels-Amsterdam(CoBrA) avant-garde movement.
FAU/BCC Higher Education Complex (HEC)
111 East Las Olas Boulevard
Dedicated in 2001, the Higher Education Complex houses facilities for both Florida Atlantic University and Broward College. The building features solar panels on the roof, Fort Lauderdale’s first renewable energy high-rise. The towers opposite the HEC stand as the tallest building in Fort Lauderdale, the 452-foot Las Olas River House. The residential skyscraper opened in 2004 with 287 units.
Bank of America Plaza
401 East Las Olas Boulevard
The city’s fourth-tallest building came on line in 2001. The top of the 2-story, 365-foot tower culminates in a 42-foot pyramidal crown that is illuminated at night.
TURN RIGHT ON 5TH AVENUE AND WALK DOWN TO THE RIVER. WALK A FEW STEPS TO YOUR LEFT.
335 East 6th Avenue
This is Fort Lauderdale’s most historic structure, built in 1902 as a trading post by the 37-year old founder of the town, Frank Stranahan. Stranahan operated a ferry across the New River at this point. The building also was used as the town hall and post office. In 1906 Stranahan added a second floor and moved into the building with his wife, the former Ivy Julia Cromartie. After Frank Stranahan committed suicide with the onset of the Depression in 1929 Ivy moved upstairs and rented the first floor out as a restaurant. She lived here until 1971. The Fort Lauderdale Historical Society bought the building in 1979 and restored it to its 1915 configuration.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS BACK UP TO LAS OLAS STREET AND TURN LEFT BACK TO THIRD AVENUE. TURN RIGHT, AWAY FROM THE RIVER.
FirstUnited Methodist Church
101 SE 3rd Avenue
This congregation is Fort Lauderdale’s oldest, organized in 1903. After the First Methodist Church split for a time the two factions reunited in a meeting on the New River bridge. William H. Marshall, who would become Fort Lauderdale’s first Mayor in 1911, was a charter church member who rowed up and down the New River collecting participants for his Sunday School. A veteran of the Spanish-American War, after Marshall, a Georgian, was mustered out of the service he stopped in Fort Lauderdale to visit family and stayed to farm. He would open Broward County’s first real estate office.
One Financial Plaza
100 SE 3rd Street
This was the first skyscraper constructed in Fort Lauderdale, back in 1972. At 374 feet, it was the tallest building in the area for many years before being shuttled back to fifth. Landmark Bank constructed the tower but has been the home of several financial institutions since the 1980s.
First Baptist Church
301 East Broward Boulevard at 3rd Avenue
The congregation organized with seven members in 1907, gathering in a small schoolhouse. Their first church, a Norman Gothic building of concrete blocks, was raised in 1913 at Las Olas Boulevard and Third Avenue on land donated by Mr. and Mrs. Frank Oliver. With the area’s growth after World War II a new sanctuary was required and on August 31, 1947 the entire congregation marched from the original church up Third Avenue to its new contemporary Gothic church designed by Courtney Smith. Much of the labor was provided by church volunteers. In the 1960s the church would pick up a tall brick steeple. The complementary Worship Center opened on April 15, 1990. Each year the Fort Lauderdale Christmas Pageant attracts more than 50,000 visitors here.
U.S. Federal Building and Courthouse
299 East Broward Boulevard at 3rd Avenue
After leaving Harvard University with a master’s degree in architecture from Harvard in 1958 William Morgan embarked onhalf-century of work as one of America’s most prolific modernist builders. Morgan has received more than 100 architectural awards, with his firm having built more than 200 sites and this courthouse from 1978 is widely regarded as his finest work. The mass of the concrete building is dispersed to appear light and airy, festooned with plants and a tumbling waterfall.
TURN LEFT ON 1ST STREET.
100 North Andrews Avenue at 1st Street
With the city government doubling in size during the decade of the 1960s City Hall moved from a modest 1940s home in a garden setting two blocks north of here into this eight-story modern home in 1969. The plans were drawn by William Parrish Plumb and Paul Robin John which won a design competition.
TURN LEFT ON ANDREWS AVENUE AND CROSS BROWARD BOULEVARD.
Fort Lauderdale Woman’s Club
20 South Andrews Avenue
The Fort Lauderdale Woman’s Club organized in 1912 with 18 members and was active in propagating the town’s volunteer fire department, the public library and the Girl Scouts. Ivy Stranahan, wife of New River pioneer Frank Stranahan and the area’s first school teacher, donated this lot in 1916 and their Mediterranean style clubhouse was designed by Connecticut transplant August Geiger. Geiger began his practice in Miami in 1911 and added a second office in Palm Beach. Of his buildings still standing the most prominent is the Dade County Courthouse.
WALK OVER BEHIND THE WOMAN’S CLUB INTO STRANAHAN PARK. LOOMING OVER THE PARK TO YOUR RIGHT IS...
Broward County Main Library
100 South Andrews Avenue
The Broward County Library was established in 1973 and now supports 37 branches. The eight-story Main Library arrived in 1984 from the pen of contemporary American architect Robert Gatje. Gatje adapted the Brutalist style to the tropical setting for the building of precast concrete. Windows on three sides of the building are shaded by greenery and set back into walls punctuated with native coral rock keystone. The front of the building is a multi-level presentation of landscaped terraces; inside an atrium rises six stories from a reflecting pool.
WALK BACK TO ANDREWS AVENUE AND TURN LEFT.
219-223 South Andrews Avenue
When John Graham McCrorey opened his first store in Scottsdale, Pennsylvania in 1882 he legally changed his name, dropping the “e” to save money on signage. Despite that slavish devotion to the bottom line, McCrory’s first foray into retailing went bankrupt. McCrory would bounce back and at its pinnacle, McCrory’s would operate 1,300 five-and-dime stores under its own name and others the chain acquired. This Art Decoish store opened in 1936 and gained a reputation as a place newly arriving residents could find just about anything they needed around the house. The St. Andrews Avenue store was shuttered in 1985, a few years in advance of the McCrory’s filing for bankruptcy. No new retailer moved in and the “McCrory’s” sign became a fixture as the building was adapted for new use.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO 2ND STREET AND TURN LEFT. CONTINUE ACROSS THE RAILROAD TRACKS AGAIN.
Museum of Discovery and Science
401 SW Second Street
The museum settled into this handsome space in 1992. One of its prime attractions is at the front entrance where America’s only Great Gravity Clock, Florida’s largest kinetic energy structure, operates. The only other two other similar clocks in the world are located in Japan and Mexico.
WALK ACROSS THE STREET AND BACK INTO ESPLANADE PARK TO COMPLETE THE WALKING TOUR.