Like the rest of post-war America, Fort Lauderdale dedicated itself to the business of peacetime prosperity. And for Florida, that meant growth. By 1950 the city's population stood at 83,933, more than triple the number for 1945. Much of the growth came from returning service members, who helped Fort Lauderdale become the state's fifth largest city.
To accommodate the throng of newcomers, the city looked west. The suburbs grew there, where the newly completed Florida Turnpike channeled visitors and prospective residents. Mackey Airlines operated out of the present-day Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
Affordable air conditioning and insecticides played a large role in development, which also shifted to the north along miles of developer-dredged finger canals, and the shoreline, where highrises took root.
The Gateway Shopping Center opened "way up north" on Sunrise Boulevard near Federal Highway, and the "modern" Sunrise Shopping Center featured the popular Thom McCann shoe store. It later evolved into The Galleria mall. As shoppers strayed farther from downtown, Las Olas Boulevard recast itself as a high-end retail district.
On the beachside, developer George Gill erected a pie-shaped hotel on a triangular lot named the Yankee Clipper, ushering in the era of modern beachfront hotels. The beginning of the condo revolution was marked with the completion of the highrise Breakwater Towers.
A burgeoning population needed recreational outlets. In 1950 the War Memorial Auditorium, built with $450,000 of community-raised money, was the city's venue for opera and symphony. It also hosted wrestling matches and high school graduations.
Lockhart Stadium, a football field, opened in 1959. A year earlier, a city tennis instructor, Jimmy Evert, established a tennis center at Holiday Park which trained young players, including his daughter Chris. Her career propelled women's tennis onto the international stage.
Entertainment of another sort aired over national television when the gang-busting Kefauver Commission grilled Broward County Sheriff and Fort Lauderdale pioneer Walter Clark over his connection to gambling, which was widespread throughout the county. Not only did Clark turn a blind eye to 52 illegal casinos, he co-owned a company that managed illegal slot machines. Clark was indicted, but later cleared.
In mid-decade, Holiday Magazine dubbed Fort Lauderdale "the greatest college town in the country" because of the party-hungry students who descended on swim competitions at the city's beachside pool. In a Time magazine story, a coed explained why: "It's where the boys are." Those words would resonate in the city for decades.
Blacks got their own green space in the form of Sunland Park, later to be called J.C. Carter Park. They got little else. In 1957, rather than allow blacks to play on a municipal golf course, the city elected to sell it.
Did you know? Water wings
Fort Lauderdale's fledgling airport, then called the Broward County Airport, achieved international status in 1953 when Mackey Airlines began flights to the Bahamas.
Thanks to live broadcasts of the Senate Crime Investigating Committee headed by Estes Kefauver, national audiences learned that Broward Sheriff Walter Clark was in cahoots with such notable gang figures as the Lansky brothers, Frank Costello and Vincent "Jimmy Blue Eyes" Alo.