The story behind this beachfront property is filled with excitement and daring, adjectives that also describe the life of its visionary, James S. Hunt. In 1953, Hunt purchased 2466 acres of barren oceanfront land from Arthur Galt, for whom the mile strip is named. At the time, it marked the biggest real estate transaction in America; in today’s dollars translating into an approximate $143 million deal. The Ocean Manor would soon lay the cornerstone, becoming the first hi-rise hotel and condo built directly on Fort Lauderdale Beach. The city’s greatest boom would soon follow.
James S. Hunt was a man who lived simply, yet whose business endeavors were often bold and grandiose. His foresight forever changed our landscape, and his life story exemplifies adventure and determination. The people of his day revered Hunt’s personal qualities and the unselfish hard work ethics which he developed in Detroit, where he was born and raised.
Growing up in the Motor City fueled his passion for the automobile industry, which he learned from the ground up working after school as an office boy/salesperson in the early 1900’s. Harnessing the energy of motion enthralled him, but when the dark clouds of World War I loomed, Hunt switched gears by joining the elite Royal Flying Corps as a fighter pilot. His daring during the days of the Red Baron earned him two medals for bravery, and his exploits landed him an immortal spot in the Ford Museum as a pioneer of aviation.
The glory and jubilation of the post War era, however was soon followed by the lowest time in American history. The Great Depression. During these years, contrary to most, he would continue to reach for the skies, proclaiming a positive attitude during his pep talks and rousing his colleagues into singing Happy Days Are Here Again.
For Hunt, the gloom of the country would not dampen his entrepreneurial spirit. Instead, he forged ahead to become the first Ford dealer and one of the largest Chevrolet dealers in the Midwest. And he left his indelible mark in the industry with the creation of the NADA Blue Book, which today is still a standard guide for used-car value. The Depression years honed his real estate acumen, while most of the country was still struggling, in the 1930’s Hunt built the Coral Sands Hotel in Fort Lauderdale.
While success seemed to surround Hunt in both his automobile and real estate endeavors, no one was insulated from the drum beats of war. And once again he would step up to serve his country with the advent of World War II. As a Coast Guard Commander, Hunt would receive a Silver Star for leading his ship ashore safely under a heavy battle. A year later, he would be chosen to be the first National Commander of the Coast Guard league.
After VJ day, (Sept. 1945), Hunt followed his intuition and moved to Florida where he believed that the east coast of the state would be real estate gold for decades to come. He convinced Joe Taravella, a Coast Guard mate from New York, to come along and assist his pioneering efforts in the vast lands of magnificent sunsets and tropical splendors.
In 1946, working with his theory that cities expanded northbound, except when blocked by natural barriers, Hunt made his first move with the acquisition of 110 acres north of Fort Lauderdale for $89,000. The previous owners had together paid $10,000 for the land a couple of years prior. Hunt gave it the name of Coral Ridge and developed it into lots that he would turn around and sell for $1,250,000, making a $400,000 profit.
Prior to James Hunt’s appearance, Fort Lauderdale had been primarily unheard of and an insignificant town to the rest of the country – most of the notable inhabitants where seasonal wealthy winter residents from the Mid-West and a handful of local residents alongside a small Seminole Indian tribe. All that was about to change. Hunt’s plan to make the area a destination was resolute. Therefore, a fine beach club, a modern yacht club, and a posh executive golf club were in the design to lure those to the new extravagant province that at this time was only a vision in his mind.
His foremost sights were now on a rough barren strip of land along the northern oceanfront of Fort Lauderdale owned by Arthur T. Galt. Galt had sold this land in 1925 to the American-British Improvement Company, which was owned by Mrs. Horace Dodge, Mrs. Edward Stotesbury, James H.R. Cromwell, then King of Greece, and members of British nobility. They planned an extravagant development to be called Floranada, but their $1,000,000 down payment went south when the 1926 Florida real estate crash came.
In early 1949, Hunt placed a call to Galt to inform him that a development plan was underway that would disconnect a portion of his property between a new home site and the intracoastal waterway development. He advised Galt to purchase enough of the developer’s terrain to halt the plan. Galt acted upon Hunt’s advice and would, in appreciation, later grant and invitation to get together. This introduction brought Hunt and his new partner, Steve Calder, the opportunity to purchase 500 acres of Galt’s coveted land.
Greatly pleased with their well-planned and structured development, Galt sold the remaining 2,466 acres for just under $19,389,000, in October of 1953 (approximately $143,000,000 in today’s dollars) making it the largest real estate deal in the country. On this soil, Hunt built the Ocean Manor Resort, the first luxury hi-rise hotel built directly on Fort Lauderdale Beach. This laid the foundation for the Galt Ocean Mile boom and the city’s coastal corridor.
Within less than a decade, the Galt Ocean Mile held one-third of the city’s population within a mile and over $100 million in projects (approximately $750,000,000 in today’s dollars). Hunt would take possession of a residence at the Ocean Manor after becoming entranced by the dramatic views from the 11-story structure.
As we fast forward, Hunt would found the city of Coral Springs in 1963 from the 3,860 acres of pastureland he recently purchased. Even though it was mostly marshland, Hunt paid $1 million for this ambitious undertaking. Holding the slogan: “There is nothing on earth like earth”.
His concept of a totally planned Old South-styled city of well-landscaped boulevards, brick colonial-styled public buildings, and a covered bridge as it’s centerpiece took root. By 1964, Hunt and company had developed a master plan for a city of 50,000 residents. On July 22nd of that year a sale of 536 building lots netted $1.6 million – another phenomenal monetary feat of its day.
In early 1965, Hunt bought an additional 6,000 acres increasing Coral Springs to 16 square miles. On March 21st of 1965 he brought in late night show host Johnny Carson into his coterie of celebrity endorsers. Carson was master of ceremonies for an event that would draw over 10,000 people through the now historic covered bridge to a massive outdoor barbeque. Over 6 tons of barbequed food was consumed with 1,100 home sites being sold. Individual lots started at $2,695 (approx. $170,00 today) with houses costing $15,000 (approx. $943,000) to $20,000. Over $2,000 (approx. $126,000,000) worth of residential lots sold within ten minutes, landing Hunt and company once again at the center of national attention with another unprecedented event.
Hunt encouraged Carson to purchase property here, which he did. He bought 54.6 acres east of University Drive and north of Royal Palm Boulevard. The investment paid off generously 6 years later when Carson received five-fold his purchase price when he sold in 1971. Hunt would render the vast majority of the remaining land to Westinghouse to develop, this would eventually become WCI communities – a leading Florida and national real estate company.
The relationship grew from business associates to friends and neighbors as Carson soon purchased a residence at the Ocean Manor Resort, to soak in the tropical allures. Carson’s Tonight Show co-host Ed McMahon could also be found relishing the splendors of this popular resort among other high profile celebrities, just as they do today.
Public Relations executive, Jack Drury, who represented a venerable list of clients in Fort Lauderdale in the 1960’s including the Ocean Manor Hotel and its owner at that time, former Fort Lauderdale Mayor, Melvin “Cy” Young. In August of 1962, before Carson hosted his first NBC Tonight Show in October of that year. Drury entertained Carson on his first invite to the city. Since that first visit, Carson made Fort Lauderdale his favorite place to visit and vacation and always looked to Drury to find him a place to stay.
His visits became so frequent that Drury suggested to Cy Young to give Johnny a suite at the Ocean Manor to use, which he, his family and friends like Ed McMahon, enjoyed until Johnny moved the Tonight Show to California in 1972.
Hunt’s endeavors undeniably make him among the territory’s great pioneers. The cultivation of Fort Lauderdale’s Coral Ridge and Galt Ocean Mile are a reflection of his significant legacy. Hunt also convinced the airlines to advertise packaged tourist flights to Fort Lauderdale, as they did to Miami and other major cities, leading the way to Fort Lauderdale’s tourist foundation in the latter 60’s.
As founder of Coral Springs his vision has attracted over 130,000 residents in less than 45 years. schools in Fort Lauderdale and Coral Springs bear his name, and his contributions to these communities have enriched the lives of so many. Hunt has left his indelible footprint on our firmament.
Hunt’s stature certainly resonates and is deeply revered with the current owner Frank Talerico who revels in the opportunity to bring more significance in his own era. Ironically, Talerico was to discover he had walked in some of Hunt’s footsteps already as he is also from Detroit an was a developer in Coral Springs before learning the tremendous feat of his prominent predecessor.