In preparation for the staged reading of my new musical Sunshine City, here is brief history of St. Petersburg, Florida in 1928. Home to the Million Dollar Pier, the Gandy Bridge, Florida Theatre, the Coliseum – and proclaimed the “Healthiest City in America” if not the world, St. Petersburg, Florida experienced a boom in real estate and tourism in the 1920s. Property was doubling in value so fast it was said that if a tourist bought property when they arrived and sold it when they left, it would pay for the whole vacation!
Snell Isle and Coffeepot Bayou filled up with mansions, while parks and beaches saw an influx of “Tin Can Tourists” – so called for the new-fangled “tin can” automobiles in which they traveled as well as the tinned food they ate and the tins of gasoline they carried on board.
A sanctuary from pesky prohibition laws, “anything goes” was an apt motto for a city where liquor flowed freely and the city-owned Solarium allowed for nude sunbathing, also known as “heliotherapy” – a natural medicine in great supply in Sunshine City. But all that fun came at a price. In 1928 St. Petersburg also had the highest debt per capita in the United States!
FloridaHistory.org reports: “The strangest element of the Florida real estate industry was the use of binder boys to start land transactions and to relieve realtors of the task of standing around hot, vacant land waiting for investors. Most binder boys were young, ambitious men and women willing to take a binder, or down payment with a thirty day financing period. Many binder boys were college students with tennis or golf skills who demonstrated the desirability of some future real estate development by just playing a game of tennis for the tourists. Often there was little more than a fancy entrance way and a tennis court resting in some isolated field.
“Binder boys did not get paid a commission until the binder check cleared the bank, a process than sometimes took several weeks. However, (they) discovered the mere presentation of their binder receipts gave them instant credit in hotels, restaurants, and nightspots. It was exciting being a young person with so much expected money going into your bank account.”