Wilton Manors’ Next Step
With fashionable short hair and cloche hats, two women stand at the entrance to Wilton Boulevard, (now Wilton Drive) in this illustration used to help sell Florida’s newest development in late 1925, Wilton Manors. Born during the boom of the mid-1920s, this dashed South Florida development took cues from Coral Gables, which had constructed dreamy, aspirational entrances at many points leading into the city center.
The developer E. J. Willingham chose Francis Luis Abreu to design the entryway, and Abreu designed two sets of Medieval-looking towers including an octagonal “observation” tower, ostensibly used by the sales staff to show prospective clients the lay of the land from above. Small heraldic shields appear as graphic elements on this illustration and in other advertisements for the development, the fantasyland element of which was meant to appeal to well-heeled buyers enamored with Palm Beach and Coral Gables at the same time.
Alas, this entrance was emblematic of a fantasy of mansions that was never going to happen. The land bust and hurricane of 1926 brought the Great Depression to Florida years earlier than the rest of the country, and the completed gateway was one of only a handful of completed projects for Willingham’s development. While the Great Depression snuffed out most hope for development, WWII proved to be the final poison pill. In the 1930s there were only 50 housing units in the land that would become Wilton Manors. Today, with a population of 13,000, the City is bursting with new energy yet it is considered, as they say, “built out.” But is it? Or, could it be that some are not envisioning its true potential? Take a look at our special visionary section, Reimagining The City, on page 23. It should serve as an ideas generator for that city’s future.
John T. O’Connor