Postwar Suburban Sprawl

Pratt Hospital with air force standing outside 1942.pdf

Air Force Officers in rank outside of the Pratt General Hospital (formerly in Biltmore Hotel) in 1942. Courtesy of the City of Coral Gables Department of Historical Resources

Miami’s subtropical climate and year-round flying weather encouraged the federal government to construct dozens of military airfields in South Florida, primarily for training purposes.  By 1942, the Army Air Corps practically took over Miami Beach, using hotels to house troops during World War II.  During the war, tourist hotels prospered from year-round troop activity.  After the war, many veterans elected to plant their roots in sunny South Florida and built their own housing.

Those who still lived in Colored Town and Coconut Grove in the mid-1940s endured deplorable conditions.  A study conducted by Dade County’s Slum Clearance Committee reported that 70.7% of the dwellings in Coconut Grove (mostly apartments) were white-owned, but rented by black families.  Highlighting white landlord’s disregard for their black tenants, the report ruled, “Improvements and repairs have lagged or been non-existent in most of the 73 percent owned by absentee landlords.”  In In Coconut Grove, over 65% of toilets were outside the dwelling, ⅓ had no electricity, and the community lacked an adequate sewer system.  A black journalist, Carl Thomas Rowan, who visited Coconut Grove near the end of the war, claimed, “I had to hold my nose there in 1945, for the slum shacks were the worst that I had seen anywhere in America.”  In fact, the Committee on Hygiene of Housing of the American Public Health Association concluded that there was “no practical remedy except demolition and reconstruction.”

In the early 1940s, local realtor Wesley Garrison began buying up houses in the all-white Brownsville neighborhood and selling them to local black buyers.  White residents of Brownsville were angered, and sometimes took the matter into their own hands.  For example, the Ku Klux Klan burned crosses in the front yards of two black buyers’ properties.  Eventually, the two black men were jailed for violating several local zoning regulations, but they remained in their homes. White residents organized and in April 1943, complained to the Dade County Commission that Garrison was proposing a “negro residential settlement” in the Brownsville neighborhood.  The Dade County Commission resolved the issue by designating two areas of Opa-Locka known as Bunche Park and Magnolia Gardens to be “set aside for negro occupancy.”  It also called for a 60 foot wide buffer strip to separate the new black properties from the existing white residential properties.  


Postwar Suburban Sprawl