Our History

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Historical Survey     NSB Wikipedia

What is commonly referred to by its residents as “New Suburb Beautiful” is actually three separate subdivisions which were platted in early 1920’s and shared a common developer. Their creation and growth were part of the great boom that swept Florida after the First World War. The boom was in turn the local manifestation of the country’s phenomenal industrial development which followed the Armistice.

Money paid out in wages by the new industries to their workers did not only provide the necessities of life. It also allowed for the luxuries offered by a wide array of consumer goods being touted by a flourishing advertising industry, Radios, refrigerators and vacuum cleaners were becoming standard features in American homes. But of all the products offered, none was accepted as enthusiastically as the latest variation on the wheel, the automobile.

The technological strides made in mass production in the early part of this century were so great that prices of cars actually deceased at the same time wages were rising. The plain old “Model T’ gave way to the new line of dependable, but vastly more comfortable, machines. The result was an unprecedented demand for the new automobiles. Americans, not just a few but the broadened middle class majority of them, now had money, increased leisure time and a means of transportation. The obvious thing to do was travel.

After tiring of motoring in familiar parts of the country, American sought more exotic vacation spots. One of the first to be tried was Florida. The state at that time consisted of its residents and a few tourists wealthy enough to pay for passage by train or boat. The automobile, which ran on cheap gasoline refined from abundant crude oil, provided the vehicle for a new invasion explorers. Unlike their rich processors, the new travelers did not come to stay in palatial resorts or private homes. Instead, they brought tents purchased from war surplus and boxes of food preserved in tin cans. The vittles were to provide not only sustenance but also a name of the motorist. They became known to the world as “tin Canners”.

Holiday Inns and campsites not being invented, the Tin Canners set up housekeeping wherever they found accommodating governments or landowners. Both were in short supply, owing to a lack of facilities capable of handling the great hoards. But some parts of the states at least grudgingly accepted the new visitors. One of those hospitable climates was Tampa, where Desoto Park became not just a favorite campsite but the International headquarters of the Tin Can Tourists of America, an organization formed in 1922 and in active existence until the early 40’s.

When travelers arrived in Tampa, they found, in addition to sunshine and prehistoric animals, an area which was on the brink of its own boom, having weathered some tough times. Once an industrial center because of its shipyards, Tampa suffered economic hardships beginning in 1918 when the shipyards closed, leaving 5000 people out of work. A general strike in the cigar industry followed, lasted a year and put 10,000 people out of work. The post-war national depression came next and them, on October 25, 1921, the worst hurricane to hit Florida since 1848 came ashore. The natural disaster was a low point of the area’s fortunes. From that point, the area’s fortunes turned upward.

The City’s port and its central location made Tampa a natural commercial center for surrounding communities such as ST. Petersburg, Bradenton and Fort Myers which were catering to the thousands of tourists. Photographs of the City’s downtown area taken in the period show acres of warehouses which loaded their contents on the long line of boats and ships moored on the rover and bay. All of these activities required workers in numbers greater than the available work force. As a result, wages rose steadily at a time when prices were falling. In fact, the cost of living in Tampa actually fell 20% from 1922 to 1924.

The period bustled with optimism and a sense of destiny. City father Peter O. Knight was quoted in the Tribune as saying: “The man who doesn’t get rich in Tampa in the next five years doesn’t deserve to get rich because he has no faith in his country or his city and he isn’t awake”.

The opportunities offered by the area were obvious to the Tin Canners, many of whom unpacked their belongings and went to work. By 1923, there were 100,000 people living in Tampa. All of these immigrants needed places to live and housing was a scare commodity.

Tampa had grown from a military installation, Fort Brooke, located roughly on the present site of the City’s downtown. From there the town spread northward toward the high, dry areas of Seminole Heights and beyond. The interbay peninsula, that area of the City south of Kennedy Boulevard, was little more than a depressed land mass which was flooded by summer rains and covered chiefly with palmettos and salt flats. Only the southern most areas of the peninsula (the Port Tampa and Ballast Point areas) and a few of the higher points near the water were developed by the early part of the century. So great was the growth of the 1920’s, however, that even the unused land became attractive.

One of the first areas to be developed was in the general area of what is now Bayshore, between Howard Avenue and Platt Street. The area was dredged and filled by the Tampa Bay Co. and named Suburb Beautiful. The response of the public was so gratifying that the company went on to develop Palma Ceia Park (the area bounded by Barcelona and Julia Streets, Bayshore Boulevard and Macdill Avenue) and the interbay area was moving. In 1917 the Palma Ceia Golf Course became the second set of links in town (Rocky Point being the first) and a development bearing the name was thrown around it. The peninsula began to compete with other established subdivisions.

Real Estate was a booming industry in the Tampa of this time. In one year, from 1923 to 1924, the costs of area real estate went from an average of $50.00 per acre to as high as $10,000 for the same plot of land. However, much of that appreciation was due to some determined selling. Developers usually only cleared land, put in streets (sometimes of shell) and planted some simple landscaping. They then turned over the barely improved property to armies of salesman, all attired in the association approved uniform which included a mandatory straw boater.

One of the enlisted men in the great sales effort was Allen J. Simms, a remarkable man who was to become one of the most active developers of his day. Simms had come to Tampa in 9106 from New Brunswick, Canada. He was seventeen. He taught English at the Tampa Business College for six months but left to go to work for the Tampa Bay Co., where he soon became one of the Company’s premier salesman. In 1908 he went into business for himself, developing a small subdivision called Boulevard Heights, located just north of Ballast Point. After that success he returned to selling real estate, until 1915. In that year he returned home to enlist in the Canadian Army which was already fighting in Europe. He returned to Tampa in 1919 and quickly picked up his developments.

In six years of nearly constant activity, Simms developed and sold some 400 acres of Tampa lands upon which he had built 380 homes, ranging in price from Six to Twenty Thousand Dollars. In 1925 his Company began construction of the Floridian Hotel. Completed in 1926 and opened for business the following year, the hotel cost $1,900,000 to build and furnish. At 18 stories it was the tallest building in Florida.

Later Simms built the Michigan Avenue Bridge (at a cost of $279,000) and then developed that street at a cost of $1,000,000. When the boom ended, Simms turned to developing orange groves, marketing some 500 more acres of land. In his life Simms built over 1500 houses in Tampa and St. Petersburg, including New Suburb Beautiful and Parkland Estates. In light of that activity it is significant that his widow, Mrs. Thelma Simms, today lives in New Suburb Beautiful.

Development of New Suburb Beautiful began in 1923 when the subdivision bearing that name was platted. It consisted of 211 lots located on Sunset Drive and Prospect Road between Howard and MacDill (then Lisbon) Avenues and the north side of Watrous Avenue between Howard and a point near MacDill Avenue. Sunset and Prospect were typical subdivision appellations. Watrous was named for the old Tampa family whose members had originally owned the land which became present day Hyde Park and New Suburb Beautiful. As platted, the developed streets were continuous as Marti and Georgia streets were not yet in existence.

The subdivision was platted with restrictions placed upon the subject lots in an effort to maintain the exclusivity of the neighborhood. These included the requirements that:

They be used only for single family dwellings worth at leas $6,000.00;
The residence face the street and be set back to established lines;
No bungalettes be built (but servants’ quarters were generously allowed); and
No nuisances would be maintained.
Simms set about the task of selling the new lots with his typical enthusiasm. A typical newspaper advertisement proclaimed the area the “subdivision supreme.” It spoke first of wide sidewalks and streets of “velvet asphalt.” “The developers of this ideal subdivision have spared no expense to make New Suburb Beautiful the most desirable subdivision in the county” Planted parkways have added to the natural beauty of lots upon which master craftsman have built houses ready for occupancy.” (The Tampa Tribune, January 6, 1924).

The pitch was bought. The success enjoyed by Simms and his partners led to the further development. West New Suburb Beautiful, 34 lots located on Sunset and Prospect between Libson and New Suburb Beautiful, came in January of 1924, followed in April by North View Suburb Beautiful, 141 lots on Morrison, Jetton, and Watrous Avenues between Howard and Lisbon. Matt Jetton had been a developer of the Western part of Hyde Park; Morrison was named for the man who had overseen that work. Both streets were extensions of established roadways platted through earlier subdivision. As part of the latest developments, Marti and Georgia streets were cut through the subdivision. As with the original lots, the new offerings were sold as the Florida boom continued. However, the subdivisions’ fortunes took a sharp turn when the crash came.

As was the case in the early twenties, Tampa’s bust preceded and worsened the effect of the national crash on 1929. The resultant devastation was felt by developers as well as home owners. Many of the houses in the New Suburb Beautiful subdivisions changed hands in the period, often for prices below their original costs. The situation continued through the depression but recovery began even before the Second World War. The increased productivity of the late forties and early fifties created a new wave of building in the area and produced in the subdivisions the current mixture of different architectural styles.

Throughout all of the comings and goings of the neighborhood there was a solid consistency to the neighborhood. Families living in New Suburb Beautiful are in some cases the fourth generations of its original residents. Others are living in third, fourth, and fifth house in the subdivision. Numerous families have moved out and then returned with new families to the neighborhood. Neighbors married neighbors. Houses were damaged or allowed to run down and then rebuilt. Through those events and occurrences the neighborhood became what it is today.