About This Episode
The History of Orlando Part Five covers the mid-twentieth century in Orlando.
Orlando history saw the building of another county courthouse designed by Murry S. King, Dr. Philip Phillips employed flash pasteurization of orange juice to improve its flavor and Orlando became a military town with Orlando Air Base and Pinecastle Air Force Base during the war years between World War II and the Vietnam War.
Pinecastle Air Force Base became the new Orlando International Airport in 1981.
If you would like to learn more about the fascinating history of Orlando, visit the Orange County Regional History Center in downtown Orlando.
Location: Orange County Regional History Center, 65 E Central Blvd, Orlando, FL 32801
Phone: (407) 836-8500
It seemed, not even the years of the Great Depression were able to dampen the spirit of Orlando. The population was growing strong right through the war years, and Central Florida was reaping the benefits of a country that was able to move. Orlando found opportunities with new innovations and industries keeping in step catering to those who were in the mood for Florida Sunshine. The sky was truly the limit. We will continue our look at the History of Orlando Florida – next.
The 1920s and 30s were a time of immense growth in Central Florida. Fueled in part by the Florida land boom of the 20s, Orlando’s population grew exponentially increasing to 27,000 residents by the end of the decade, with the total population of Orange County at 50,000. Another surge in building began to transform the downtown skyline. By mid-decade building permits totaled nearly 6 million dollars – this, at a time, when one could get a good meal for only a dollar.
With the increase in population showing no signs of slowing, Orlando decided it was time to build a new county courthouse. The beloved red brick courthouse with the 80 foot clock tower was no longer adequate for the city’s needs and fell out of fashion as tastes in architecture favored more Neo-Classical, Spanish Revival, Renaissance Revival and Prairie Style, and so, at a cost of nearly 1 million dollars, a five-story Neo-Classical building designed by Florida’s first registered architect and Orlando resident, Murry S. King, was commissioned.
King was born in 1870 and moved to Orlando in 1904. He was prolific in designing most of Orlando’s famous homes and buildings, including the Angebilt Hotel and the Albertson Public Library in Downtown Orlando, and the Athens Theater in nearby DeLand Florida. King was noted for civic buildings of lasting elegance and beauty, the best known of which may be his last completed work, the stately Orange County Courthouse. Construction began in May 1926, and the building was dedicated on Oct. 12, 1927.
The courthouse, 178 feet long and 80 feet wide, is built of Indiana limestone. The steps leading up the building are of Georgia granite from Stone Mountain, and the bronze entrance doors are designed especially for the building. Murry S. King died in 1925 before construction began, and the building was completed by his son, James B. King. The building still stands in downtown Orlando next to Heritage Square on the land deeded by B. F. Caldwell in 1857, and today, houses the Orange County Regional History Center.
By the 30s, Orlando began to promote itself as a year-round destination and to cultivate what has become one of the defining industries the city is known for – tourism. In the mid-nineteenth century, only around 1 percent of the nation’s population visited a spa or other tourist destination. After the Civil War, the expansion of the railroads enabled travel and brought greater numbers of tourists to Florida.
Growth in travel by the middle-class developed in the early twentieth century, made possible as affordable automobiles began populating the landscape. Developers built roadside camps. Small, local attractions popped up everywhere, and major destinations benefited from auto travel. Because transportation was slow and required advance planning, tourists did not take quick overnight trips. Vacations meant an extended stay. A beeline of thrifty-minded car campers from the North called Tin Can Tourists began arriving in Central Florida. Getting their name from their predilection for bringing their own tin can cuisine with them, instead of spending lavishly at local restaurants, and camping with kindred spirits along the way. The empty cans of meat, vegetables and fruit would sometimes adorn their Tin Lizzies as a nod to other motorists sharing the burgeoning industry of tourism.
Of course, not everyone was enamored with the tin can tourists. Restaurants and hoteliers would complain of their parsimonious nature and quip that the Tin Canners’ were northerners that had arrived with one shirt and a twenty-dollar bill and changed neither.
As more and more people visited Orlando, some of them decided to move here and become permanent residents of the city beautiful. Orlando has had its share of high-profile residents too. Some born and raised, and some only calling Orlando home for a short time, but they all added to the allure of the city as a place to make dreams come true.
Orange growing in Orange County was still a major component of the area’s economy in the mid-30s despite a freeze at the end of the 1800s that threatened to kill off the entire industry. One resident of Orlando started thinking about how to improve and promote one of the major products from oranges – that of its juice. In the early twentieth century orange juice in tin cans had an unpleasant and metallic taste and sold poorly. A legendary figure in Central Florida had the answer.
Dr. Philip Phillips was born in 1874 and migrated to Florida after earning a medical degree from Columbia University. Dr. Phillips invested in citrus groves in time amassing an empire which encompassed 5,000 acres of land in nine different counties, as well as two large packinghouses. This assembly made Phillips the largest citrus grower in the world, growing and selling over 100 million oranges a year.
By 1931 Dr Phillips successfully devised a process to improve the taste of orange juice in a can using “flash” pasteurization, which greatly enhanced the taste of single-strength orange juice. Dr Phillips undertook a massive marketing campaign to promote the new juice. He placed the tagline “Drink Dr. Phillip’s orange juice because the Doc says it’s good for you” on the labels of all of his juice products, leading the American Medical Association to conduct a study which led to their official endorsement being placed on the labels as well.
Dr. Phillips remained a very charitable man throughout his lifetime. He always made sure his workforce was taken care of in every way, even once delivering turkeys to families on Christmas day. He established a hospital in the 1950s in order to provide health care to working blacks, who had difficulty obtaining it otherwise.
In 1954, Dr. Phillips sold his citrus holdings to Minute Maid. In 1986, Dr Phillips was inducted into the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame and today is remembered as the man who ensured that Americans would be enjoying Florida’s “liquid sunshine” for years to come.
Most visitors to Orlando today come by way of air travel. The Orlando International Airport annually hosts around 50 million passengers – that is equal to nearly the entire populations of Texas and New York combined visiting Central Florida each year.
The original Orlando Municipal Airport (which today is the Orlando Executive Airport near downtown) was converted during World War 2 into Orlando Army Air Base. As the war expanded, an ancillary air base was needed, which was built south of the Orlando Army Air Base, initially being designated as Orlando Army Air Field #2, but was renamed Pinecastle Army Airfield on January 1st, 1943 and then later renamed Pinecastle Air Force Base during the Korean War. The base served over three decades from World War 2 through the end of the Vietnam war.
Colonel Michael Norman Wright McCoy was commander of the 321st Bombardment Wing at Pinecastle Air Force Base. Colonel McCoy had a reputation as an exemplary pilot with a knack for cheating death. Once, it is said, he bailed out of a stricken plane, but his parachute failed to open. Luckily, he plummeted into a snowdrift and was saved.
That all changed on October 9th, 1957, Colonel McCoy’s 52nd birthday. The Colonel was flying a B-47 bomber participating in a practice demonstration during an annual Strategic Air Command Bombing Navigation and Reconnaissance Competition. Stories conflict on what exactly happened that day. Some speculate that during the return flight Colonel McCoy was distracted by a smaller plane flying overhead and allowed the B-47s nose to dip imperceptibly causing a dramatic increase in speed that exceeded the plane’s tolerances and his recovery attempt cracked the plane in half. Others claim that fuel was dripping from the engine and caused the plane to explode in midair. No matter the cause, the jet rolled severely and then upside down at nearly 500 mph becoming in effect a flying projectile and crashed in a field on the edge of town.
A hugely popular figure in Central Florida, Colonel McCoy was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in a funeral that included a flyover of multiple B-47s. On May 7th, 1958, Pinecastle Air Force Base was renamed McCoy Air Force Base in memory of the late Colonel McCoy.
The base officially closed in 1975 after the Vietnam war; it had been Orlando’s biggest employer and economic backbone both during and after the war years. In 1981, Orlando International Airport opened on the former site of the base replacing the older municipal airport near downtown. The airport retains the original FAA location identifier airport code of MCO for McCoy to this day.
While the post-war years of the 50’s and 60’s were good for Orlando, and growth continued at a steady pace, nothing would prepare the town for the vast changes that would transform the city into a destination that held the dreams of millions, as a man named Walt chose Orlando to build his kingdom.