Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Floyd L Wray: A Man for Port Everglades

Floyd L. Wray: A Man for Port Everglades
 A Story of the Beginnings of Port Everglades from the
Flamingo Gardens Archives

Floyd Wray is known for growing citrus and founding Flamingo Groves, but few people know that Wray was elected one of the first commissioners of Port Everglades in 1931.  He was an unwavering force in transforming Bay Mabel Harbor into a major international facility at Port Everglades in five short years.  Wray was reelected by a landslide for the following term, but the election results were disputed and political upheaval tied up the port for close to six months until June 1935. Ultimately Wray never served a second term, despite his tremendous contributions to Port Everglades.
 
Floyd L. Wray 1931



Lake Mabel, The Beginning of the Story

In 1870, General Marcellus Williams surveyed the area for a map and named the lake he found Mabel after his son's fiancee (they were along for the trip).  Lake Mabel remained a shallow lagoon, only 4 feet deep at low tide and separated from the ocean by a sand ridge, until 1913 when it was opened to the sea for small boats.

Early Lake Mabel

Bay Mabel Harbor 

Nothing much changed until 1924 when Joseph W. Young created the Hollywood Harbor Development Company and bought 1440 acres of land by the lake.  From the start, he envisioned a deep-water harbor for shipping.  Financed by $2 million in bonds from Hollywood and Fort Lauderdale, workers cleared the surrounding land, dredged, added a small entrance, and the name was changed to Bay Mabel Harbor.  By December 1925 Young could sail his yacht around the lake.  The devastating Hurricane of 1926 lead to Young's bankruptcy and his abandoning the project.   More information on Joseph W. Young and Bay Mabel Harbor can be found in Hollywood historian Joan Michelson's blog at https://joanmickelsonphd.wordpress.com.

In 1927, the governor appointed a three-man board to oversee the harbor, and a year later residents gathered for the grand dedication ceremony.  President Coolidge pushed a relay button in the White House that detonated explosives to remove the rock barrier at the entrance. As the story goes, there was a malfunction, but the barrier was soon removed.  

Bay Mabel Harbor Dedication 1928
Sixty years after the naming of Lake Mabel, and 17 years after the first real improvements began, it was still only a one-slip harbor for smaller ships described as a "skimpy facility for handling cargo." 

Port Everglades, The Transformation

The state legislature provided for the first election of commissioners to the Broward Port Authority to serve a four-year term starting in 1931.  Floyd L. Wray was elected with the most votes, 1372; the others were Thomas E. Swanson with 1052, John D. Sherwin with 884, and A.J. Ryan with 870 votes.  Each would serve as chairman for three months a year. They appointed Warren T. Eller, Executive Secretary and Port Manager.


Top: Sherwin and Wray   Bottom: Ryan and Swanson
A contest was held for a new, more appropriate name to describe the port.  The winning entry by The Fort Lauderdale Woman's Club was Port Everglades as "the gateway to the rich agricultural area embraced in the four million acres at the port's very back door."

A whirlwind of growth over the next five years turned the port into a gateway for national and international trade and cruises.  1931 was a busy year for Wray.  He traveled on port business by car, train, and ship so often he missed 18 of the early board meetings, communicating on progress by letter and phone. Wray went to Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Delaware, Washington DC, New Orleans, and Cuba. He applied for funds from the Army Corps of Engineers to widen the entrance and deepen the turning basin. He solicited business with shipping and cruise companies.  Things began to happen.

New Docks, a Warehouse, Cooling Plants, and Tank Farms Soon Appear

A new dock was constructed in 1931. Wray outlined plans to apply to the US Reconstruction Finance Corp. for a loan to provide a pre-cooling and cold storage plant, and a bonded warehouse in 1932.  The first petroleum company agreed to land and pipeline easements in 1931, and two more began regular service the following year.  Starting with one then a second storage tank, tank farms grew once the rail line was completed.  The first shipment by sea from the Pacific Coast arrived when the tanker Mauntawny docked with a cargo of 60,000 barrels of fuel oil for the Belcher company tank.  By 1934, exports jumped from 1,850 long tons to 10,859, and revenue increased over 300% from 1933. Wray applied for a loan from the Public Works Board to construct slips 2 and 3.  He started discussions for a major federal grant to widen the channel even more by phone from New York.

Warehouse, pier improvement, and rail line brought to the port

Growth of Tank Farms

Large Freighters and Cruise Ships Visit

The Vogtland was the first cargo ship and first foreign-flagged vessel to enter Port Everglades.  It was soon followed by the Caledonia from Glasgow, the Ferncliff from Oslo, and many more.  In 1931, Wray negotiated and announced the contract for twice-monthly sailings of the B&C Line.  The Talamanca and Pastores, cruise ships of the Great White Fleet of the United Fruit Company, were the first large passenger ships.  In 1932 the Cunard Line started regular routes.  In 1933, Wray reported tonnage already far greater than that during 1932, with imports and exports from Japan and Norway. In December, a news headline declared, "Two Steamers Due This Week, Tanker Is Due Tomorrow, Danish Ship Scheduled to Arrive Wednesday. The Fort Lauderdale Daily News predicted the port would become a major citrus export center, with central Florida growers interested in using Port Everglades.

Freighters and passenger ships, large and small, began to line up at the port.
 
Foreign commercial and cruise ships sailed in for the first time.
In 1935, more than 10,000 residents and prominent locals welcomed the SS Columbia as it began fortnightly service between Port Everglades and Havana.  The largest US passenger vessel at the time, it weighed close to 40 tons, was almost 700 feet long, and had seven decks.  There was a pool on the Lido deck surrounded by 6,000 feet of white sand.  Wray, as part of the official welcoming party, had breakfast aboard with the captain and other notables. 
 
SS Columbia welcoming ceremony, Floyd L. Wray on the right.

The Military

In 1933, The Langley was the first aircraft carrier to visit Port Everglades.  The CWA approved funds for leveling and grading the docks reserved for the Coast Guard ships Unalga and Perry.  Military supply ships like the Antares stopped at the port.  As President of the Propeller Club, Wray entertained cadets of the NY State Maritime Academy at Flamingo Groves. Later Port Everglades was used as a military base for the US Navy.  The open land and ocean access provided a staging area for military exercises. Lake Mable had come a long way from its humble beginnings.

Langley 1933, Antares 1934, Maritime Cadets at Flamingo Groves

No Second Term

Wray's dedication during this first term was recognized by the voting public.  He was reelected by a landslide for the next term starting in January 1935.  But as soon as the votes were counted, a maelstrom of lawsuits left the port in chaos until June of 1935.  Throughout this uncertain time, Wray kept sight of the goal. He continued to work for the benefit of the port, traveling to Washington to secure a major grant, visiting shipping companies to increase business, and helped to keep the port running when banks were warned not to honor port checks or vouchers due to the series of injunctions. 



Port Everglades dominated front-page news with banner headlines and more than 30 articles over the next several months.  Only a few of the many headlines are mentioned, and it wasn't a slow news time.  To put it in perspective, other news included the Lindberg kidnapping and Hauptman trial, Amelia Earhart flying from Hawaii to California and broadcasting during her flight, Barbara Hutton marrying a Danish count, Trotzky hiding in France from the Soviets, France rushing troops to the Rhine, Mussolini preparing for war, and George V celebrating 25 years on the English throne.  One headline proclaimed "Col. Howe [President Roosevelt's secretary] predicts woman president within 10 years."

It is important to note up front that Wray was not a party to, or named in, any of the lawsuits, and the issues never questioned his work on behalf of the port.  The lawsuits were all fueled by partisan politics, state vs. local rule, equal representation by the Broward cities involved, petty squabbles, and individuals who refused to step down from the board.  Not all the issues are represented here. There were far too many to include.




In 1930, the Florida Legislature passed the Port Act allowing for the election of commissioners rather than having them appointed by the governor.  Not realizing that it failed to include provisions for elections after the first term, the Port Authority just went ahead with the next election.

The results of the election were in on December 12, 1934.  With 19 candidates running, Wray was reelected with 1802 votes, and Ryan with 1077 votes.  Strickland was newly elected with 1230 votes along with DeLoach with 914 votes.  Baxter who had been appointed by the governor to replace Sherwin when he died in 1932 had only 724 votes and Swanson 704 votes.  Within 5 days, the lawsuits began. 

 


On December 27th, the first injunction was requested and heard by a circuit judge in Fort Pierce.  The appeal was sent to the state Supreme Court.  In the meantime, Swanson and Baxter refused to quit the port board. 








Port Everglades was without a recognized board in January.  The State Supreme Court ruled the old board should remain in power until successors were named, presumably by an act of the next legislature, but the governor went ahead and appointed DeLoach and Strickland to replace Baxter and Swanson.  Everyone showed up for the first board meeting, so it was canceled.  Baxter and Swanson sought a new injunction.  Another lawsuit restrained old board members from meeting with the new board members.  Local Judge Tedder, assigned to resolve the latest issues, threw up his hands and disqualified himself. 

Wray's "Reserve Fund" Comes to the Rescue

While everyone was bickering over the election in January, a telegram arrived from Washington.  The date for the hearing with the Army Engineers about an application for $903,000 for harbor improvement was set for February 4.  There were no port officials with authority to act, and the funds would be lost if a delegation did not attend the meeting.  No one seemed to object to Wray, Ryan, and Eller attending because they were familiar with and could defend the application for the grant.  So far so good, but port funds were tied up because banks had been warned during the injunctions not to honor port checks or vouchers.  There was no port money to pay expenses for the trip. 

Previously, the board quietly voted themselves a salary increase from $75 to $125, a tidy sum during the depression years (and one of the reasons 19 ran for election).  When the board voted for the extra income, Wray not only cast the only dissenting vote, he refused to accept the money.  He set the difference aside in an account each month "to be used for the good of the port."  According to the May 14, 1935 minutes of the board, the account totaled $1800.  About $490 was used to clear up balloting debt, pay election workers, police support, and others who served during the election. It is said part of the money went to port clerks and other workers who had gone unpaid during the injunctions and were threatening to strike.  And some of that money was used to pay expenses for the all important trip to Washington. 

After the meeting, Wray went to New York to confer with steamship officials to increase port business.  Ryan returned to Florida with Eller who had become ill.




Finally, some good news was reported.  Not only was the grant approved, but the amount was also raised to over a million dollars.  




            The Lawsuits Continue

The latest case went to the Supreme Court in Tallahassee.  They ruled the governor could appoint new commissioners.  Then Swanson and Baxter opposed the governor's right to appoint anyone.  While the court deliberated that issue, State Representative Rodgers submitted a new port bill to the legislature calling for a three man port board to serve two years.  He proposed a new election and defended Wray in the news.

"The act under which the governor named Strickland and DeLoach requires that his appointees must be from the same section as the men to be succeeded.  Thus, if the governor should reaffirm his appointment of DeLoach he will automatically remove Floyd L. Wray who was more nearly the unanimous choice of the entire port district for commissioner than any other man. (Mr. Wray was high man of all the candidates and received 1,802 votes -- an impressive number of voters to try to laugh off.)"

Still at it, Wray went ahead with business.  He wrote to the State Railway Commission about bus lines for the port. He reached an agreement with Thomas Cook and Sons for conventions, and with Holland America to bring in the Volendam. The first molasses storage tanks were constructed, and work on the tank farms for Standard Oil and Belcher Oil was completed.







Finally, the legislature passed a new Port Authority Act.  On May 18, the governor went ahead and appointed Strickland, DeLoach, and LaBrea.  They were to serve until January 1937 and be replaced by elected commissioners. Petitions were still being circulated by citizens who wanted elect their own their port officials.



On May 24 headlines announced the old board was still in charge, although the secretary of state already signed the commissions for the new board.  In a last-ditch effort, a new injunction was requested on the grounds that the governor's appointees were not legally qualified to serve.  The issue was heard by the state supreme court, which quickly held that the case had no merit. The appointments made by the governor were accepted, and the new board of three took office on June 1, 1935. 

The appointees, Strickland, DeLoach, and LeBrea, all belonged to the governor's political party; Floyd L. Wray did not.





More History

6/9/17 Eye-witness Account of the Great Hurricane of 1926

4/11/17 90th Anniversary Celebration

2/15/15 The First Tree Was Planted in 1927

12/1/14 Flamingo Gardens/Flamingo Groves: Always a great place to party!

10/20/14 Flamingo Gardens  a Spectacular Setting with an Eventful Past
 
Be sure to leave comments about topics of interest, and any questions you have.




4 comments:

  1. Marvelous article. Mr. Wray was a true Renaissance Man!

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  2. I congratulate Mr. Thornton. He will, forever, have my esteem.

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