The Mackle Brothers – makers of modern Florida?

By Flip Schulke, 1930-2008, Photographer (NARA record: 2435383) (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Flip Schulke, 1930-2008, Photographer (NARA record: 2435383) (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Florida’s growth spurt after World War II, which really intensified in the 1960’s and 1970’s transformed the state from sleepy backwater to largely urbanized mega-state. Elliot, Robert and Frank Mackle and the General Development Corporation are often forgotten today for whatever reason, but before Walt Disney seriously contemplated placing an amusement park in the state the brothers were plotting and building subdivisions that transformed our state.

Founded in 1954 in Miami, General Development Corporation began developing subdivisions with inexpensive homes throughout the state. By the mid 1960’s the Miami/Fort Lauderdale region had already emerged as one of the 15 most populated urban areas in the country but much of the state remained barren.

The brothers began buying hundreds of thousands of acres of land in the 1950’s and gradually developed planned communities like Marco Island, Port Charlotte, Port St Lucie, Spring Hill, Deltona, Port St John and others. Other planned communities such as Westinghouse developed Coral Springs (my hometown) popped up in this period.

Later the Arvida and Lennar Corporations also built developments up and down the peninsula on the Mackle model. More recently, after the death of Ed Ball in 1981, The St Joe Corporation began focusing on land development particularly in the Panhandle. As an already established large landowner, St Joe was uniquely positioned to replicate the Mackle model.

A fairly comprehensive history of the Mackle families involvement in the development of the state (and other business interests) can be found here.  The corporation created a template that others have followed that have created a Florida of planned suburban and exurban developments – sprawlish areas that have become even more problematic in an era where Republican legislators don’t take growth management as seriously as their Democratic predecessors did. It can of course be argued the check on the GOP legislatures unwillingness to continue with the the types of growth management and concurrency laws we had in the past was the great recession of 2008 – but as legislative session approaches and our elected lawmakers once again do not do anything to curtail the over development of the state that threatens our long-term sustainability, water supply and livability.

At this time it is important to remember how the Mackle brothers contributed to the creation of modern Florida.

2 comments

  1. nice article.. serves as a reminder how so much can be learned by reviewing our state’s developmental history as a guide to “where we are going” from “where we’ve been”. regardless of party affiliation (and the typical “blaming” attacks), the shaping of the growth of a popular state by the “powers that be” (big sugar, etc.) should be understood by anyone interested in improving life and living conditions for its residents and visitors. Carl Hiassen hits it on the head every time he writes a new novel!

  2. Florida,unfortunately, had always been a destination of the country’s worst exploiters, hucksters and grifters, and the Mackle brothers are just two more! I hope that isn’t admiration you’re expressing for this pair?? The Republican Party has enabled the continued debasement of FL’S environment by gutting our long-term development planning agency! Thank Rick Scott for that and his killing of over 2300 other state regulations that protected Floridians and our natural resources! Between Jeb Bush and his goal of paving over Florida and privatizing all state functions to enrich his wealthy cronies and horrible Rick Scott–this state is in an environmental spiral downward! And these exploiters could care less! That’s what you need to write about,Kartik!

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