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Frank's Plantation

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Veltri was married at the base and after the war got a job at First Federal Savings and Loan of Miami, where his number-crunching skill allowed him to work his way up the ladder. He and his Moore Haven, Florida-born wife, Genevieve, and their three children got a house in a large development in Dade County but quickly realized it wasn't for them. As was typical in Miami's housing developments during the booming postwar years, the homes were close together, cramped, without enough yard for the kids. The Veltris desired a different kind of place, a rural place. In Plantation they found it.

In the late '40s, a millionaire scion of a St. Louis shoe empire, Frederick C. Peters, decided to build homes on the 10,000 acres of ranch and swampland he'd financed ten years earlier through Veltri's savings and loan (a $350,000 mortgage). The corpulent, deeply religious, world-traveling Peters decided to create a rural alternative to Dade County suburbia, and his original ambition was to introduce a farming cooperative where the residents would grow their own vegetables to sell at a community-owned produce market.

Peters advertised his communal development with fliers proclaiming in boldface type, "A Full Acre With Every Home." The fliers explained: "The spacious lots ensure the homeowner against crowding by neighbors. Careful building and zoning regulations are provided in this modern planned community."

In 1953 Veltri got a job as comptroller of First Federal of Broward and promptly bought one of Peters' acres in Plantation. Two years later the Veltri family moved in to its new house in the new city, which then had just 300 residents. University Drive was then called Annapu Road, with nothing but swamp and cattle country to its west.

By the time Veltri moved into Plantation, Peters' plan had become more realistic. Rather than building a farming cooperative, Peters and his architect, Russell Thorne Pancoast, the grandson of Miami Beach pioneer (and Collins Avenue namesake) John S. Collins, decided to build an "antidevelopment." On August 1, 1954, the Miami Herald publicly unveiled the new city plan in a Sunday spread, with a banner headline calling Plantation "The City of the Future," and another headline declaring, "Ultra-Modern Master Plan Brings Rural Life to Town." Pancoast's plan was to build a town center with a shopping and business area. Near the town center would be apartment buildings and other forms of high-density housing, with population density decreasing as it radiated outward from the center.

Neighborhoods of single-family houses were to follow a square pattern to make getting around the city uncomplicated. August Burghard wrote in his book The Story of Frederick Peters that the city also had an "anti-look-alike" ordinance to prevent the uninspiring "development look" that was taking over South Florida.

"Uncrowded growth was the city's formula," Burghard wrote.
In addition to a bustling town center, Pancoast's diagram for the city included sections for commercial and industrial land use on parts of Sunrise Boulevard, along State Road 7, and in a few other pockets, which would provide the city a tax base and provide for the needs of the residents. Huge regional shopping developments were antithetical to the plan.

"We have what we think will be the finest city in the United States, one offering rural living within one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the country," Ellsworth Gage, the first mayor of Plantation, said in the Herald article, adding that Plantation would "set a pattern all over the country."

Fred T. Peters, one of the founder's three sons, became the city's first fire chief, and Veltri became a friend of the Peters family when he joined the volunteer fire department in 1956. Four years later Veltri, who was still working at the savings and loan, became fire chief.

Then, in the early '60s, the senior Peters fell ill, and in order that his family wouldn't be burdened with the planning of the city's future, they decided to sell the undeveloped 5400 acres of land west of University. Peters' intention had been that it would become a part of the city. Early attempts to sell the land, according to the late Pancoast in Burghard's book, were fraught with the conflict between Peters' vision and the new buyers' plans. Contract negotiations collapsed as developers refused to follow Peters' plan.

Peters died in 1964, and then the family finally sold the land, at roughly $3000 an acre, to Gulfstream, a consortium of big-money investors led by Henry Epstein, a real estate mogul from Philadelphia famous for buying entire towns, and Edgar Bronfman, Sr., the billionaire president of Seagram's.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman

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