James Hunt, president of Coral Ridge Properties, sought land that had no restrictions, other than his own. As he developed one-third of Fort Lauderdale in the 1950s, he was exasperated by shoddy zoning laws that permitted commercial buildings in residential neighborhoods. According to staff, he would have created his own country if he could, but concentrated on producing a perfect city. During the 1960s, he purchased 25 acres of property in northwest Broward County and conceived a prototype so seemingly flawless, everything was expected to go according to plan. But of course, it didn’t.

Located on farmland, the horizon provided a clean slate for his dream city. The first structure, a one-room real estate office, was built in 1964 on the corner of U.S. 441 and Wiles Road. A billboard (not permitted under Hunt’s future zoning regulations) proclaimed the “City of Coral Springs,” so prospective buyers wouldn’t drive past the undeveloped area and wind up in Boca Raton.  

After a few months, Hunt was looking forward to tearing it down and replacing it with a grand colonial administration building in the “center of town.” When the architect presented a plan for a vaguely art deco structure, it didn’t reflect Hunt’s vision of the Old South. To educate his employees, he chartered a bus and took the entire staff to antebellum Athens, Georgia, for inspiration. The subsequent blueprint presented a sprawling brick and columned edifice, now City Hall.  

In the meantime, a temporary centerpiece was needed to lure people into the barren landscape. Hunt built a covered bridge suggestive of a country setting. But when the bridge was painted barn red, he didn’t think it was impressive enough. Someone suggested Coca-Cola signs be added to each side, as was a Southern custom; but Hunt wanted something striking. He contacted American Snuff Company in Atlanta. Surprised by the request to use their designs on a covered bridge, the chairman of the board came down to supervise the painting of chewing tobacco and snuff logos.

Before a single residence was built, exacting regulations were in place, requiring extensive landscaping (including trees), compliance with a color palette for exteriors, identical mailboxes and bans on clotheslines, gas appliances and flags other than the Stars and Stripes. Garbage pails were supposed to be kept in a trench below eye level, though the mandates were soon challenged when the disposal company refused to pick up trash barrels unless they were on street level. Later, a long-running dispute ensued when a resident installed a 5-foot-tall statue of an alligator to hold the mailbox in front of his house. The homeowner lost the litigation.

Retirement communities were on the drawing board in anticipation of an influx of senior citizens, but when young families bought the majority of houses, marketing and amenities were changed to appeal to them. 

When the new Administration Building opened in 1966, the first real estate office that Hunt wanted torn down, was offered to the residents, provided it was towed away from the city entry. It was moved three times, becoming the first police station, a fire department training site (when it was nearly burned down) and now the Museum of Coral Springs History.

Proposals were made several times to demolish the covered bridge, which required high maintenance in order to pass city and state inspections. When its destruction was imminent in 1992, local residents and businesses donated the $40,000 necessary to keep it “up to snuff.” 

 

Both temporary structures were named Florida Heritage Sites in 2004 because of their roles in the development of Coral Springs. Rather than the usual South Florida metropolis of stucco and sand, Hunt’s rendition of a “City in the Country” was unique.