The Rise and Decline of the Redneck Riviera: An Insider's History of the Florida-Alabama Coast

The Rise and Decline of the Redneck Riviera: An Insider's History of the Florida-Alabama Coast

Language: English

Pages: 352

ISBN: 0820345318

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


The Rise and Decline of the Redneck Riviera traces the development of the Florida-Alabama coast as a tourist destination from the late 1920s and early 1930s, when it was sparsely populated with “small fishing villages,” through to the tragic and devastating BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010.

Harvey H. Jackson III focuses on the stretch of coast from Mobile Bay and Gulf Shores, Alabama, east to Panama City, Florida―an area known as the “Redneck Riviera.” Jackson explores the rise of this area as a vacation destination for the lower South’s middle- and working-class families following World War II, the building boom of the 1950s and 1960s, and the emergence of the Spring Break “season.” From the late sixties through 1979, severe hurricanes destroyed many small motels, cafes, bars, and early cottages that gave the small beach towns their essential character. A second building boom ensued in the 1980s dominated by high-rise condominiums and large resort hotels. Jackson traces the tensions surrounding the gentrification of the late 1980s and 1990s and the collapse of the housing market in 2008. While his major focus is on the social, cultural, and economic development, he also documents the environmental and financial impacts of natural disasters and the politics of beach access and dune and sea turtle protection.

The Rise and Decline of the Redneck Riviera is the culmination of sixteen years of research drawn from local newspapers, interviews, documentaries, community histories, and several scholarly studies that have addressed parts of this region’s history. From his 1950s-built family vacation cottage in Seagrove Beach, Florida, and on frequent trips to the Alabama coast, Jackson witnessed the changes that have come to the area and has recorded them in a personal, in-depth look at the history and culture of the coast.

A Friends Fund Publication.

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now wanted to return with their families. Escambia County officials, “deeply concerned” that those veterans would have no place to stay, set up the Santa Rosa Island Authority to develop beaches that would be accessible when the then under construction road running the length of the island was completed. To get people to build cottages to occupy or to rent, the Island Authority began signing over ninety-nine-year leases on lots just down from Pensacola Beach’s $350,000 casino. The Authority also

and Gulf Shores a dependable bridge to what had become the mainland. A few years later another government, Alabama’s this time, struck a deal with a local landowner who gave and sold the state around 4,500 acres, including some prime beachfront, in return for helping develop roads in the villages. Then, with the heavy lifting done by federally paid Civilian Conservation Corps boys, the state cleared the scrub and palmetto and built Gulf State Park, complete with a casino for dancing and dining, a

the grocery stores, but they liked the conveniences that were built for the tourists. Citizens of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach were a practical bunch. They knew, as one put it, that the “economy is oiled almost entirely by the coconut-scented visitors who parade around in skimpy attire, clutching bright-colored beach toys and their room keys.” Tourists might charter boats and fish, they might hit the bars so they could drink and boogie the night away, or they might just relax on the beach, eat a

writer for the Wall Street Journal was mildly critical in an article headlined “Despite Acclaim, Town of Seaside Fails to Become a Cozy Community,” homeowners and merchants responded to assure readers that even though the population was transitory, in Seaside, “community spirit reigns.” What also reigned was organization, governance, and a sort of upper-crust socialism in which everybody chipped in (not always voluntarily) to things that Davis (mostly) and the town council (at times reluctantly)

in Panama City, knew how bad it could be. He had seen people hit with full beer cans thrown from the upper stories; he saved “a fifteen-year old girl [who] was so drunk that minutes after we got to her she went into respiratory arrest”; he treated students with second-degree sunburn, “blisters all over . . . almost like they’ve been in a fire”; and when asked if the “kids ever puke on you” he replied, “all the time.” King had also picked up the bodies of students who fell from a high-rise when

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