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The story of ‘Handsome Jack’ Taylor – Part 2

Steve Elftmann

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From left: Jack Taylor, president, St. Petersburg Pasadena company; Walter Hagen, world's foremost professional golfer; Bobby Jones, British and American Open Champion; and Col. Jacob Ruppert, well-known sports magnate, standing on the first tee in Pasadena. Photo taken at the 1925 Hagen-Jones "Match of the Century" held on the Pasadena golf course. Photo (colorized): Pasadena Yacht and Country Club.

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Part 2 of 2.

In 1914, H. Walter Fuller had big plans for developing his land in the Jungle and Davista areas, but the war economy ravaged his businesses and by 1917 he and his companies were insolvent. Rather than go into bankruptcy, Fuller assigned all his assets to a committee of bankers in Philadelphia. 

In 1919, George C. Allen, a member of the committee, negotiated an arrangement advancing one million dollars to H. Walter Fuller and his son, Walter P. Fuller, to re-acquire the old Fuller companies on a partnership basis. 

The post-war economy was picking up steam and before long each of the three partners prospered and the Fullers were able to pay back the advance. But by 1922, the partners found themselves with too much unsold land ‒ many of their properties were facing tax lien foreclosure. The $500K deal with the Taylor Syndicate resolved the deficit and provided the partners with working capital.

The very next year, the Allen-Fuller Corporation was formed. It was capitalized with money from the land sale. 

I.M. Taylor made a big investment that funded much of Walter P. Fuller’s developments. Taylor brought money, enthusiasm, planning, charisma and a work ethic to St. Petersburg and especially to Pasadena-on-the-Gulf. His successes and capital investment influenced Walter P. Fuller and his partners to move forward aggressively and build the Jungle Hotel, Piper-Fuller Airfield and Jungle Prada building, and also inspired many of the grand homes in the neighborhood. 

The fact that there was a Roaring Twenties history in the Jungle was dependent on a long line of optimistic and determined men. Most of them were from the north. From Philadelphia came Hamilton Disston, Jacob Disston, F.A. Davis, Charles C. Allen and John Allen. Al Lang was from Pittsburgh, I.M. “Handsome Jack” Taylor from New York City. 

Arriving in Florida early in 1922,  Taylor saw the trend in Florida. St. Petersburg land values were rising but the city was still recovering from the 1921 hurricane, so the boom had not started. Taylor found land along Boca Ciega Bay  ‒ just south of the Jungle area, some of which had already been mapped by a professional city planner in 1916 when H. Walter Fuller owned the land. The 1,800 acres (2.81 square miles) of land Taylor purchased in 1922, and renamed Pasadena-on-the-Gulf, included Davista and the west side of Gulfport.

 

1920s Florida Land Boom

The 1920s Florida land boom began in Miami when Carl Graham Fisher built the Flamingo Hotel and began a national advertising campaign promoting Miami Beach real estate. In 1921, property developer George Merrick created the planned community of Coral Gables, west of Miami, and began promoting and selling lots. Land values began to rise and other communities sprang up in southern Florida. 

In St. Petersburg, real estate values increased slowly between the end of World War I until the winter of 1922-23. Already trailing south Florida in the land boom, the 1921 Tampa Bay hurricane tempered enthusiasm for local properties. 

Historians agree that the boom in St. Petersburg started in 1923 in the neighborhood near the foot of the new Gandy Bridge. Suddenly the real estate market surged and continued a wild run until 1926. During the boom, many beautiful buildings and homes were built in St. Petersburg, including the Jungle Hotel (1926) and the Jungle Prada building (1924).

From 1923 to 1926, land values rose precipitously in St. Petersburg. Most of the buyers were from northern states; many of them never visited the land they bought ‒ their purchases were handled by mail or through agents. With rapidly rising property values, a parcel of land could be bought and sold for a profit, sometimes multiple times in the same day.

1922: Jack Taylor (in the shadows, far right) and Evelyn at the first Pasadena-on-the-Gulf sales office, a private railroad car located where the SAL railroad tracks (now the Pinellas Trail) crossed Central Avenue. Photo (colorized): Pasadena Yacht and Country Club.

By the end of ’22, Taylor was advertising lots for sale in his premier community. There would be a golf course, school, railroad station, chapel, elaborate homes and well-paved streets and parkways. As Taylor described it, “an aristocratic resort community.” Next, he landed the world’s foremost professional golfer ‒ Walter Hagen ‒ to be president of his new Pasadena-on-the-Gulf country club. Taylor began building roads and homes and beautifying the community. There was a grand hotel, an aviary and a plant nursery. Hagen designed the golf course which included canals for canoe spectators and an island full of monkeys.

When the land boom ended and his Pasadena properties went bust, Taylor abandoned his workers, the birds in his aviary and the monkeys on Monkey Island. He returned to his high-rise office building in New York City, leaving his former employees and creditors to pick up the pieces. The other St. Petersburg land boom giants remained in their hometown, burdened by their failing properties.

Jack Taylor left an indelible mark on the west coast of St. Petersburg. His 1922 land purchase inspired the grand buildings and homes that make western St. Pete neighborhoods distinctive.

Unfounded Optimism

As the land boom was ending, Taylor confided to Walter P. Fuller that he had millions of German marks stashed away and that he would be a wealthy man when the marks returned to their legal value. Once again, Jack’s optimism was unfounded and a German mark became as worthless as a share of East Coast Fisheries stock.

Death of a Salesman

In his book This Was Florida’s Boom, Fuller wrote “it transpired that Taylor, a few years ago ,dropped dead one day in a famous New York department store where he had been a floor walker for several years, handsome, imperial, polished and poised to the last breath.” Fuller’s account sounds about right, but there is nothing to support it. There are no obituaries to be found for this man who led such an extraordinary life and was a friend to many celebrities.   

 A more plausible biography is found on ancestry.com. It finds that Ivan Marshall Taylor died at age 69 in Stoneham, Massachusetts in 1943. His last known address was a Boston rooming house.

I wonder if any of his fellow roomies believed the fantastic tales that the crazy old man told about the grand hotel that he built and his adventures with the celebrated elite of the Roaring Twenties.

Click here for Part 1.

 

Steve Elftmann serves on the Pinellas County Historical Commission and he writes about the awesome and unheralded history of St. Pete’s west side.
 
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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Jeanette R Bulatowicz

    April 16, 2024at9:20 am

    Love these articles about our history..is George Merrick any relation to the surfer/shaper Al Merrick? That would be interesting

  2. Avatar

    KAREN DOUGLAS

    April 13, 2024at3:34 pm

    I really enjoyed this two part story. Well written and detailed enough to inform but not lose focus. Thanks for it. Can you do one on Al Lang now? Still love that stadium downtown. Hope it NEVER drops his name.
    KJD

  3. Avatar

    George Pequignot

    April 12, 2024at5:02 pm

    Fun read! Thanks. As St Pete continues into a new age this history becomes more important.

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