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The Florida Retirement Village: Building for White, Middle-Class Older Adults in South Florida in the 1950s
November 7 @ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
Resident Fellow (2022-2023)
Assistant Professor, German, Nordic, and Slavic+; Mosse/Weinstein Center for Jewish Studies, UW–Madison
This talk examines the “Florida retirement village,” a new type of suburban community, which emerged to house retirees in South Florida during the 1950s. It discusses the ways in which merchant builders refashioned the typical middle-class postwar suburban development model for this newly emerging market, replacing features – playgrounds and schools – with amenities to appeal to older adults. Inspiration for the Florida retirement village came from three sources. One was the then-popular trailer park, which was attracting increasing numbers of snowbirds to seasonally relocate to Florida. Another was the fledgling field of gerontology, which was particularly active in Florida in the 1950s. A final factor lay with the state government, whose fear that Florida might attract the “wrong” kind of migrant funded efforts in community design that would support a middle-class suburban model suited to older adults, many of whom were pensioners benefitting from Social Security or industrial pensions. The solution that arose – the Florida retirement village — paved the way for a what is now understood as a distinctive component of Florida’s cultural landscape: “active retirement” communities such as “The Villages.” Examining the origins of these kinds of places in the 1950s contributes to a rapidly growing literature on 55+ housing while also helping us better understand the rise of South Florida as a destination for white, middle-class older adults after World War II.
Anna Andrzejewski is Professor of Art History and has been a member of the faculty since 2000. A former Director of the Center for Culture, History, and Environment (CHE), she is also an affiliate of the Departments of Geography and Planning and Landscape Architecture as well as an affiliate of the Nelson Institute. Anna’s research focuses on vernacular buildings and landscapes in North America, with an emphasis lately on post-World War II architecture. She has completed a book on the postwar building industry (with an emphasis on Madison-based builder Marshall Erdman) and is currently working on an in-depth study of the cultural landscape of vacation and retirement in South Florida between 1945–1970. Anna also works in the public humanities, most recently on several projects in southwestern North Dakota.
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