As the world moves through 2020, there is some interest in turning back the calendar pages and viewing what Pensacola was like in the year 1920. The city’s links to the outside were very different, for highway construction beyond city limits was limited, and those links that had been established were, for the most part, paved with a sand and oil mixture, with the concrete surfacing to come in part later, as a means of providing jobs as the depression of the 1930s began.
Through most of the decade of the 1920s, J.H. Bayless was the city’s mayor, and the city manager system would not begin until 1931. Taking Palafox Street as the point of focus, the 1920s were a time of change, for the nation’s role in World War I had just ended, and the concept of visitor traffic had barely been thought about. Remembering some highlights helps those still present to understand what would emerge in depression times, when personal habits and even clothing styles would be restricted with money woefully short.
►Downtown tower has enjoyed a unique history
►Roosevelt used personal crisis to rally America during Depression
At that time, the Garden Street-Palafox Street intersection was just then becoming a key point of commercial traffic and trade. The San Carlos Hotel was present, and in 1922, it was entangled by 200 rooms, to bring a potential of 700 patrons. The city’s first radio station would be airborne in 1926 (WCOA) and up and down the city’s principal street, electric lighting was expanding as Gulf Power itself was much enlarged. The natural gas system was still half a decade away, but there was a manufactured gas plant bringing a similar service, being promoted for gas lamps and ranges. Coal and wood were the common source of fuel.
The street car system, covering seven routes, had grown considerable since 1914, but it, too, was facing new competition from motor cars. Street cars would cease operation in 1931.
Half of a dozen new automobile makers and several more models would appear in the 1920s: the Pierce-Arrow, Oldsmobile, Packard, Mash and Willys all now had local dealers and service; and Montgomery Ward’s catalog advertised replacement tires for $5, guaranteeing they function for at least 5,000 miles. Average tire price was $5.
The new Pensacola High School opened facing Palafox Street in 1922, while two years later, the Saenger Theatre would begin showing modern movies (but they still lacked sound). The banking industry was, step by step, modernizing four facilities occupying Palafox Street. Included in this decade were the American National Bank, the Citizens & Peoples, The First National Bank and the Bank of Pensacola. The concept of the savings and loan now was part of Pensacola, with First Mutual and Pensacola Home and Savings active downtown. Christ Church, with its new (1903) construction, graced the Palafox-Wright Street corner. The Masonic Hall at Palafox-Garden had been enlarged and was active for a variety of functions in this decade.
►Take a quick drive through Pensacola’s car industry
►Bavarian immigrant built historic Pfeiffer House at old Christ Church
The year 1920 was one when the last of the World War I soldiers were brought home and discharged. However, the Navy had chosen to maintain its training functions and the presence of the training unit encouraged enlargement of the village of Warrington.
Commercial businesses downtown continued to include the Warren and Saunders commercial fishing houses on the waterfront while Rhodes Furniture Co. had erected a four-story showroom and warehouse. On the Palafox-Garden intersection, the Blount and Brent building complex continued expansion, having been rebuilt in 1908, then beyond. The Isis Theater building was upgraded, with commercial quarters functioning above the motion picture house.