'Picture City' aspired to become a new Hollywood

Posted 5/6/21

"When one crosses the South Bridge at Jupiter Lighthouse, the finest ocean driveway in the entire world is open for approximately the entire distance to the St. Lucie Inlet."

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'Picture City' aspired to become a new Hollywood


"When one crosses the South Bridge at Jupiter Lighthouse, the finest ocean driveway in the entire world is open for approximately the entire distance to the St. Lucie Inlet," a 34-page booklet promoting the planned community of "Olympia-Picture City" proclaimed in 1926.

        "Nowhere in the state - nor in any other state - nor in any other country in the world - will one find its equal," the real estate guide concludes.

        In 1923, the agricultural Indian River Association's affiliated company in Martin County sold 4,000 acres of land on Jupiter Island and the adjacent mainland at Hobe Sound to a new investment group called the Olympia Improvement Corporation. The property was originally part of the old Eusebio Gomez Spanish Land Grant during most of the 19th century.

        Malcolm Meacham (1884 - 1929) of Palm Beach and New York City, a prominent figure in South Florida real estate developments during the state's "Land Boom" of the 1920s, organized and served as the first president of the Olympia Improvement Corportation in Hobe Sound. The community was within the borders of Palm Beach County until 1925.

        The development plan for the Olympia Improvement Corportation was to create a community called "Olympia," in a Greek-revival architecture style, with two coastal subdivisions called Olympia Beach and Bon Air Beach  It would be supported by a suburb named "Picture City," where movies could be produced and filmed.

        Wealthy investors flocked to the project, including Philadelphia millionnaire and diplomat Anthony Joseph Drexel Biddle Jr. (1897 - 1961), upon whom Meacham bestowed  the title of  the company's second president in 1925.

        Meacham also obtained the financial backing of banks in Palm Beach County. The developer was  vice president of the Palm Beach National Bank which he helped establish in 1924-25.

        Swiss architect Maurice Fatio of the firm Treanor and Fatio relocated to Florida and signed a contract with  Olympia Improvement Corporation President Anthony Biddle in 1925 to design homes and business structures within the community. 

       His first project was the Olympia School, a Spanish-revival mission style building designed in 1925. He also designed a resort hotel with Greek temple architectural features to match Olympia's classical theme. The draft design was featured in the "Olympia-Picture City" promotional booklet, but the hotel was never built.

        Later in his career, Fatio designed the Town of Manalapan's historic "Eastover" and "Casa Alva" mansions for shipping and railroad heirs Harold and Consuelo Vanderbilt during the 1930s.

        One early 20th century movie mogul enticed to support Olympia's "Picture City" project was Lewis J. Selznick (1870 - 1933), the father of Hollywood producer David O. Selznick.

        Lewis Selznick founded the World Film Corporation in 1914 to produce silent movies at his New York studio. He later moved to California with his son, were he continued to make films under the studio names of Selznick Productions, Inc. and Selznick International Pictures.

        When his business ventures in California failed during 1925, the producer turned to the Olympia  Improvement Corporation's Picture City as a potential place of employment in the future.

The 'Olympia-Picture City' Community Plan

        Beginning in August 1925, Meacham, acting as the registered agent for the community, filed incorporation documents for the Picture City Studios, Inc., the Picture City Corporation and the Picture City Construction Company, Inc. with the State of Florida.

        The Olympia Improvement Corporation also lobbied the Florida Legislature for a charter encompassing an area "extending along the Atlantic Ocean for a distance of 7.5 miles," and "along the Indian River (Jupiter Narrows) for about nine miles."

        The Olympia-Picture City planners envisioned a community of 40,000 residents, supported not only by the film industry, but by winter tourism and real estate sales.

        In the 1926 promotional booklet, publisher Felix Isman wrote, "It is common rumor that when Henry M. Flagler desired to locate 'Palm Beach', he exerted every possible endeavor to obtain the Gomez (Spanish Land) Grant upon which to locate that city, and it was not until all his efforts had failed that he went elsewhere."

        "Such is the Gomez Tract (Hobe Sound and Jupiter Island) situated well outside the frost belt in fashionable, tropical, seashore Florida," the publisher concludes. "Its tropical venue cannot be excelled."

        The development plan for Olympia and Picture City, platted in Martin County after it was created out the northern third of Palm Beach County in 1925, featured lots of 50 by 100 feet, located on 10,000 acres of land. The homes would be located on streets and boulevards as wide as 100 feet, never less than 50 feet. The streets are named for Greek gods and heroes - Apollo, Zeus and Hercules etc.

       The Olympia section of the community was planned to "extend along the ocean from the St. Lucie Inlet to the Jupiter Lighthouse," according to 1926 promotional guide. "Along the westward portion of Olympia, the Picture City development of New Deauville, Picture City Park, Studio City and other developments are actually in progress - cities within a city."

        The community of Olympia-Picture City had highway and railroad networks planned to connect them with Palm Beach to the south, and major cities along the eastern coast of the United States.

        Their promotional booklet reported, "Starting at approximately 22 miles in a northerly direction from Palm Beach, Olympia-Picture City extends many miles along the Dixie Highway and has at the present time two railroad stations on the property, Olympia and Gomez. Two more, Picture City and New Deauville, are contemplated."

        "In the charter of the Florida East Coast Line," publisher Felix Isman wrote, "there is a provision that every passenger train must stop at Olympia Station."

The Demise of Olympia-Picture City

        The planned Olympia-Picture City township was doomed to failure by four financial and natural disasters beyond its control.

        The first was the collapse of the Florida "Land Boom" at the end of 1926. It was followed by the deadly Hurricane of 1928, the Stock Market Crash of 1929, and the Great Depression of the 1930s.

        The first sign of future financial troubles appeared in March 1926. The developers failed to make a loan payment to the Farmers Bank & Trust of West Palm Beach. The bank filed a foreclosure action in court six months later.

        The Biddle and Duke families, whom invested heavily in the project, foreclosed on Olympia-Picture City land holdings to acquire remaining unsold assets. They later sold their holdings to J.V. Reed and his newly established Hobe Sound Company in 1933.

        The Picture City Studios and Picture City Construction Company were dissolved in 1936, according to State of Florida business records.

        Pioneer Hollywood producer Lewis Selznick died of a heart attack at the age of 62. He never produced a movie at Picture City. His son, David (1902-65), continued the family's business in Hollywood, producing such classic films as "Gone With The Wind," "Rebecca" and "Spellbound".

        Following the demise of the Olympia-Picture City project, the Olympia Improvement Corporation President Anthony Biddle Jr. invested in several failed business ventures in the 1930s before changing careers and becoming a diplomat. He served as the U.S. ambassador to Norway, Poland and Belgium. Biddle was an officer in World War II, rising to the rank of major general.

        As for Olympia-Picture City developer Malcolm Meacham, he moved on to a new business enterprise in the Florida Keys, where he established the Key West Foundation Company.

        Meacham owned a Palm Beach home called "Casa Bougainvillea" on Barton Avenue, but in March 1929 he was residing at his New York City apartment on East 72nd Street.

        During the Stock Market Crash of 1929, a March 19 New York Times headline screamed, "Realty Man Dies in 11-Story Plunge: Malcolm Meacham Found Dead on Sidewalk in Front of Apartment on East 72nd Street."

        The newspaper reported "the real estate dealer with offices in New York City and Florida" accidently fell through an open window while experiencing a "dizzy spell".

        The name "Hobe Sound" was restored to the Martin County community in 1928 after bankruptcy and a category four hurricane flattened the dream of a new Hollywood.

         The "Olympia School" building on Apollo Avenue was used by the development company as a sales office and community center. It was acquired by Martin County and became a public school building until 1962. The building became a National Register of Historic Places site in October 2002.

        The historic school building, street signs bearing the names of Greek gods and heroes, and a few cement lamp posts remain today as a reminder of a time in the past when Hobe Sound was part of Olympia-Picture City.

(c.) Davidsson. 2021

history, Martin County