The Rise and Decline of the Redneck Riviera: An Insider's History of the Florida-Alabama Coast
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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.
considered open to the public were being declared private by the beachfront motels, condominiums, and homeowners. In 1972, faced with a similar situation, Californian voters approved a measure that declared that “development shall not interfere with public right to access to the sea.” Florida made no such declaration, nor did Alabama. Meanwhile, the Destin real estate market boomed and tourists kept coming, and because of this the Florida Panhandle and the Alabama coast felt less of the impact
illegally fishing because a mullet was not a fish, it was a bird. Had to be—it had a gizzard. And the jury, faced with this evidence and logic, did the only thing it could and returned a verdict of not guilty. Pat Whitaker went on to a political career that led to the presidency of the Florida state senate. The accused were released and probably went back to catching mullet. “Mullet Girls.” These women measure the distance the mullet is thrown and make sure all participants follow the rules.
figured to be a tribute to the Flora-Bama. So they continue to love him along the coast, and would welcome him like a long-lost friend if he returned, even though everybody figures he has moved on. But back in the 1980s the biggest problem Buffett had making his mark along the Alabama-Florida coast was that he wasn’t there. So instead of Jimmy Buffett creating the sound of the Redneck Riviera, it came from the pickers and singers at places like the Green Knight, Michelle Lynn’s, and the
tackle shops, the dive stores, and the places where you could get a shrimp sandwich and a beer, more upscale bars and restaurants appeared, some with patios overlooking the water, and for the first time there were complaints that the place smelled like fish. Not the aroma the well-appointed and fashionably attired wanted with their Pina Colada and crab dip. But the folks who worked the boats, who also smelled like fish, did not go to those places. They went to bars like the Green Knight, a little
walking trails, board walks and bridges, parks with ponds and benches, a pool and cabana—all a homeowner could want. At the entrance they built a welcome center with tall windows to let in the light and high ceilings to give potential buyers a sense of space and freedom. Landscaped with plants native to the area, the center suggested what homeowners could do with the lot they bought, if they bought one, but no one did. Timing, they say, is everything, and for Nature Walk the timing was bad.