|Attendees at the Cox's Landing
dedication ceremony. Photo by Art Seitz.
As the monstrously successful Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show was in full sail around them, a high-powered group of local people met to celebrate the memory of a man who started it all. Cox's Landing, a modern boat launching facility, was inaugurated under perfect Saturday morning skies at Lauderdale Marina, founded by Bob Cox 67 years ago. His son-in-law, Ted Drum, who now runs the operation along with his own high-profile real estate company, reminded the audience of Bob Cox's history with the boat show. Although the modern show is rightly credited to Kaye Pearson, who in 1977 came up with the idea of having it in the water at Bahia Mar, it was Cox, who 55 years ago, decided that a boating capital such as Fort Lauderdale deserved a marine show. It began in an armory off State Road 84 (which is still there), quite a distance from today’s sprawling seven water-related venues.
It was just one of several fascinating anecdotes relayed by Drum about the man who died last year at 95, and who for 67 of those years was devoted to the South Florida marine industry, and equally strongly identified with sensible government at a time of spectacular growth in the city. He was on the Fort Lauderdale City Commission for more than two decades, five of them as mayor. His language was often as flamboyant as the sport coats he fancied, and it got him in trouble a few times, but he never lost the respect of those who knew him and appreciated his contributions to the area. Among them were deepening canals that have given Fort Lauderdale the nickname "Venice of America." That grew from his first experience in town when he arrived with a boat in 1946 and found it difficult to find a place to dock. He found a spot where the Navy had tested torpedoes in World War II and turned it into Lauderdale Marina.
Not many knew that this old salt had exceptional academic credentials; he was a graduate of prestigious Cal Tech. He was also a masterful marine mechanic, a skill that served him well in his early days. He was also a bit of a journalist, contributing several articles on the marine industry in the early years of Gold Coastmagazine. Later in politics, he was a mix of conservative social values and progressive ideas when it came to city planning. He was among those who discouraged the out-of-control spring break by supporting a major rebuilding of Fort Lauderdale's public beach.
To those living in the city's old Colee Hammock section, at least those who have been there long enough to remember the occasion, Bob Cox's memory has a special place. In the mid-1980s that neighborhood, which was once the eastern border of the city, found itself besieged by fast-moving traffic headed to and from the developing beach. Its once quiet, oak-shaded streets were becoming dangerous speedways. There was a quiet movement, led by real estate man Tom Adler, to close off the busiest streets. It was approved by the city with little comment, and then all hell broke loose when people on the beach and Las Olas Isles realized their raceways were gone. There was a contentious hearing at city hall - contentious until Bob Cox took charge. He explained the history of the city's growth, and how Colee Hammock was the last neighborhood before the beach – which was once virtually an island, before all the bridges were built. He said the city should not have let the traffic problem go unaddressed for years.
"We made a mistake, and now what we're doing is correcting it," he said. His argument prevailed, and soon neighborhoods all over the city saw similar street closures. The benefits of that movement have been widespread. With the naming of Cox's Landing, it is good to see the man's legacy preserved.