Day 439 - Miami
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South Beach in Miami was for many years a run-down slum until developers realized the beauty of the Art Deco buildings. Today it is the place to stay, shop and be entertained in. Ulf Johansson, who came to Florida to sell Swedish log houses and ended up making money renovating houses, was one of the first to see the potential of South Beach. He bought and renovated the beautiful Waldorf Tower’s Hotel (860 Ocean Drive, 1-800-933-Beach) that became “South Beach’s most photographed hotel” and for a long time the most “in” nightclub.
Many Swedes have bought real estate of dubious value in Florida. Many bought site unseen with $10 down and payments of $10 a month from Carl Magnuson Jr. whose father from Åmål in Sweden pioneered real estate in Miami. Junior bought thousands of acres, incorporating them and making himself the mayor and controlling his own town council. He became the subject of many a lawsuit by disgruntled buyers, but always managed to come away clean. And now with rapidly rising land values, some of his quarter or half acre lots, water-logged as they may be, could actually be worth something.
One who fell for the advertising was Swedish newspaperman, filmmaker and “Mr Aktuellt” Lars Ottoson (who is known by everybody in Sweden for covering the boxing match between Ingemar Johansson and Floyd Paterson in 1959). This is how he told his story in an interview in Swedish Press in 2005: “During an International Trade Fair in Chicago I saw an ad in the paper saying “Buy a lot in the Bahamas, $50 down, $50 a month” so I sent in for some information and I found out that the guy who was selling it was called Frank Magnuson in Miami. I looked him up and he made me the agent for Sweden. I did not do much with that so he sent me 1000 dollars and said I understand you are reluctant to put your money into this so here is some money to put in an ad in the paper. I got 2000 replies. So I was sitting with my family stuffing envelopes and we sold about 1000 lots in Europe. During this time I met Simon Bonnier and he asked me to partner up with him on this project. So later Bonnier and the Dane, Maersk and I formed a company. We bought land in the Bahamas and we started the development. I wasn’t cheating anybody. I wanted Swedes to see what they were buying and so I even chartered a plane and took them over. But apparently Bonnier and Maersk knew more than me about international relations because after only six months they jumped off and sold out to a couple of other partners. They were good partners but they foresaw political trouble in the Bahamas and that is why they jumped off. I understood this four years later when I lost everything after a military coup and the Bahamas government under Lyndon Pindling basically threw out all foreigners. So in 73 I came over to try to sell everything and I did that finally for a dollar. That took a couple of months during which time I needed to be in Miami. And then because of other personal reasons I just stayed on.”
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