There is always the road not taken. And sometimes there’s the road not finished - hardtop, shell and sand byways in Hobe Sound that never went beyond the drawing board during the Florida land boom of the 1920s.
The roads were in a town called Olympia, also known as Picture City, a metropolis that would rise from the mangroves along the Intracoastal, where Hobe Sound stands today. Planners envisioned Hollywood-like movie studios and 40,000 residents strolling wide boulevards and verdant parks under bowlers and parasols, a seaside paradise. It was all conjured by some of the biggest players in Florida’s 1920s land boom, tycoons with big dreams and the right architect: Maurice Fatio, who later went on to design Palm Beach’s grand homes.
In 1923 he came to Florida, for one reason: to design Olympia. He was hired by Malcolm Meacham, vice president of the Palm Beach National Bank, society don, president of the Olympia Improvement Corp. The enterprise was bankrolled by Anthony J. Drexel Biddle Jr., a Pilgrim descendant, and brothers Benjamin and Angier Duke.
With backing like that, the sky was the limit. But Olympia-Picture City never got off the ground, or on the ground. Florida’s land boom went bust in 1926.
A 1925 sales pamphlet for Olympia manifested the hyperbole of the land boom: “When one can combine a tropical latitude with high altitude, the condition must be ideal. The altitude of Olympia-Picture City rivals at least any height along the Atlantic coast in the entire state of Florida.
But the only place you’ll find Olympia today is on a map. Nowhere but a map.
An old map.
It was the city that died before it drew a breath or a resident.
If you want to stand where Olympia never did, go to that part of Hobe Sound known as Old Hobe Sound, down where Bridge Road meets the FEC tracks and Old Dixie Highway. There, you’ll find a shadow of Olympia, a blush on the landscape in the form of roads named, per Fatio’s original plans, for Greek and Roman gods - Mars, Ceres, Athena, Apollo, Venus, the entire Greco-Roman pantheon of deities.
The roads fan out from the location of the Olympia railroad station, never built - fan out like all roads leading from Rome. This was Fatio’s intended visual effect.
On Apollo Road you’ll find the old Olympia town hall, actually the sales office of the developers, the Olympia Improvement Corp. It’s small, a shoebox of an affair, hip roof, American vernacular, but with just enough stuccoed curvature over the front door to hint at Spanish mission style. Queen palms once graced the lawn in front. Iron and brass door and lighting fixtures are visible in old photos. Now, the building squats near Zeus park, where nobody but the planners ever did perambulate.
The town hall was bought by Martin County in 1932 and became the Apollo school after the Reed family of Jupiter Island bought the few remaining assets of the Olympia Improvement Corp. the same year. The current Hobe Sound arose from the ashes of Olympia Improvement.
Hobe Sound outgrew the school in the late ’50s, but local preservationists have restored it and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Here and there off dusty side streets you’ll find old concrete street lamps - about the only improvements Olympia Improvement could manage. A few sewer lines went in, didn’t work and are now long gone. Sidewalks, too, now gone to dust. And up on the highest point around you’ll find a water tower very similar to the original, which was scripted: PICTURE CITY.
Picture City as in moving pictures, movies, silent movies. Hollywood producers were interested. A 250-acre studio was planned. If not for the collapse of Florida real estate, you might spy coconut and palmetto palms instead of the Hollywood hills in the grainy black and white background of old westerns. But Picture City never developed.
By 1929, Fatio had abandoned even a passing mention of Olympia in his letters to friends and colleagues. Before the land bust, his epistles were effusive in their praise for Olympia, the architectural plans he was going to provide for homes, the grand hotel, the golden future. By 1929, Biddle had cut his losses, moved on. Fatio was designing homes for the Palm Beach set.
And in March 1929, Meacham jumped or fell from an 11th-floor window at his New York apartment. His enterprise had already plunged financially.
And that was the end of Olympia.
A longer version of this story, by former staff writer Paul Reid, originally ran in the Palm Beach Post on October 2, 2000.