The kitschy, throwback architecture and design of the single-family homes in Wilton Manors, Florida will remind most baby boomers of times past. That’s what happened to me.
The sleepy streets are lined with rows of ranch homes on flat lots with carports, jalousie windows, and aluminum window awnings that look like they came out of a 1950s Sears catalog. This is a place where pink flamingo lawn ornaments are still on display.
Most homes in the two-square-mile city area are modest in size—generally, two or three bedrooms spread over 2000-or-so square feet. They’re surrounded with robust plantings and shaded by tall palm trees that thrive in the warm, humid South Florida climate.
Many sport vibrant orange, aquamarine, pink or lime green paint accents—on doors and window sashes—colors so bright they almost rattle your teeth; some display rainbow flags out front. Some exteriors appear untouched, showing the patina of age; others have been renovated and improved but with an eye towards preserving their 50s charisma and charm.
The rebirth of Wilton Manors
“Wilton Manors is a very unique city,” says David Packard, president of Fort Lauderdale Stays, a vacation rental management firm that oversees homes in Wilton Manors and elsewhere in Broward County.
When my husband and I recently spent a week in this enclave, we found that while it has a distinct character of its own, it is also integrally tied, both geographically and culturally, to the Fort Lauderdale metropolitan area.
Packard explains that while Wilton Manors is an “island city” surrounded by the Middle River, it isn’t at all isolated. It’s only ten minutes from Fort Lauderdale city proper and 20 minutes from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
The city is considered a gay village or gayborhood because of its unusually large concentration of LGBT residents and business establishments. Based on 2010 census data, Wilton Manors has been called the second gayest city in America (after Provincetown, Massachusetts) with 140 gay couples per 1000 households. Its main street, Wilton Drive, is lined with many gay-owned businesses—restaurants, lounges, consignment shops, health programs and massage parlors.
“Wilton Manors is known for its diverse community and has had an openly gay Mayor for many years,” says Packard. It currently boasts an all-gay city council as well. But this relaxed, laid-back city embraces residents and visitors of all ages and backgrounds. “This is one of our most popular family destinations for vacation home rentals here,” he adds.
“About twenty years ago, this used to be a not-so-sought-after area,” says Packard. “It was considered one of the most unsafe areas in Fort Lauderdale.”
He explains that the gay community started buying properties at depressed prices, seeing the potential to make savvy real estate investments while preserving and improving the city. They appreciated its proximity to the beautiful beaches on the Atlantic Ocean, and its easy access to the business opportunities, entertainment and nightlife in downtown Fort Lauderdale.
According to the city website, Wilton Manors has also been designated as an age-friendly community by both AARP and the World Health Organization (WHO).
A hidden oasis close to a large city
Our friends invited us to spend a week with them at a three-bedroom VRBO rental in Wilton Manors that is aptly named Hidden Oasis. Arriving from New York late in the evening, the house was a short Lyft ride from the Fort Lauderdale airport. The home’s delightful mix of contemporary creature comforts coupled with mid-century decorative touches transported us all back in time.
“The owners furnished the home with beds, dressers, sofas, tables and chairs, etc. but our company, Fort Lauderdale Stays, added the ‘jewelry,’ the small touches that add personality to the property and give it that beach-y, vacation feel,” explains Packard.
The kitchen had all the dinnerware, gadgets and tools one would need to dine at home or to orchestrate a dinner party for ten or more. We were especially wowed by the resort-like amenities in the backyard: a gracious shaded sitting area; hot tub; in-ground pool surrounded by lounge chairs; outdoor dining area with a gas barbecue and long picnic table; rainbow-colored hammock, and an oversized daybed under a tropical-looking palapa.
The week passed quickly with plenty to do. Each morning, we took long walks through the neighborhood to see the rows of homes, each street almost like its own mid-century museum display. Neighbors waved rather than avert gazes. Two beaches, Fort Lauderdale and Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, were only minutes away from the house by car.
On several evenings, we strayed from home base, visiting the Miami Design District and Wynwood Walls area in downtown Miami (about an hour away); the restaurants, art galleries and shops on Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale (10 minutes away); and strolled the wide street leading to the restaurants and watering holes at Lauderdale by the Sea (also 10 minutes away).
Packard and his team manage a number of one-of-a-kind properties, both homes and condos, scattered across different communities in the greater Fort Lauderdale area. He says that business has been “booming” since he relocated here from Canada in 2009 and started Fort Lauderdale Stays.
It’s not surprising. Aside from the sun, sand and beautiful digs, one of the major reasons we (and our friends) enjoyed our stay in Wilton Manors is its authenticity and the chance it offers to relax beside welcoming neighbors in a real place.
- Originally posted on Forbes