Time to grow up: The rise and fall of spring break in Fort Lauderdale

Date
2013-01-01
Authors
Schiltz, James
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Charles M. Dobbs
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Abstract

While the 1960 release of Where the Boys Are truly institutionalized spring break as a rite of passage among American youth, the film also established Fort Lauderdale as a mecca for these collegiate pilgrimages. For the next quarter century, Fort Lauderdale was the unquestioned spring break capital of the United States. As students annually invaded their city thereafter, local residents developed a reluctant symbiotic relationship with the tradition. Although spring break was instrumental in fostering Fort Lauderdale's incredible postwar growth and carving the city's niche in Florida's emerging tourism industry, many citizens over the years grew concerned with the students' misbehavior and the notorious reputation it gave Fort Lauderdale. By 1985, with some 350,000 collegians migrating to the city and spending an estimated $120 million, spring break in Fort Lauderdale had reached unprecedented heights. Yet, along with the record numbers also came increased collegiate drunkenness, debauchery, and death that ultimately destroyed this fragile relationship. Thus, despite Fort Lauderdale enjoying twenty-five years as America's favorite spring break destination, the unruly mobs of the 1980s sparked protests among residents that brought about the unthinkable rapid demise of the tradition in the city by the end of the decade.

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