Bay County in the 70s, 80s, & 90s
The last three decades of the century saw an explosive
growth that finally turned Panama City Beach in to a year-round tourist
destination, saw the country’s first privately run county jail and welcomed the
first Republican to be elected to office here.
Icons in the form of businesses and people ruled the day. Gone are some of the more easily recognized venues, like the Top O’ the Strip, Petticoat Junction, Miracle Strip Amusement Park, the Four Winds Restaurant on the Panama City Marina and the old drive-in theater near 15th Street.
Rick Seltzer became the first Republican elected to office in Bay County when he became proactive, bringing in a trash-to-energy incinerator, something unique to the Panhandle, and becoming the first county in the country to privatize its jail.
A new crop of powerful men continued to shape the county: men like Joe Chapman and Charles Whitehead, leaders in both business and the Democratic party, and Charles Hilton and Tommy Thomas, also successful businessman and political leaders. They stood on opposite sides of that fence, but jointly yearned for a better Bay County and they helped develop and shape it through their banks and dealerships and developments and what they gave back to the community.
Those decades also marked a consistent weather pattern as it went to hurricanes: they seemed to arrive every 10 years. In 1975 it was Eloise and her 130-mph winds which left $50 million in damage in its wake here; in 1985 two hurricanes – Kate and Elena – passed through with 90-mph and 125-mph winds respectively.
In 1995 Hurricane Opal struck and devastated the coastline with her winds and tidal surges while causing destruction and flooding inland as well. Fifty homes in Mexico Beach alone were destroyed.
But Bay County’s residents weathered those hurricanes like they do life’s other storms: with a set of determination to move forward.
Above Left: Holiday Inn, The Escape Restaurant Lounge, The
Escape Gift Shop, and Escape Motel on Highway 98 in Panama City Beach, circa
1970. Courtesy Bay County library local history room / #D-717
Top Left: Elbert DuKate (owner of WPCF Radio)
broadcasts live from Fifth Street in Panama City, moments before the explosive
demolition of the landmark Dixie-Sherman Hotel, 1970. The hotel was built in
1925-26. Courtesy E. Laurence DuKate
Second Left: Demolition of the Dixie Sherman Hotel in downtown Panama City in 1970. Courtesy The News Herald
Second from the Right: Ladies Enjoying an afternoon at Goofy Golf on Front Beach Road, Panama City Beach, 1972. Courtesy Bay County library local history room / #D-5068
Top Right: ‘Top O’ The Strip’ scenic tower at Panama City Beach, circa 1970. Courtesy Bay County Library local history room / #D-4938