Robert Giacin was born in Doctors Hospital (now Kindred Hospital, just south of Young Circle on Van Buren Street) by Dr. Elbert McClaury. “Mom always said I was the first baby of the year, born January 2, 1939.”
Giacin lived in a little, coral rock house at 2300 Polk Street with his mother, father and older brother, Larry. “Hollywood was a sleepy town in the 1940’s when I grew up here,” recalls Giacin. “If we missed the bus to school, we’d hitch hike. Several times I did it alone up Dixie Highway, safely then.”
Giacin and his brother attended Hollywood Central Elementary, with some time spent at a private school on Polk Street, and then to South Broward for grades 9-12.
“At night,” Giacin recalls, “hundreds of land crabs and hoards of what we called water bugs filled the streets. The bugs had jagged, pointed pincher claws, and in the morning the street sweepers cames and washed away the smell they all left.”Flora Apartments, still standing at 1656 Polk St, Hollywood
Giacin also remembers two theatres. “’The Ritz,’ on the 1900 block of Hollywood Boulevard’s north side, and ‘the Florida’ on the 2000 block of the Boulevard’s south side. It had a balcony for smooches. Our dad use to give us 25 cents each (enough for a double feature and a box of popcorn) to ‘disappear’ on Sunday afternoons.” The brothers didn’t realize mom and dad needed some ‘alone’ time until they left the theatre early one Sunday and arrived home unexpectedly!
On the corner of 20th and the Boulevard (now Anniversary Park) was Richard’s five-and-dime store. “You could buy one of anything not packaged like today,” says Giacin. Upstairs were the offices of Hollywood Land & Water company, who constructed a lot of the streets and sidewalks, using beach sand, later known as Hollywood, Inc.
“My brother Larry had a Sun Tattler newspaper route that I helped him with,” recalls Giacin. “The route covered 21st Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard east to the ocean and south to Pembroke Road. We made 10 cents a week!”
Giacin and his brother would meet the paper manager Pat Hengan, at the corner of Harrison and 20th to pick up and fold the route papers. “No plastic bags; just a good tight, tucked-in fold so it didn’t fly apart when we threw them. Homes were sparse. The population was about 5,000 back then, and Hollywood was growing.”
There were very few homes west of State Road 7 / 441, but Giacin’s father purchased a 10-acre cow pasture at 100th Avenue and Griffin Road in Davie.
“In 1947, Hollywood sustained two major hurricanes. Two or three days after the 2nd storm the water finally began to subside. My father tried to reach the nine cows on the pasture. Water was as far as you could see, and you could only follow the road by watching the telephone poles. The orange groves had snakes hanging from them like fat, long sausages. When we reached the pasture, the cows were there… drowned, floating feet up, with snakes on their bellies like a pound of linguine, slithering on and off their precious dry island.”
It was weeks before the water was gone and his dad tried selling those 10 acres. “He never could any get any takers at even $100 an acre. How times have changed!”
Giacin’s father, Guido was born in Piao, Italy, near Cortina and immigrated to Philadelphia in early 1920’s where he met his Mother, Conchetta (Dora for short). They married in 1929 and moved to Hollywood in the mid 1930’s. Guido had a very successful ceramic tile business, catering to wealthy home owners and alleged mobsters in Miami and Golden Beach who sought him out for his superior workmanship.
“Hollywood had a heavy Italian population in the 40’s and 50’s,” recalls Giacin. “My father, along with many other Italians, formed the Italian American Club on South Dixie Highway in the late 40’s.”
One time, Giacin wanted to go there but had to ask his mom for permission. “She said, ‘Okay, by yourself this time, but don’t go west on Taylor street.’ I asked why and she leaned forward to my face and said ‘because they’ll eat you alive!’” She was referring to a den of panthers just west of the Seaboard Railroad, where the Knights of Columbus Hall currently stands.
“I’ll never forget the night when the panthers tripped a device that my father had rigged up to set off a light in his upstairs bedroom. I remember running outside to the terrace. Dad shined his flashlight on the panther with a chicken in its mouth. It looked up, gave a deep growl and then began quickly running west across the field at Polk Street. Dad fired his shotgun. It was an event I will never forget, and hard to think that this happened in downtown Hollywood only 58 years ago.”The picture of the three students is Sharon Slater to the left, Robert center, and then Charles Hoffman. Slater’s dad was “Slats Slater” a local realtor, and Hoffman’s dad was Charles Hoffman, President of First National Bank.
Giacin, much like his dad, was an industrious and enterprising young fellow – from cutting grass for $3.25 an acre to collecting coke bottles and redeeming them for a penny at Dunham’s Grocery Store on 24th and Taylor Street, to raising bees and selling honey. “I had 12 hives,” recalls Giacin. “I used a potato masher and my cotton t-shirt to strain the honey into quart jars which I sold up and down the streets for 25 cents each.”
Giacin went on to work for his dad’s tile business after he died in the 50’s for 2-3 years and eventually enrolled at University of Miami for accounting, where he met his wife, Kay. “She was a top student,” shares Giacin. “At age 17, she came to Florida alone from Germany to scoop the ‘gold in the streams and the chocolate hanging from the trees’ so the Europeans said of the abundance of opportunities in America.” They married in 1962.
Giacin eventually became Chairman of the South Broward Park District (SBPD) and a successful accountant. He set out to find another park site in the Western part of South Broward county after the tremendous success of Hollywood’s T.Y. Park. After only one or two years, attendance was nearing 12,000 visitors annually when it was only designed for around 8,000.Ribbon Cutting for CB Smith Park (1980s) – Giacin (left), South Broward Park District members and other dignitaries, as well as the daughter of CB Smith, a County Commissioner the park was years earlier named after he got the land from the US Govt. The federal grant coordinator was Maurice Connell, who got the largest state grant ever for park development ($1 million).
“I had my eyes on the Rolling Hills Golf Course, whose owner had died. They were asking 110 acres for $1 million, but the Park Board said no; it would require levying a 25 cent per $1,000 tax for 5 years to buy and develop it.”
A short time later it was sold to a far east group and after 10-15 years, was sold for $20+ million for the current housing development and golf course.
“I continued searching and found the county site known as C.B. Smith Park in Pembroke Pines. It had been a bombing range during World War II and was declared surplus land. It was 300+ acres (TY was 160 acres) and was totally devoid of any park-like facilities, including potable water, benches, etc.” Giacin had one-on-one meetings with various county commissioners, who each firmly rejected the idea.Mayor Keating, Walter Resell (of the Hollywood Sun Tattler) and Giacin
Giacin kept pursuing. “I could not accept this turn-down, knowing of the public need and the SBPD ability to turn those 300 acres into a park the public badly needed and wanted. I enlisted the support of several clients who were in the state legislature and with their convincing, the county leased the site to the SBPD for $1 for 30 years.” The park first opened in 1959.
Today, Giacin continues his accounting business on Hollywood Boulevard. He has been married to Kay for 54 years and has two daughters, Lisa, who has two sons and Dorene. His brother, Larry, widowed, also still lives in Hollywood.Robert’s office building, where he still practices, at 2131 Hollywood Blvd.