FORT LAUDERDALE (CBS4)Fort Lauderdale turns 100 Saturday and the city is celebrating that milestone with year-long events, but none so far equal what is being offered Friday and over the weekend.

The beach-hugged city and spring break destination is known around the world for it’s great beaches,tropical weather and incredible yachts, but it hasn’t always been like that.

When the town became a city in 1911, just 500 people lived here.

“This is exactly where it began,” explained Barbara Keith, standing outside the Stranahan house on the north bank of the New River.  “Nothing else was around.  This was Fort Lauderdale.”

The city was founded by Frank Stranahan and his wife Ivy.  “They are very much known as the father of Fort Lauderdale and the first lady,” Keith said.

The Stranahan’s ran a trading post.  But word of the untamed paradise was spreading.  Thousands of people were literally camped out – wanting to buy land at an auction and move here.

Back then – Fort Lauderdale’s main industry was packing and shipping produce, it is here where the Florida East Coast Railroad met the New River.   At the time,  Fort Lauderdale beach was largely undeveloped, and downtown was nothing more than trees and a few small buildings.

“I helped birth a city,” said Birch Willey.  His family moved here in the late 1800s, but Willey didn’t arrive until the late 1940s.  By that time the city was growing and buildings were sprouting up. The beach already was famous.

“I think we just sped thru most town’s history,” Willey said.  “We covered a lot of territory in a very short period of time, and we probably covered it very well. “

By 1960 the Federal Highway tunnel was nearly complete and downtown was taking shape  and turning into the skyscrapers of today.  By the ocean little beachside motels were replaced by upscale resorts, drawing people from around the world.

But through it all Willey reminds us, even though we may be seen as cosmopolitan, we have still been able to retain somewhat of a small town feel.

“Cosmopolitan may be a little uppity for me, but I think Fort Lauderdale’s a wonderful friendly warm place to be.”

Three days of celebration begin on Friday at 6 pm as a hand-painted 20 x 20 foot mural will be unveiled at Stranahan High School that was inspired by internationally acclaimed 3D pop Artist Charles Fazzino and painted by Stranahan students.

The project, funded by a grant from the Broward Educational Foundation, features the Fort Lauderdale skyline with a dream catcher in front, creating a 3D affect.

City officials, Superintendent James F. Notter and other officials will attend the ribbon cutting.

Then the real fun begins Saturday with Centennial Beachfest, which kicks off at 8 p.m to midnight with live music and fireworks on Fort Lauderdale’s picturesque beachfront, from A1A and Las Olas Boulevard north to the Ritz-Carlton.

The free event will feature outdoor live musical entertainment, family-friendly activities, prizes and giveaways.

Saturday’s grand finale will include a sensational fireworks show at midnight, when Fort Lauderdale officially turns 100. Centennial Beachfest is sponsored by the Fort Lauderdale Beach Community Redevelopment Agency

Festivities are repeated on Sunday from noon to 8 p.m. with Centennial Riverfest, Presented by AutoNation along the Riverwalk promenade in the heart of downtown Fort Lauderdale.

Click here for a list of events and artists.

Visit here for more information about the Centenniel.


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