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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida.
University of Florida
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
Interviewer: Alan Bliss
Interviewee: Benjamin H. Hill, Jr.
October 30, 1999
B: This is Saturday morning, October 30, 1999. I am at the home of Ben Hill, Jr., in
the Carollwood neighborhood of Tampa, Florida, and we are having an interview
today with him. First of all, Mr. Hill, I would like you to tell us your full name and
your middle initial.
H: Benjamin H. Hill, Jr.
B: Very good. When and where were you born, please?
H: I was born in Gainesville, Florida, on May 11, 1917.
B: Where did you go to school?
H: I went to public schools in Hillsborough County and graduated from Hillsborough
High School. We moved to Tampa in 1918, so I was just a baby. Then, [I went
to] the University of Florida and graduated in 1938 [with a] B.S./B.A.
B: In what department or college?
H: Business Administration. [We were] about the first graduates of the Business
Administration College, because it was brand new. Dean Matherly was the dean
B: Walter Matherly. The director of our program, Sam Proctor remembers him. In
fact, I asked Dr. Proctor about you, because he was at the University of Florida
at about that time. He did not remember you but he was a sophomore the same
year that you graduated, so he was a few years behind you. Who else do you
remember from your graduating class?
H: Steve O'Connell [Stephen C. O'Connell, University of Florida President, 1967-
1973] was a classmate of mine, and George Smathers [George A. Smathers,
U.S. Senator from Florida, 1951-1969] was graduating from law school at that
time, that same year. I mean, there were a lot of outstanding people. There were
300 and something graduates. A big class. In fact, my freshman class was the
largest class in history.
B: What did you do after graduation?
H: It took me three months to find a job because those were the Depression days.
We finally found a job in Orlando, Florida, with an automobile finance company.
A new company organized, and my father had been a Chevrolet dealer back in
the years past and, raised in the automobile business, I thought I had some
connection to them. They said they did not want to hire anybody because they
needed experienced people, because it was a brand new company. I said I will
go to work for free and after thirty days, they either hire me or not. So, I went to
HILL.CO 72 page 2
work for free in Orlando, Florida. They paid me after two weeks. They paid me,
and I earned $600 the first year, $50 a month.
B: That was a lot of money in those days.
H: It was not a lot of money when you have to live in a third story attic and buy all of
your meals, pay rent and so forth. That took most of it.
B: Were you married at the time?
H: Oh no.
B: What job were you doing?
H: Collecting and office work, too.
B: Had your father been in the Chevrolet business here, in Tampa?
H: He was the Chevrolet dealer at one time.
B: What was his name?
H: Ben Hill.
B: He would be the senior. Where was his dealership in Tampa?
H: He had three or four around town in different places. He was the first Chevrolet
dealer in this market.
B: Did you ever have an interest in following him into the family business?
H: Later on, after the finance company. I did not like that business. I knew that was
not my cup of tea. So, I went to work for B. F. Goodrich company.
B: Still in Orlando?
H: No, in Tampa, as a trainee. Then, they moved me to Pensacola, to the company
store out there. Actually, they hired me at a $100 a month for training, and $150
a month after training, which was a very good salary in those days. When I got
to Pensacola, I introduced myself as the new manager of the department. A
superintendent said, oh no, he is the new manager, and I said, it does not make
any difference as long as you pay me. He said, that is fine; what do you have? I
said, well, I came out here for $150 a month. He said, how much? I said $150 a
HILL.CO 72 page 3
month. He said, well, the manager only makes $98. So, they raised his salary
to $105 and left me at $100. In both cases, in Tampa and at the training, I had
led the whole southeastern United States in sales. So, I had been with them a
year and I said, I resign. So, I did. Of course, they offered me $200 a month to
stay. I said, no, if you have to resign to get a raise, I will just quit now. Then, I
came back to Tampa, and opened up a used car dealership in Tampa, on
B: On North Florida Avenue? About how far north?
H: At 7th Avenue, at the intersection.
B: What was the name of your dealership?
H: Ben Hill, Jr.
B: What year was that?
B: Were things getting any better for business in Tampa by then?
H: Well, we started up, and we were very successful, until 1941 came and Pearl
Harbor. There was no way you could stay in business and be honest, because
the government rules and regulations prevented you from that. You had to have
tire registrations, gasoline books... Gasoline books, when you sold a car, were
so heavy, and no one had the tires on there that were registered to be on there.
I mean, there was no way you could be honest and stay in it.
B: All this was because of rationing?
H: Right. Well, OPA, the Office of Price Administration. They put in rules and
regulations. So, at that time, my brother-in-law was in the Navy, and he wanted
me to send him some cigars because the people where he was could not get any
cigars. I found out that we had cigars in Tampa, but we did not have them
anywhere else, so I went into the cigar business. There was just a shortage.
B: I see. What year was this?
B: So, was it about then that you closed up your car dealership?
HILL.CO 72 page 4
H: I closed it up.
B: Now, let me back up just a minute. You mentioned a brother-in-law. Did you get
married somewhere in the...?
H: Yes, I got married in 1940.
B: Who did you marry?
H: Helen Del Valle.
B: Was she from Tampa?
H: Yes, she was a native.
B: Where did she go to high school?
B: Did you know her at Hillsborough?
H: No. I knew her brothers and sisters but not her. She was younger.
B: Okay. Back to 1943, and you are deciding to go into the cigar business.
H: So, I went into the cigar business, which was a pretty large business.
B: What was the name of that business?
H: Ben Hill, Jr. Wholesale Cigars. I went to Chicago and made a contract with
Sears Roebuck for $1,000,000 worth of cigars. I think that was the largest cigar
sale that had ever been made.
B: It is still 1943?
H: Somewhere in that neighborhood, yes. The early 1940s.
B: You started off with a bang.
H: Well, I had been in it for a year or so at the time. I think they made a deal for the
Christmas catalogue selling cigars. I started shipping, and I would ship over a
$250,000 worth of cigars to various places. Donnelly Publishing Company, who
publishes their Christmas catalogue, had a strike. Something serious happened
HILL.CO 72 page 5
with the Christmas catalogue.
B: That was Donnelly? The same outfit that publishes city directories?
H: Yes. They went on a strike, so Sears Roebuck had no Christmas catalogue.
B: And what year was that? 1944?
H: I think it was 1944, yes. So, they prevailed upon me to cancel the contract, but I
had gone into the deal with the idea that a brokerage fee was all I wanted on
that kind of a deal. If I had made 5 percent net, I would be happy. When I went
to Chicago to negotiate the deal, there was a typical Yankee guy, a big arrogant
type who was going to tell you what to do and what not to do. So, I did not tell
him what I had in mind as far as price was concerned. So, finally, when he got
to the time of the price, I knew he was going to negotiate me down.
H: So, I started off with 20 percent, and he did not negotiate me down.
H: So, on the $250,000 I shipped, more or less, I made as much as I would have if I
had shipped the whole $1,000,000 worth.
B: So, you did not get hurt too bad.
H: I did not get hurt too bad. Then, of course, I got out of the cigar business,
because I had closed my other accounts to take care of this one big one.
B: And that was at the end of 1944?
H: Somewhere in there. About that time, the war was over with.
B: Oh, this was after the end of the war, so that would have been Christmas of
H: Yes, I guess. Anyhow, a friend of mine who was in Junior Chamber of
Commerce, because I was very active in that...
B: You had already joined the Junior Chamber of Commerce?
H: Oh yes, I had been there for years.
HILL.CO 72 page 6
B: When did you start out with that?
B: Right after school.
H: Right, and served as president in 1944 and state president in 1945. So, he was
a Jewish boy, a nice kid and a good friend, and he was in the men's wear
B: What was his name?
H: Leo Hirsch. So we felt, oh, the boys are coming home from the service; it would
be a good deal to go into the men's wear business. So, I financed him in the
men's wear business.
B: This was Leo Hirsch?
H: Yes, and we operated under the name of Hirsch-Hill. He ran the business. I did
not care about the business, did not care about running it. It was an association
that turned sour, which partnerships have a way of doing. He made many
unauthorized expenditures. He agreed to the parting. Then, I was stuck with the
store. So I either had to do [one of] two things, either work at that $30,000 of
debt, which was a lot of money in 1949.
B: This was 1949, by then?
H: Yes, and I either had to go bankrupt or work somehow to pay it off.
B: Where was this store located?
H: In the Tampa Terrace Hotel and then later on in the Marine Bank building. It
was a fine store, and we did real well, but...
B: Did you change the name after you lost your partner?
H: Yes, just to Ben Hill. But, I went to the head of the Economic Development
Committee at that time, George Howell, who was the president of the bank.
B: The Marine Bank?
H: Yes, and I said, George, I need to borrow $10,000. He said, what are you going
to do with it? I said, well, I owe $30,000 to the suppliers, and I am going to pay
HILL.CO 72 page 7
each one of them a third of what I owe them and say, we will work out the rest of
it. He said, how are you going to pay it back? I said, damned if I know; but, I
just will try. He said, okay. So, he gave me the $10,000, and I paid it off, but it
took me quite a few years to work all of that debt off.
B: I bet.
H: So, I ended up staying in the mens' wear business in one form or another until
B: Until 1980? You had a good long run at that, especially for a business you did
not intend to get into.
H: I did not really enjoy it. When I retired, the Tampa Times was the afternoon
paper. I picked up the paper at lunch one day, and there was my picture on the
front page, saying I was retired.
B: That was how you found out.
H: I knew I was retiring, but I did not know they had a picture. I stayed in that in
one way or another, and I organized the Self-Service Suit Centers, which were
B: When did you do that?
H: It would be about early 1970s.
B: Where did they start operating?
H: Out on North Dale Mabry.
B: In a mall?
H: No, individual stores. We ended up with five stores.
B: All in Tampa?
H: Tampa and Bartow. I enjoyed that better then the other, because it was all cash.
But, that was my career, basically. Then, I retired in 1980 or 1981.
B: So, it was right about at the end of the war that you got out of the cigar business
and into the mens wear business. This fellow who was your partner for a time,
Leo Hirsch, had he been in the armed forces?
HILL.CO 72 page 8
B: What had he done before?
H: He was with Maas Brothers' Department Store.
B: Alright. Well, let us talk a little bit then, if we can, about...
H: Now, if you want military service, I mean, I had no military service but I had an
unusual military experience.
B: Please tell us.
H: First of all, I was married.
B: That was in 1940, right?
H: Right. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the first year we were married, we had my
son named Ben Hill, III.
B: Congratulations. I was going to ask about that.
H: So, Ben was born prior to Pearl Harbor and anyone who was a father prior to
Pearl Harbor was exempt from the draft. That was at the beginning. Well, that
was fine. I went to Lamar Sarra and Jimmy Hughes who were fraternity brothers
of mine. Lamar Sarra is an outstanding educator in Jacksonville and an
attorney. Jim Hughes ended up in the sports business, I think. They were both
outstanding athletes at the University of Florida. They were friends, and they
were appointed as recruiting officers. So, that was fine. I said, okay. I had
taken partially advanced military at the University. Everybody took advanced
military at the University because they paid you, and that gave us money to go to
school. So, I was in there, and they kicked me out because I was color blind.
So, I figured if they would recruit me, I would get my commission. But, they
found out I had a little heart problem, so that killed that. Then, I was drafted.
B: What year? After Pearl Harbor?
H: Yes. So, I went down to get on the bus to go to Camp Blanding, and the
Western Union boy came up there and said, everybody, get off the bus. So, we
all got off and he said, as soon as we call your name, step forward. I stepped
forward. He said, you fellas, go on home. I said, what is this about? If you are
over twenty-seven, they do not want you. I had been twenty-seven the week or
HILL.CO 72 page 9
B: You kept dodging the bullet.
H: So, okay, I went home. Then, I went to the army specialist corps. You had to be
a college graduate. You had to have a physical infirmity, which I had my heart
problem. They would give you quartermaster corps.
B: Okay. This was the army specialty corps, and they sent you to the
H: That is what they do, so I went there.
B: You mean that would be the same thing as the quartermaster corps?
H: Right. So, I went in there because I had all the credentials they wanted,
because there were not too many college graduates in those days. And he
signed me up and all and he said, wait a minute; how old are you now? I think I
was twenty-eight. He said, you have to be over thirty. I said, okay. So, that was
the end of that. To make a short story, the Navy came up with the same type of
program, physical infirmity, and boom, boom, boom. So, I went to my
cardiologist, and he had been a Navy doctor. I said, doc, will you give me a
waiver on my heart the Navy will accept? He said, sure, because this would be
in the same type of corps.
B: The supply corps.
H: The supply corps. So, I went in with it and asked for a review. So, I mean, it
sounds ludicrous. As I started out the door, he said, wait a minute, come here;
you have to take this color-blindness test. The Ishihara test, have you ever
H: Do you remember it?
H: I cannot read those damn numbers. So, they said, we cannot accept you, you
are color blind. Well, the last string was, I filed to the draft board again. I tried
to volunteer several times, and nobody would take me. So, they finally drafted
me. I went to Camp Blanding with all the guys with one leg and one arm. I
mean, this was the beginning of the dregs now. So, if you ever went through the
army physical, you go in a row, boom, boom, boom, you know, the doctors would
interview you. Now, one person who spoke to me, when I got to the end of the
HILL.CO 72 page 10
line and made a right-hand turn-I will never forget the guy-the doctor was sitting
there and he said, are you married? I said, yes sir. He said, go ahead. And
that was the only doctor who spoke to me going through the whole line. When I
got to the end of the line, they stamped it, Accepted, Army, Navy, Marine. At
that time, they accepted you and then you go home, and then they send you to
Camp Benning for induction and a real physical again, I guess. Well, I have
never heard from them since. So, as far as I know, I am still accepted to the
Army and Navy and Marine Corps.
B: They may call you any day.
H: They may call me any day. But, that was a rather unusual military service. We
had a coast guard volunteer [program], and I was in that locally.
B: Was that the Coast Guard Auxiliary?
H: Yes. We watched for submarines every night in Tampa Bay. (Laughs). I was in
the draft. But, it was rather unusual because I was one who never tried to get
out of the service. I could have had deferments.
B: It sounds as though you worked pretty hard trying to get in.
H: I was trying to get in, and I never could get in. It was an interesting experience,
B: I should say. Well, let me just get into the record here about your family. We
know about your wife, Helen Del Valle, and your son, Ben Hill, III. Any other
H: Then, there is Ann Hill Stephens and R. Pat Hill and Jane Hill McMullian.
McMullian, according to him, is an old family name from out in west Florida in the
history of Florida. That was the name back in the old days of west Florida.
B: Do you have grandchildren?
H: I have nine grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
B: They are all over the place!
H: Yes, we have a pretty good run.
B: The Hills are legion.
HILL.CO 72 page 11
H: Ben is, of course, the older boy, and he is an attorney in Tampa. His two boys
graduated from Vanderbilt. One went into law school at Wake Forest, and the
other went to law school at Stetson. They are both now lawyers in Tampa. So,
we have three lawyers in Tampa.
B: That is quite a legacy.
H: But, they are not connected. I mean, Ben has his own firm. He organized his
firm, and he said he wanted no nepotism. So, when his boys came home...
B: He could not change the tune then.
H: He has been outstanding. He was just selected as the Outstanding Lawyer in
Florida and Tampa. He was president of the Florida Bar and the president of
Hillsborough Bar Association. Now, he is director of the National Bar.
B: You must be mighty proud of him.
H: He has his own law firm now. He got out of the large firm because he wanted a
small firm, and now he has 100 and something employees. What I was really
proud of, as far as he is concerned, is back in my heyday when I was selected
as Outstanding Young Man in Tampa, in 1938, and then he came along twenty-
seven years [later] and was selected as the Outstanding Young Man in Tampa.
B: That is a nice thing, is it not?
H: I was President of the Kiwanis, he was President of the Kiwanis. The boy has
done an outstanding job.
B: Was he ever in the Jaycees, like you were?
H: No. The Jaycees, starting after the war, when Tampa got to be a bigger town,
they lost their... we were a very powerful organization early, and for years, but
same as the Rotary, the Kiwanis, and all the others, they dissipated because
they started organizing clubs all over town. So, the Jaycees did not come out.
B: Let us talk about that then. This is probably a good time to turn the conversation
to the Jaycees. It sounds like you must have gotten involved right on the ground
H: I attended the University of Florida. People ask you where you are from. I said,
Tampa, Florida. Oh, [they responded]--Little Chicago. Well, Tampa had the
reputation of [being a] Little Chicago--mass murders, gambling and corruption
HILL.CO 72 page 12
and so forth. Well, I got embarrassed about being from Tampa. I had been in
the Jaycees not too long, a year maybe.
B: When was this that you joined up?
H: I think I actually first joined in 1938.
B: When you were fresh out of the University?
H: Right, and then I was out of town, so I did not get active until the 1940s. I was at
the meeting one night, and we got to talking, and I was the kind of person who
never got up and spoke. So, I got mad and got up and made the statement that I
was tired of seeing Tampa being castigated, like it was when I was in college, as
Little Chicago and so forth.
B: Do you remember what it was that made you mad at that meeting?
H: I have no idea. It was just some of the conversation. It was the first speech I
ever made. Not that I instigated anything, but at that time, we were beginning
this idea of doing something to get rid of criminals.
B: Who was the mayor of Tampa at that time? Was that when it was still Chancey
[Robert E. Lee Chancey, Mayor of Tampa, 1931-1943] or after Hixon [Curtis
Hixon, Mayor of Tampa, 1943-1956] became mayor?
H: It was during Hixon's administration when it really was bad. Unfortunately, I had
no respect for him. He was a little two-bit pharmacist who got to be mayor and
country commissioner and so forth. I guess the best example I can give you is
that his chief of police was Jack Eddings. My mother-in-law lived on Davis
Island and across the street from them was Jack Eddings' home, a nice new
home. So, on Sunday, we usually would stop by and visit my mother-in-law.
Clarabelle, who is Jack's wife, came running across the street when she saw us
and said, oh, you have to come see my new house. I cannot give you the
definite details of these things, but I can give you the gist of the conversation.
Santo Trafficante gave us the most beautiful living room suit; Primo Lazarra
gave us this, this, this; and she named the whole credit, all the crooks in town,
and Mafia and all. They all bought furniture so that it furnished the whole house.
B: All these were benefactors of Jack Eddings'?
H: That was the chief of police, Hixon's chief of police.
B: And these benefactors of his are members of organized crime?
HILL.CO 72 page 13
H: Oh, these are all organized crime members.
B: What year was this, do you reckon? Still while the war was going on?
H: No, no, after the war.
B: Let us return to the Jaycees. You had a meeting where you gave voice to your
unhappiness with Tampa's image.
H: Right, I was the first speaker. In organizations, usually, and the Jaycees are a
good example, when you get up and make noise, they will put you to work.
B: That is true.
H: So, I got active in it. I think it was in 1944 that I was elected president of the
Jaycees. At my first director's meeting, I said, gentlemen, you know, we ought to
do something that would be remembered of this year as our heritage, and I
suggest that we change the city government! There had been some rumors
going around They said, how are you going to do that? I said, who
knows how we are going to do it? All I know is, we just try to change it. So, I
appointed a fellow named Don Gregory as chairman. Don was a young attorney
and really an excellent person. He died real young, but he made a real study of
city charters. We got city charters from Nashville, I think, and Cincinnati. It was
not a haphazard setup. He came up with an idea for changing the city
B: Don Gregory, you appointed him chairman of what?
H: Of the committee.
B: Committee of the Jaycees?
H: Yes. As an outgrowth of all that, they had a Council of the Round Table, city club
presidents, Rotary Club, Kiwanis Club. All of the presidents all belonged to this
one Round Table and met, probably, once a month. As the president of the
Jaycees, I was on the committee, in that group, and I did something that had
never been done before and something that I am proud of. We got the Rotary
Club, the Kiwanis Club, and all the clubs in Tampa to endorse a change in the
city government, and they are not supposed to get into politics. So, we got that
organized, and they organized a city-wide committee then and made a fellow by
the name of W. J. Barrett, Jr. chairman, who was head of Borden's Ice Cream
Company and a very outstanding young man in town. Now, this was the senior
committee, not the Jaycees committee. I was vice chairman. Of course, he did
HILL.CO 72 page 14
not know what was going on, so I ran the committee.
B: Were you still president of the Jaycees at this time?
H: I might have been out of it by that time, because this went on for several years.
To make a short story, we went out and raised quite a few thousand dollars, and
I worked with the attorney and drew up a city charter.
B: And the attorney was Don Gregory?
H: No, we paid this one. I think I paid him $12,000 to write the charter.
B: Who was that?
H: O. K. Reaves. Judge Reaves. He was a former judge. The judge and I worked
on that thing for quite a few months. He would read the legal part, and I would
do the lay part, so to speak, and we presented it. This all got into a real hassle
in the Chamber of Commerce, and boom-boom-boom--but it finally got to the
point where it was presented to the legislature.
B: How did the Tampa City Board of Representatives react to all of this?
H: They were not very happy, and Mr. Hixon was very unhappy.
B: So, they would not have anything to do with you?
H: Oh no. Somebody wrote a mystery bill, which took our bill and changed the
words "city manager" to "mayor." That was about the only change in it. At that
time, we had three representatives and one senator from Hillsborough County in
the legislature. So, the senator had to agree to it or that is it; it is dead because
it would not go through the senate; it needs one senator.
B: And who was the senator?
H: Raymond Sheldon.
B: Do you remember who the representatives were?
H: I believe it was Martin, Branch and McMullin.
B: Now, was this before you ran for legislature?
H: Oh yes. This is the background that led up to all of that.
HILL.CO 72 page 15
B: So, this would have probably been 1946 or 1947 when all of this was
H: Around that time. Anyhow, the mystery bill had the political support. Raymond
Sheldon, a friend of mine, was really a politician. He was the senator. It got to
the last day of the legislature, and it is 11:00. Now, it adjourns at 12:00.
B: That is a dangerous time.
H: So, we had the committee meeting in the Chamber of Commerce building. So, I
got on the phone with Raymond. I said, Ray, are you going to pass this bill? He
said, nope. I will pass the mystery bill. Well, we got the change in the
representatives, not to change the mayor but to change the representatives.
B: And what was that change?
H: It went from ward to citywide, I believe it was at the time, elections.
B: I see. For every seat on the board of representatives?
H: Yes, I think that is what it was. So, I had to sit there, so I went back to, the
committee, all these men from various city clubs. I said, gentlemen, I have
Raymond Sheldon on the phone right now; he will not pass the bill; he will pass
this. They said, well, what do you recommend? I said, well, if I tell him no, we
have nothing, and all of this work went for nought; and if I tell him yes, we have,
maybe, a half a loaf, and maybe a half a loaf will be better than no loaf at all.
So, they said okay. So I said, okay, Ray, go ahead and pass the bill. So, they
passed the bill, and that is how we got our city charter changed.
B: And it went through the whole legislature.
H: Yes, it is automatic.
B: Why was it, do you suppose, that Senator Sheldon was opposed to passing it
the way you wrote it?
H: Well, he was tied in with Hixon.
B: I see. So, he did not want to do anything that would discomfort Curtis Hixon?
B: How did they come to be so closely allied?
HILL.CO 72 page 16
H: They were both politicians. They were not office holders. I have always said
there is a difference.
B: So, Mayor Hixon's job did not change much as a result of this bill?
H: Well, it changed this way: we have now, what they call the strongest mayor form
of government in the country, because the mayor has all the power of a city
B: It is just like we elect a city manager.
H: Yes. Frankly, I cannot criticize it; it has worked out very well.
B: But, it was not what you had in mind?
H: It was not what I had in mind. I had a city manager in mind.
B: What you had in mind was an appointed city manager and a weaker mayor?
H: Just a figurehead mayor.
B: Sort of like St. Petersburg used to have?
H: Yes, the same thing. A typical city manager [form].
B: How did the Board of Representatives like this new change where they had to
H: They did not get elected. That is where we organized VOTE.
B: I see. Well, let us get to VOTE in just a moment. I have one more question
about the way this bill worked. When the Board of Representatives had to run
for election citywide, did that improve things, as far as Mayor Hixon was
concerned and as far as getting in the new Board of Representatives?
H: I do not think it did. In fact, he had more power underneath the new charter, so
he did not criticize anything. I do not think he took any part in it. In fact, I am
sure even that he ran for any of them. I do not think they [incumbent city
representatives] even ran for election...
B: [Tape interrupted.] Well, we were just finishing up talk about the proposal to
change the city charter which eventually came to be partly successful, but then
you were starting to tell me about something called VOTE.
HILL.CO 72 page 17
H: Voice Of The Electorate, yes.
B: How did that get started?
H: Well, we figured it this way. I guess you would call it the poor taste that being a
political office holder had garnered in Tampa over all these bad years, so it was
hard to get any, what you would call, responsible citizens to run for the office.
So, we said, we will do this--now, this is the Voice Of The Electorate, VOTE-we
will raise the money, pay your qualifying fee; we will manage your campaign; we
will write your speeches, if it is necessary; all you have to do is give us the
permission to put your name on the ballot.
B: From this clipping that you are showing me, it looks like that started up sometime
right around 1950 or 1951?
H: It is a funny thing we did not put dates on things in those days. But, June 30 is
B: This would have been probably 1952 that this was going on. I see you endorsed
Lloyd Copeland, J. G. "Jim" Edwards, S. N. "Stu" Phillips, and Wesley
Hammond, all for the Board of Representatives in that election.
H: Right. If I remember correctly, they all got elected. That was the beginning of,
you might say, the change in the attitude of government, because these were all
responsible citizens and they were doing a civic duty, not a political duty, and
that is what we aimed at.
B: Now, you had support in this organization called VOTE from...what kind of
groups were interested in seeing this happen? Your outfit, the Jaycees...
H: Actually, it became almost a citywide deal. I mean, the Tribune supported it very
B: How about the Tampa Times?
H: And the Tampa Times. I am not sure whether it had been bought out by the
Tribune at that time. The Times was strictly Hixon. They owned that. They ran
B: How about the Chamber of Commerce, itself?
H: The Chamber of Commerce, itself, I do not think they took any part in VOTE, but
there was no opposition to VOTE.
HILL.CO 72 page 18
B: They did not fight you?
H: Nobody at the Chamber of Commerce. We had a committee which headed the
organization, with seven members, and we met in secret in the boardroom of the
First National Bank. We only had three banks in Tampa in those days, you
know, or two banks, really, the First National and the Exchange. The presidents
of both banks and the editor of the Tribune and the editor of the Times and
Frank Jackson, of Jackson Grain Company, an influential person in town...
B: What was the Jackson Grain Company?
H: Feed products. Then, W. J. Barrett was there, so there were seven of us. We
had a ballot go out to all the members of the Chamber of Commerce, and it came
back affirmative for us, I mean, for what we wanted, what I wanted.
B: Which was this...?
H: The change in the government.
B: We are talking about the charter change?
H: The charter change, right. That is where it all started, see. So, Mr. Griffin and
Mr. Taliafero were both bankers and if you wanted anything in Tampa, you had
to go through them--in other words, they were autonomous as far as everything
in Tampa, and they were Hixon's boys, too. [Imitates gruff voice]: "I do not think
we ought to do this."
B: That is how they spoke?
H: This was back in this secret committee. So anyway, to make a short story, they
had a vote, and it was six to one. I was the one.
B: What were the six [voting to do]?
H: They were against changing the city charter. This is all Hixon's group, see?
B: I see.
H: So, he got to them. And so, I said, I do not think that this is right, and all. And, I
did some things that--I was only twenty-seven years old. I mean, I was not a
seasoned person in those days, and I would speak my mind pretty frankly. I got
up and told Mr. Griffin--and he was the president at Exchange Bank, a fine old
gentleman, but he owned Tampa, he held it in his hands--I said, you know, there
HILL.CO 72 page 19
has been many a strange thing we have made in this town, but Tampa will never
get into to until you die. And this was true. And then I went on. That was the
mildest I think I had to say. Mr. Smiley, who was head of the Times, had
endorsed this program but, when Mr. Hixon indicated, he changed over.
B: He turned around on his vote?
H: I said, did you not endorse this program when we went to see you? He said,
yes, but I have a right to change my mind! I said, I am not questioning whether
you can change your mind, but I do question the fact that you can change your
principles. (Laughs). He wrote a whole editorial about me where I wanted so-
and-so, how it was. Anyhow, when I got through talking, W. J. Barrett, who was
a fine person, W.J. said, well, you know, I think Ben is right, and I want to
change my vote. Then, Ed Lambright who was editor of the Tribune... [End of
Side 1, Tape A.] ...you know, Ben that is right, so well, I am going to change my
vote. So, we submitted a report to the Chamber, three and four, at the board of
B: So, this was sort of a subcommittee of the board of governors of the Chamber?
H: Yes. So, as I said, I was not a hot head, but I guess I was probably too freely
speaking sometimes, looking back at it sometimes. But, I got to the board of
governors, and I made the same pitch again, and the board of governors voted
in favor of it, of what we wanted.
B: Was it a unanimous vote?
H: The other four were still against it. Still, we won the majority.
B: But, it was a big vote? A clear majority?
H: A clear majority.
B: That must have made Curtis Hixon unhappy.
H: Oh yes. But anyhow, I know, we went back to my store from the Hillsborough
Hotel, from where the meeting was. Carl Brorien, who was the head of the
telephone company [General Telephone], and Bill Waring, who was a big
fertilizer dealer here in town, an outstanding man, walked down with me--now
Ben, calm down, calm down. (Laughs). But, when they came out of it, it was
really interesting. Because I really did castigate Mr. Griffin. He parked his car
just down from where my store was in the hotel. I guess maybe it probably was
every week or once every month or so, he always stopped in, and I was one of
HILL.CO 72 page 20
his best friends ever since then, because I was the first person in Tampa that
ever went against him publicly, or openly. He had character. I mean, he said,
look--he did not, maybe, appreciate what I said, but I appreciate the fact that you
had the guts to say it.
B: Did he patronize your business?
H: Oh yes, a little bit, and I did not bank with him! (Laughs). But what I would call
the outcome of it was very interesting. Anyhow, this all leads up to VOTE, so we
are getting all these things in. Then, the next thing on VOTE that came up was
the county. We did "straighten out the city", representative city government.
Then, we had to go after the county government, so we went to the sheriff, the
state's attorney, and county solicitor, which are the three law enforcement
officers in the county. So, we put up Ed Blackburn for sheriff, Red McKewen, a
former Gator football player and attorney, as state's attorney, and Paul Johnson,
a young kid just out of the service, as county solicitor, and we got those three
B: Who were they running against?
H: They were running against the old time incumbents.
B: And the old sheriff would have been Culbreath.
H: Yes, I think. In other words, we made a clean sweep. Then, from then on, as far
as that part of the government, the law enforcement area of the city, there has
never been any rumors or things--it has been pretty well straight.
B: So, you would say this was probably a time of pretty major reform efforts.
H: It was a complete change. It really was.
B: And you think it all came from the younger generation?
H: Oh, it all started back from the beginning. What I was trying to tell you to start
with, before we could have any economic development in this town, we had to
get the crime era out of the way. We had to get the city government back on
track, and we had to get the county's law enforcement back on track. Then, we
had to annex the suburbs to bring in the people who really ran Tampa. Now,
after we accomplished all of those things, then economic development could be
accomplished. There was a saying, if you wanted-just name any big
corporation-ABC corporation, wanted to come to Tampa, they had to get
clearance from the bank to get in.
HILL.CO 72 page 21
B: From a local bank?
H: I mean, are you going to do your banking here, where are you going to do your
banking? Where are you going to do this, this, this? I mean, it was a closed
B: A closed community?
H: Right, and so George Howell, his bank came up about that time. It came up, and
it was Marine Bank and Trust Company. That made a competitive bank, and the
whole town just started growing after that, I mean, after the war.
B: Did that make a big difference, having a third bank in town?
H: Oh yes, definitely.
B: I see. How did he get started with that bank?
H: He was from the Exchange Bank, originally, and his father-in-law had a savings
and loan bank, a saving and trust bank, they called that thing.
B: Here in Tampa?
H: Yes, and he took over that with his father-in-law. Then, he branched that into
Marine Bank and Trust Company.
B: I see. What year would that have been that he started up the Marine Bank?
H: Early 1940s.
B: During the war or after the war?
H: It might have been during the war. Well, it had to be part during the war
because that is when he became involved in the Economic Development
[Committee]. He was the head of that.
B: He was its President.
H: Of course, the bank was already there. They just changed the name of it, the
operation of it when he took over. A young fellow like yourself would never get
started in Tampa. There is no way in the world you would open a business in
HILL.CO 72 page 22
B: Because I would not have a banker?
H: Well, you would not have any money, and they would not loan you money unless
you have got money. (Laughs). As I said, it was a closed corporation. But,
when all those things happened, now-this is what I am trying to get at; I mean, I
can look back now and see it, you see. When you see all this happen, then it
began to grow. I mean, this company came in, and that company came in, and
we had a tremendous growth.
B: You talked about the city charter changes. Then, you talked about VOTE a little
bit. Were there other elections that this VOTE group played a role in?
H: As I said, the two different ones, the city representatives and the police officers,
you might say, of the county.
B: Did VOTE stay in operation after that?
H: No, that was it. We did our job. Well, actually, we had three representatives, a
fellow E. P. Martin, from Plant City and John Branch and Neil McMullin. Now,
John was not a bad person, and Neil was a nice guy, but E. P. was the old hack
and we had to get rid of him. There was no way we could. He was powerful.
So, we got a fellow by the name of Jim Moody to run, and he was a fine young
man and an attorney in Plant City with a very fine family in Plant City. I handled
all of his campaign for him. I mean, he did not know anything about politics. I
took him and introduced him around. We paid his qualifying fee. We did all
B: What kind of business had he been in?
H: He was an attorney, and he ended up getting elected. So, we accomplished,
really, three things, in the city, state, and county.
B: Yes. How about the state senate race? Did you ever get involved in that?
H: John Branch, I think, ran for the senate. We did not take any part in the thing,
then. But, it was interesting, to show you the type of person we got elected, Jim
Moody. He and his wife Irma, after he served his first term in the legislature and
he came home, we had he and his wife out for dinner at the house. So, Jim and
I were sitting there talking and I said, well, Jim, what was your impression of the
fact of you being a legislator? He said, well, frankly, I am not happy with it. He
said, let me tell you exactly what happened. He said, there was a certain bill that
came up, and he then explained what the bill was. Of course, he was an
attorney, and he was very good attorney. He goes, I went over that bill for, oh,
HILL.CO 72 page 23
several weeks, I read the bill and studied it, and I was pretty well convinced that
this was a good bill. Well, it was coming up for a vote in a few weeks. The night
before the vote, he said, I went back over it again and again, and I said, yes, this
is it; I will vote for it. So, he went down to the hotel. I think he stayed at the
Florida Hotel there in Tallahassee. That is where all the legislators usually
stayed. So, he came down for breakfast, and this lobbyist came over and sat
down at the table with him and offered him $10,000 if he would vote for the bill.
Of course, I did not even have to ask him what he did. I know what he did. He
voted against the bill. There, he had spent several weeks studying it, committed
himself personally, not to anyone else but, this was a good bill and I will vote for
it. But he said, when he found out they would give me $10,000 to vote for it, I
know there is something in there I did not read. And he voted against it, and that
typifies the type of person we got into office.
B: But, you think the former representatives might not have had that kind of an
H: Well, I know the guy he faced would not have. He would probably have asked
him for it [money] to start with. (Laughs). I cannot say that from knowledge, but
he was that type of a person.
B: What was the next issue that needed attention? Was it annexation or the crime
commission by then?
H: I think by that time, MacDill [Army Air] Field was largely responsible during the
war of cleaning up Ybor City.
B: How did that happen?
H: They just put it off limits. It either closed down or got off limits.
B: I see. Who did they give that ultimatum to?
H: To the whole city, the residents, actually the city officials. But, it was really
interesting. In 1940, when I was with the Goodrich Tire Company, I was
stationed in Ybor City for training at this store out there. To me, it was very
interesting. The sheriff could not find the bolita operations.
B: He could not find them even though he was looking?
H: But, there was the Yellow Shack, Ralph Riena's and the Peach Bar, these were
all names of the place where they had bolita. There were maybe a dozen
different ones. I cannot remember all of them. Those were the more prominent
HILL.CO 72 page 24
B: Were these taverns?
H: Oh yes, taverns, bars.
B: All in Ybor City?
H: All in Ybor City, or West Tampa. At that time, the General Telephone Company,
Peninsula Telephone Company, at the time, had a letter proceeding the number,
like H stood for Hyde Park, Y for Ybor City, M for the Main part of town, S for
Seminole Heights, and then your number. Well, in Ybor City, you called Y55,
any two numbers, and you got a bolita joint. (Laughs). They had a special circuit
for bolita joints, because they got many, many calls during the day, you know.
Y55 and any two numbers, and you get one of the houses, and find out what did
Cuba throw, what did this one throw. But the sheriff could never find the houses.
All you had to do was pick up the telephone, and you had it. I have always
thought that was rather unique.
B: That tells a story, does it not? So, the officials at MacDill Army Air Field, I guess
it was, during the wartime, were they concerned about bolita or was it other
H: They were concerned about the prostitution mostly, I think. Bolita did not bother
them too much, no. Of course, at that time, the Trafficantes and that had not
come up. You had, really, and this would be my own analysis, not anything else,
you had two factions in bolita gambling. You had the Italians, which is the
Trafficantes--the Mafia group. Then you had what would be the Spanish or
Cubans, in this group. As long as there was no fighting...the Cuban group, I
believe I would call it, or the Spanish group, was headed by a fellow by the name
of Charlie Wall, who was a member of a very prominent family in Tampa. His
brother, I think, was head postmaster, and they were one of the old families of
Tampa. Charlie was kind of the renegade of the group and as long as he had it,
there was no problem. Things were pretty clean. But then, once you got the
factions, the Trafficantes, when the Mafia started in the deal, this is when things
happened and they started having the killings and the shootings and so forth.
So, that was a situation that was bad, but originally, bolita was no more offensive
than the [Florida state-run] Lottery is today. When they got fighting, that is when
it got bad. The only time I ever fell out with them was when I found out that the
fellows writing bolita would go to the cigar factories, and when they came out for
lunch, he would take their number and then sell them bolita on credit. When he
started selling it on credit, I thought that was bad.
HILL.CO 72 page 25
B: Yes, that is a dangerous habit.
H: As long as they are paying a nickel or a dime, I would not worry about it, but
when they started putting it on credit, I thought that was a bad deal. Then, you
had some of the prominent people in Tampa who got involved in this thing. I
cannot name any names on it because I could not prove it if it came up, but I
know several of them personally. In fact, I knew all of them personally, basically.
But, if you were a bolita operator, selling bolita--I mean not the salesman, but,
you know, the Ralph Riena, who was the operator-maybe you got a heavy play
on the number seven, and boy, if that hits you, you can get hurt. So, he would
sell off seven to these prominent people in Tampa. They would take, alright, I
will pay seven; you pay me $100 or $500 or whatever it is, and I will take the
seven; if it comes up, I will pay it off for you. So, they laid off the bet, is what
they did. So, there were a lot of prominent people in this town who were laying
off bets in those days. Of course, it was pretty good money. I mean, if you got
hit, you had one chance of 100 of losing, so it came out pretty good. So, laying
off the bets became a pretty good thing for some of the prominent people.
B: You mentioned earlier something about an outfit called the crime commission?
H: It came up before VOTE. It was aimed basically at the county, at the county
office, at the sheriff and so forth.
B: When was this? Was it about the same time?
H: It was probably in the 1950s.
B: Was it after the charter changes?
H: Yes. The crime commission came in, and we organized the crime commission.
One of my best friends, Dick Saunders, who was in Jaycees, he was chairman of
it. Dick, of course, we were very close, and we both worked on that very closely.
We had a good representative group on the board. It was a good commission.
We hired Ralph Mills, who was a Kefauver [Kefauver Committee, Senate
committee chaired by Democratic U.S. Senator from Tennessee Estes Kefauver]
person, a former FBI man who came in as director of the crime commission.
B: Was he a local fellow?
B: You brought him in from out of town?
HILL.CO 72 page 26
H: We brought him in, yes. I will tell you--to show you how this thing worked, in my
store in the hotel happened to be right across the street from the courthouse
where the sheriff's office and so forth were at. To get in my front door-the front
door was set back about four feet from the sidewalk with an opening there-when
I came around the corner to go into the store, there was a man standing there,
and it was the Sheriff's, Culbreath's, right-hand man. And he said, hi Ben, and I
B: What was the fellow's name, do you remember?
H: It may come to me. So, we went into the store and he said, are you and Hugh
not pretty good friends? I said, yes, we are good friends.
B: Referring to the sheriff?
H: Yes. He said, well, I just wanted to check on you. I said, okay. Well, then I got
a call that day that I was called to the Grand Jury to say something. They knew
in advance what was going on in this town, that is what I am trying to get at.
One of the most interesting things on that same thought--Nick Nuccio was
mayor. This was many years later. And Nick Nuccio was a customer of mine. A
very unusual person. They just built a statue for him in Ybor City this past week.
Nick was quite a guy. He had the Italian accent, and all that went with it. He did
not like my daddy because my daddy was made superintendent of the sanitary
department during the Chancey administration. They had one mule, one bucket,
and one Italian (each) sweeping the streets, and about thirty or forty or fifty
[teams of] mules and Italians, and so on. Well daddy bought one street sweeper
(laughs) and laid all those people off because of it, and they were all Italians .
They were Nick's friends.
B: He mechanized the street division?
H: Yes, but Nick and I became good friends. I made clothes. I mean, I was in the
men's wear business. I made his clothes and he called me and said, I will meet
you tomorrow morning; I want a suit. I said, okay. So, that meant I would go
down there at four o'clock A.M. He and I would have coffee, and then we would
go ahead and make him the suit, pick out what he wanted. He always went to
work before daylight, as mayor. I mean, he was quite a character. We were
good friends, surely. Anyhow, I got a phone call one day, and Julian Lane, who
was another good friend of mine--Julian and I went to high school together and
went to the University together. We worked together in Orlando, and we were
very close. We married four days apart. I mean, we had been friends for all
these years. So, I got a phone call--would I go out to a certain address on Swan
Avenue, meet with Julian Lane, and they said that he was talking about running
HILL.CO 72 page 27
for mayor. I said, okay. Now, this was probably less than twenty, maybe fifteen
or twenty men there and all, just like myself, in long-time personal relationships
with Julian. So, we tried to decide whether he should run for mayor or not.
B: Now, this would have been after Nick Nuccio had served for a term?
H: Yes, Nuccio was the mayor then. I had to leave early because I had to go back
and close the store. The Tampa Terrace Hotel was on this corner, the
courthouse on this corner, and the city hall is on this corner. I had to park in the
parking garage, which is on the corner over here, so I came back, parked the
car, and walked over into the store. So help me God, this I will never
understand, but I no more than walked in the store that the phone rang.
Somebody said, Ben. I said, yes. He said--Nick [Nuccio]. I said, hello, Nick.
He said, did you just come from a meeting with Julian Lane? Now, I was the first
one to leave the meeting. I said, yes. He said, I thought we were friends. I said,
we are friends. I said, so is Julian a friend of mine, and I was invited to the
meeting. He said, will you tell me who was there? I said, no. He said, were so-
and-so there? I said, yes. And he named every damn person who was at that
B: He did not need you to name them for him, did he?
H: You got it. He just confirmed it. Now, do not ask me how this happened, but this
was the politics of those days. I mean, so help me, I was the first guy to leave
the meeting! So it could not have been anybody who left the meeting.
B: Was the meeting in a private home?
H: In a business, but it was quite private. Upstairs. But, I mean, that was just to
give you an idea of the politics. I mean, I got involved in so many things I had no
reason to get involved with (laughs).
B: You started talking about the crime commission. You hired...?
H: We hired Ralph Mills. Frankly, I think the best thing that came out of it would be
the fact that publicity was in the paper about different things and so forth, and it
probably educated the public on things that were wrong and things that should
be done right. As a result, it served a good purpose. And, well--again, this was
something I got involved with accidentally. I am chosen to be on the Grand Jury
for the federal government.
B: Which Grand Jury was this, investigating crime?
HILL.CO 72 page 28
H: Well, everything. It goes for the whole year, so they investigate everything.
B: Okay, so you are a federal grand juror.
H: A federal grand juror. Santo Trafficante, we indicted. A whole bunch in that.
B: Was this after the Kefauver [Committee] hearings?
H: Yes. So, one of them was Hugh Culbreath, and we indicted Hugh Culbreath. I
mean, I am foreman of the Grand Jury. [Laughs]. I got put into several places
that I had no reason to be in. I mean, I was just a citizen. Anyhow, it was
interesting how they got him. When you become a public official, you have to
sign a bond.
B: And he was the county sheriff?
H: He was the county sheriff. You have to have a bond. So, he went to
Jacksonville and got his bond. Well, on the bond, you have to state your net
worth. So, the government said--the FBI said, okay, that is it, period; that is your
net worth; you certified it, and that was it; we do not care how much money you
had, but that is how much you said you had; now, it has been X number of years
since you signed that, and you now have this much, and your salary was this
much; now, where did this other half a million dollars come from? [Laughs]. I
thought that was really interesting. I would have never thought of it, to go way
back to when the guy--because that was an affidavit and he signed that it was
the truth. From that, they were able to convict him on it.
B: What was his explanation?
H: I do not remember. We did not get into that. All we did was indict, as the Grand
Jury. He was not removed from office. It all died down after a while. The only
other one I can tell you about real quick, I had not thought about it, but it was
Santo Trafficante. You remember reading, I am sure, on the deal about the big
meeting they had up in the Adirondack Mountains with all the Mafia group...
H: ...from all over the United States, and Santo Trafficante represented the
southern part of it, you know. There was a book written about it by a historian,
and I did not know the story until somebody showed me the book. Santo
Trafficante was asked, what is your name? He opened up his coat and it said
[on the label], B. Hill. [Laughs]. What it was, I made his clothes. But, you know,
those guys were friends of mine, not because of the gambling part of it but
HILL.CO 72 page 29
because we were raised together and all that. Like Santo-I was a director of the
crime committee-he said, I see, we have a new director. I said, yes, we run you
bastards completely out of town. [Laughs] He laughed and--but, I did not fool
around with him. I did not pull any punches, and they knew that. They respected
B: You never felt threatened by any of them?
H: No, no--never. One of them--and I cannot think of this guy's name, but I thought
of him the other day. Saturday was a bad day in the store business downtown.
This customer that I had was one of the chieftains, and a prominent
businessman, too. He came in and bought some stuff. We stood at the front
door and, I guess, talked for thirty minutes because I was not busy and he was
not in a hurry. He said, Ben, you know, I am going to quit this crap. They knew
who I was and they knew I knew who they were, and we could talk freely. He
said, I love to hunt and fish. He said, I have enough money; I do not have to
worry, I have got a good business and, you know, I am going to quit. On
Monday, he was shot and killed.
B: Was he a Cuban or Italian?
H: Well, he was in the Mafia group. I do not remember whether he was Cuban or
Italian. As I say, there was one of Trafficante's men, I made clothes for. See, we
had a good reputation on our business. I mean, this was all business; it had
nothing to do with anything else. He would come in every Saturday, when
everybody was in town. Then, Monday, he would leave and go to Albany,
Georgia, and Cincinnati, Ohio, making the rounds for Trafficante and come back.
And, I mean, he was telling no secrets to me. I mean, we would talk freely. And
he told me the same thing. He said, well, I am tired of this town; I am going to
quit; I am through. Sunday, somewhere, he ate some spaghetti that it was not
good, and it killed him. As I said, I do not know who put me in these positions,
but I was in several positions there that were... I have never publicized these
things, only spoke about them to a few people, but they are all dead and gone
now so I do not mind mentioning these things.
B: The crime commission helped to change the way people thought about Tampa,
is what you were hoping?
H: That is what we hoped. It changed the atmosphere, and attitudes.
B: How did the crime commission get started?
H: We organized it.
HILL.CO 72 page 30
B: You, meaning the Jaycees?
H: No, it was a group of businessmen in Tampa. Actually, most of them were or
had been in the Jaycees.
B: Can you name some of those other men for me?
H: Well, C. J. Adler was one was a photographer. Of course, Dick [Saunders] was
chairman. Let us see--I cannot remember... [Tape interrupted.]
B: We were finishing up talking about some of the other names of the people who
got involved in forming the crime commission, and that came out of a citizens'
H: A citizens' group.
B: And you raised money from among yourselves to support that?
B: Did you get support from newspapers again?
H: Oh yes. The Tribune has always been supportive. Of every move I have ever
been close to, they have always been supportive.
B: Would it be fair to say that the Latin community groups were not very supportive
H: Well, I would say that they were not supportive but, then, they did not really fight
it. This is very unfortunate, but every time they started talking about gambling,
crimes, and so forth--Ybor City. It always referred to the Latin people in Ybor
City. They were not any worse. In fact, all of their stuff was being financed by
people across town. So, it was always, I thought, an indictment against them
that was not a true indictment.
B: Against Ybor City?
B: When you say across town, what are you referring to?
H: Palma Ceia, that kind of area. We always refer to that as across town.
HILL.CO 72 page 31
B: Okay. Did the black people in Tampa have any involvement in any of this?
B: They did not have much political influence at the time?
H: No, they were very quiet.
B: How about the women's groups, the Garden Club and any of those groups?
Were they supportive?
H: I do not know. They were, probably. I am sure we had some women on the
board, and I am sure most of the group from the Garden Club were... this had,
really, no opposition.
B: How about from, by that time, well, during the crime commission time, I guess
Hixon was still the mayor. Did he fight you actively on it?
H: No. Hixon never fought anything actively, I mean, openly.
B: Always behind the scenes?
B: Well, we have not talked yet about the business of annexation, which was
important business, I guess, in the years right after the end of the war. How did
you get involved in that?
H: I think the Tribune, Ed Lambright, had probably written some editorials on the
need of annexation. There was a group of us who went for it then. I think it
stemmed out of the Junior Chamber, but I do not think it was a Jaycees project
per se. I think it was more of a group of older people.
B: The regular Chamber?
H: Well, just regular citizens. I do not want to say Chamber or what.
B: Was it business people?
H: Business people. And, it was a very hot issue. In fact, I will never forget Mike
O'Brien and I went out to speak to neighborhood groups trying to explain to
HILL.CO 72 page 32
B: Who was Mike O'Brien?
H: He was just one of the speakers, an attorney in town, a little older than I was.
But, we got on the platform, and we had tomatoes thrown at us. (Laughs). It was
a hot issue.
B: Not a friendly reception.
H: It was not a friendly reception.
B: Now, this would be when you would be going to neighborhoods that were
outside the city, trying to talk them into coming into the city?
H: Right. Before I forget, one of the things that I also added on there. When I said
the things that happened before the city got on economic development, we had a
vote for full assessment of taxes.
B: Outside the city?
H: The whole county.
B: Now, when you say full assessment, you mean 100 percent of value?
H: 100 percent of what its value is.
B: Okay, and what had the percentage been up until then?
H: Maybe 30 or 40 percent. Or less. When we straightened out the tax base
annexation, all these others came in, I think, strengthening the tax base, and
putting it on a... and that was another one we got booed on (laughs) by a few
people. But as we explained it-if we got everybody on it, everybody ended up
paying less, even though you may be paying more, because some of you are not
paying at all but you should be paying.
B: Right, but the millage would go down.
H: The millage would go down.
B: Did people accept that argument?
H: Pretty much so, but I never put any more time in it--I had made talks all over
town on it. I do not know, this was ten, fifteen, twenty years later when one of
the people on the school board who had been very active in politics all these
HILL.CO 72 page 33
years, a Latin fellow, he said, you know something, Ben? He said, you know,
you are the only public official that came out in favor of the revaluation of
property who stayed in office. (Laughs). You are only one who hung around;
everybody else was defeated.
B: And what office was that?
H: The school board. I was a school board member for twenty years. I always
thought that was funny. Anyhow, the revaluation came along with the
annexation. I mean, it came after the annexation. But, it actually was needed,
and practically everybody, business people, city leaders, lived outside of the
city. The only ones who were in the city basically lived on Davis Island.
B: That was the nice part of what was in the city, I guess.
H: That and old Hyde Park. There was a few of them who were still in there. Old
Hyde Park is kind of nice and coming back up, but it had gone down a little bit.
So, people had moved to the suburbs. You know, like Carollwood Village, where
we are now, this is not part of the city.
B: Even to this day, this is not?
H: Even to this day. So, we spread it out over more people and more responsible
B: It was a big battle getting people to go along?
H: It was a tremendous battle.
B: What motivated you to think it was important to get annexation going?
H: Because we had to. We were strangling the city on leadership. In other words,
you only had a handful of people for support, and now you had a bucketful that
you get to do things. Another thing is, as a businessman, I had a store then of
course in downtown Tampa. 75 percent of all the tax we collected in
Hillsborough County was collected on downtown merchants.
B: Sales tax?
H: No! It was property tax. That thread supported the whole city. Well, that was
really unequal taxation. So, by spreading the base, we were able to get the
county and the city more money. It was all very important. Just recently, and I
am not sure if you are familiar with Tampa Palms, you growing up down there...
HILL.CO 72 page 34
B: Yes, I know where that is.
H: You know they petitioned to be annexed in?
B: They want to become annexed?
H: They are now. The area between the city and them is not in the city (laughs) but
you jump over that, and they are in the City of Tampa.
B: I did not think that was legal.
H: I do not know how they worked it, maybe the streets or something. And there is
another group out there now, north of them, that wants to get back in with the
B: Oh yes, the so-called New Tampa area?
H: That is what they call New Tampa.
B: And they want to be in as well?
H: Yes. So, I mean, now we have people wanting to come in. Back then, they did
not want any part of it.
B: Why do they want to be in [the City of Tampa] now, do you suppose?
H: I think it is because of the services. In other words, here, being in the county,
the only person you look to is the county commissioner for your district here for
service, and that is very futile because he has such a large area. But, we do not
have any problems anyhow, so it does not make any difference!
B: So, you get more responsive government from the City of Tampa when you are
in the City?
H: Right. Well, for instance, they have the sewer department, and they have the
water department, they have all these various departments--the police
department, and so forth, and you can demand more service when you are in the
B: Now, back when you were trying to talk people into joining the City, why did they
not want to, particularly?
HILL.CO 72 page 35
B: They were afraid it would cost them more?
H: Well, why should I pay taxes?
B: But, were they not interested in getting city services?
H: Not particularly because we were still rural.
B: It did not make much difference?
H: We were still, a lot of them, of course, Palma Ceia was not rural, but most areas
were still a little bit on the rural side. In fact, my address was Route 5. Do you
know where Hillsborough Avenue is?
H: Do you know where it crosses the river?
H: That is where I lived, and it was Route 5.
B: What road were you on? What is it called today?
H: Wellswood area. Route 5, Box 323, I think it was. (Laughs). You know, that is in
the heart of the city now.
B: Well, people did not care about things like fire trucks and ambulances coming
out to be able to help them?
H: That is what we tried to sell them on. In fact, in the Wellswood area, where I
lived, was a new subdivision they started just before World War II. I bought fire
plugs from the city and had them put it in so we would have water for fire, and
we were still out of the city. They would not install the fire hydrants. It costs $90
for each plug. So, we got the group together so we had a little protection, but
there was just no protection from fire in those days, as far as plugs.
B: How about sewers? Was that a big deal?
H: Well, everybody had septic tanks.
B: They were content with those, pretty much?
HILL.CO 72 page 36
H: Oh yes.
B: Were people worried very much about things like polluting Tampa Bay with
H: That did not matter to anybody.
B: Nobody cared?
H: Environmentalism did not exist in those days, unfortunately.
B: Well, who helped you with the annexation battles? Can you think of any people
who were active in that?
H: Yes. W. J. Barritt was one.
B: Okay, I see. This is a newspaper article [clipping] about a committee formed to
back annexation. We have W. J. Barritt, Jr., Chamber of Commerce leader and
dairy executive. He was elected chairman of the Greater Tampa Annexation
Committee and organized a campaign for annexation. Then, there is mention of
Bya Harrison and G. R. "Dick" Griffin and then W. Frank Hobbs. Oh, here is a
whole list of the members here. There is Frank D. Jackson, Paul Smith, L. N.
Dantzler, Jr., George Holtzinger, J. L. Cone, Eddie Spoto, Richard D. Jackson,
Sid Lilliott, C. C. Vega, Jr., J. L. Hearin, Warren H. Tool, Stewart Pomeroy,
George Lenfestey, I. W. Phillips, James W. Warren, W. L. Waring, Jr., V. V.
Sharpe, R. Ambler Liggett, V. M. Newton, Jr. That would have been the guy who
took over the Tampa Tribune?
H: Well, he was the managing editor.
B: "Red" Newton?
B: Truman Green, Joseph R. Mickler... [End of Side 2, Tape A.] We are talking
now about the economic development commission, and the chairman of that was
H: Right, and he was president of the Marine Bank and Trust Company.
B: Now, was he that bank's president at the time that he was with the EDC?
H: I think he must have been. George was the one who split up the banks in
HILL.CO 72 page 37
Tampa because the two banks had kind of a stranglehold, and he came in as a
free spender, so to speak, and really made well, did well. I remember the
booklet, and I have never seen a copy of it since then. But, it was a very well-
done booklet showing the future of Tampa with roads and buildings and
prospective things that would happen and, as I recall, all in color and slick
pages. I mean, it was a nicely done report. I would only like to see it now and
compare what the forecast was and what actually happened.
B: I have read about that book, and I am anxious to get my hands on a copy and
see it, so if you ever run across one, let me know.
H: The only person who might help you on that is Clewis Howell. He is George's
son. He succeeded his daddy at the bank when his daddy died.
B: Is Clewis Howell still living in Tampa?
H: Yes, I think he is still here. Then, there is G. B. "Blaine" Howell, his other son
and, as far as I know, he is still living. One or the other might have access to
one of those old books, out in the archives or something that his daddy had.
B: Alright. I will see what I can do to track him down. Maybe Leland Hawes knows
how to reach him. Do you remember anything more about that booklet or the
other publicity that the EDC put out? How did people react to that? Did people
take it very seriously?
H: Tampa has not been a town where people thought way ahead. That was an
unusual thing for Tampa for this Economic Development outfit to forecast these
things. We have always been a town where after it happened, we did something
about it. (Laughs). I think, as a result, it did not really count too much. It is a
nice thing but, oh, we will never have that. You know. I do not know whether it
was forecast, but if they had forecast we will have an interstate highway running
down through Seminole Heights...never! (Laughs).
B: People did not take that seriously.
H: No, they would never. Here is Blaine and Janet Howell, 885-2631.
B: Alright, I will give them a call. Can I mention your name?
H: Sure. He is a nice guy. Old friends. I do not ever see them anymore. I never
see anybody anymore. We do not leave the woods out here. (Laughs).
B: So, there was George Howell who was active in that. How do you suppose he
HILL.CO 72 page 38
came to be involved in being the chairman of that EDC?
H: George was the kind of person to be elected chairman of everything. He was a
leader, and a very forceful leader.
B: Were the other bankers in town opposed to having him be in charge?
H: I doubt it. It was more of a Chamber of Commerce program. I am surprised the
Chamber of Commerce does not have a copy of it in their archives.
B: I wish they did. I have not been able to look all through everything they left, but
they did give a lot of their old archives to the City of Tampa. But, their archivist
just has not found anything to do with the EDC yet. Everything I have found on
the EDC so far has come from Curtis Hixon's correspondence files. He got
copies mailed to him automatically of everything that went out to the EDC
members. That is how I learned in the first place that there ever was an EDC. If
it had not been for that, I do not know if I ever would have run across it.
H: I do not think it ever cut a lot of mustard, so to speak.
B: Well, that is what I am curious about because the things that they talked about
trying to accomplish, many of them did come to pass and really did make....
H: That is right. I would like to see that myself.
B: One of the things they were interested in working on was getting a big airport for
Tampa. Do you think many people felt that was important around the end of the
H: A very good friend of mine, a member of my church, and we have been friends
all my life, named Clyde Perry. Clyde was a native of Tampa and from a very
prominent family in Tampa, and he was on the aviation authority just about, I
guess, the first time they had an authority.
B: Would that be the aviation committee or the Hillsborough County Aviation
H: I think the Authority, probably. It could have been called a committee at that
time. But, Clyde was a very forward thinking person.
B: What business was he in?
H: Well, he had the ice factory a long time ago. Of course, ice factories do not do
HILL.CO 72 page 39
much business today. But, as I said-- and, he was married to a very prominent
woman. Her family was--they were the Perfecto-Garcia cigar people. Clyde was
a good thinking man. I would say, from what I know-I never was personally in it
but involved-he was probably the one person who made the Tampa
International Airport what it is. For instance, and I do not talk about it because
he is dead and gone but one of my closest friends was Julian Lane. He and I
were very close. When they wanted to build a city auditorium and convention
center, they built a little tiny one down on the river. Now, that was big to Julian.
Then, Bob Martinez built a great big one down there now, and he was forward
thinking. But, Julian represented the conservative, "don't-want-to-spend-money"
group. Dick Greco would not have done very good in those days, compared to
what he does now. But, Tampa was that type of a town, and Clyde Perry, in my
opinion, was one of the first really forward thinking people who developed a
major idea. There is no question about it, I have flown probably all over the
country and the world, but, I do not think there is a finer airport anywhere in the
B: I cannot disagree with you.
H: I mean, I just got into Cincinnati, and I had to walk the equivalent of about six or
eight blocks in the Logan Airport the other day. I had to walk about two miles to
go to one terminal or another. In Atlanta, I finally got a car. They drove me from
one terminal to another. So, I mean, I have had enough experience. In Seattle,
Washington, you have your railroad car going around.
B: So, Clyde Perry was important in the idea that Tampa ought to have a big
H: Right. He was on the committee that established it. The airport had a wooden
building that was not much bigger than our condo here. That was the Tampa
B: Out at Drew Field?
H: On the side of Drew Field, they built an airport on it, in the north end and the
south end of it.
B: Had Drew Field been a municipal airport before the war, or was it always an
H: No, it was the only airfield we had.
B: Until Peter O'Knight [municipal airport, on Davis Island]?
HILL.CO 72 page 40
H: Until Peter O'Knight was established, yes. It was more or less, I guess you
would call it, a city or county, but aviation did not amount to a whole lot then, but
that was the airport for Tampa. Of course, there were no commercial flights.
B: During the war, then, it became an Army field. Then, after the war...
H: That is when aviation began to build. You know, they always say and I do not
dispute it, the reason Dale Mabry [Highway] is where it is, paved, is to connect
Drew Field to MacDill Field during the war, so they could use it as an emergency
B: Oh really? I never heard that one.
H: That was one of the excuses of having it built. Now, I have heard that story
many times, and I have no doubt that it has some measure of truth in it.
B: Well, I guess the airport could just as easily have been out at Henderson Field.
Any idea of why it came to turn out to be at Drew instead of Henderson?
H: Well, Drew Field was the airport.
B: Yes, but I mean after the end of the Second World War.
H: Well, Henderson Field was never considered an airport, just an Army base.
That is all. And, it was a secondary base.
B: So it was not as big?
H: It was never very big. In fact, I would guess that very few people in Tampa ever
even knew it was out there.
B: I see, [it had] much less activity.
H: Oh yes. In fact, a friend of mine came to Tampa, and I think he was the base
commander out there at Henderson, but I do not know what they called it in
those days. Frankly, I will be honest with you, I did not even really know it
existed. It was just like a training base. There was no activity there.
B: Whereas everybody knew where that Drew Field was there?
H: Drew Field was an Army base.
B: But, they knew where it was?
HILL.CO 72 page 41
H: Oh yes, but it was a base too. They had quite a few thousand soldiers there.
B: I gather from my research elsewhere that people over in Pinellas County wanted
the big regional airport to be established at the Pinellas Airfield, which is now St.
Pete/Clearwater International Airport. Apparently, there had to be a bit of a
struggle go on between Tampa and St. Petersburg.
H: I think what happened was they had more land at Drew Field, and they had an
airport there already established by the Air Corps, the runways and so forth. I
do not think there was ever any serious consideration in moving it from there to
Pinellas, where you had to start from scratch.
B: Can you tell me anything else about any other competition between Pinellas
County and Tampa in those days?
H: Well, I think one of the best examples of what I call the competitiveness between
the two, or the animosity, which is more or less one-sided, as far as I am
concerned. But, they fought over the University, and they fought over the airport
and everything. So, when it came to this baseball deal that they had...
B: Major league baseball?
H: Yes. As far as what I could see of the people in Tampa, they had no objection to
it being in Pinellas County. They thought it should be at either the Gandy Bridge
or Courtney Campbell Causeway or at the interstate in that area so that it would
serve all of Pinellas County as well as have a direct connection to Hillsborough
County. As far as I know, no one objected to that. In fact, I think there were a lot
of recommendations that, if they were going to put it in Pinellas County, that
would be the place to put it. But, Pinellas, the City of St. Petersburg decided
they wanted to clear out their slum area, the old Doc Webb's [the former Webb
City Department Store complex] area, clean it out and get rid of those blacks.
So, they built it over there, and it is falling flat on its face because it does not
have any affinity for the people in Tampa to drive to it. You can say, well, it is
right on the interstate. Yes, but you drive in on the interstate and then you back
up traffic for a mile or two when you get there, and people go once, and they do
not go back.
B: Have you ever been to a game over there?
H: No. When we had a ball club in Tampa, we had season tickets. It was baseball.
B: So, you like baseball?
HILL.CO 72 page 42
H: No, I do not care much for it, but I enjoyed it because it was something to do in
Tampa. But, I would not drive over to St. Pete. I have driven over to see a
spring game a couple of times in St. Petersburg at the old Al Lang park
downtown, but I have never been to this. And, they talk about the cost of this
football stadium in Tampa, it does not even compare with what that little store
over there is costing them, because they spent so many millions of dollars doing
it and then millions of dollars because it was not built correctly.
B: And we have not even talked about the interest on the bonds yet.
H: This is what I am trying to say, Alan. I think it has been the selfishness of St.
Petersburg. I hope to God it will pay off, but I do not see the payoff, particularly.
I will be surprised if it does not fall flat on its face because they are having a
hard time getting people in there. With a championship team, they might.
B: That could not hurt a thing, that is for sure. Well, can you think of anything else
we can say about the work that the Economic Development Committee did back
there, in 1944 and 1945?
H: The only I could conclude on it would be that, to my knowledge, it was the first
time there was a collective concentrated effort to plan something for the future.
Tampa was not a great planner. That was probably the star in their crown.
Because, they did do something, and made people think. It is hard to make
people think about the future. More people were interested in, and Tampa
always was governed by its past; well, that failed and that failed and that failed.
Probably, like I told you from the beginning, you had to have these four or five
things before you have any We first built ports, well--we built cities
on the water, with rivers. Then, we built them with railroads. Then, we built them
with highways. You know, you always had a reason for having a city, and
Tampa's reason for a city was that we had a port. And then Plant (Henry
Bradley Plant, 1819-1899, railroad and steamship entrepreneur, hotelier) built a
railroad. Then, we built highways. But then we ended up with a, you might say, a
small selfish crime-ridden city. But, when you got rid of all that undercurrent,
and all this stuff, and got the tax rates up and got the professional assessment
up, all these various things, you could build a city on a foundation like that. But,
you could not build it just on what we had. I think that this Economic
Development Committee was probably the first indication towards something like
that--let us take Tampa's assets, and promote them and build on them, rather
than on its deficiencies.
B: They were doing their work in 1943, from September of 1943 until December of
1945. That was the time of their existence. That was about the same time that
you were taking over as president of the Jaycees and then became state
HILL.CO 72 page 43
president. Do you think that the fact that the EDC was out there trying to plan
ahead for the future, did that have any influence on your feelings on what you
might try to do for the future?
H: No, I do not think they ever publicized what they were doing, particularly, on a
day to day basis; maybe the newspapers were derelict in not doing that, but I do
not recall any day by day, blow by blow. It was more or less, they were working
on it, and they are coming up with a final plan.
B: Okay. In the minutes of their meetings, I sometimes see that newspaper
reporters were there, but then, when you go look at the newspaper afterward,
you do not always see a story. Was that unusual for the press to be there and
know what was going on but not necessarily report it?
H: I think the worst thing to a reporter is routine news. They want something
spectacular, something different, something exciting, but routine stuff just bores
them to death. I think that was probably a cause of a lot of it. For instance,
when I was on this chair during changing the government and all that stuff, I had
a press conference every morning, for the newspapermen.
B: Did reporters attend it?
H: Oh yes, they came to me. When I say I had a press conference I mean, they
would come to me. I did not call any conferences, but they always came to me
and said, what is going on? And, they were friends. They were professionals.
That is something you do not find today in the reporters.
B: And did they report the news, then?
H: They would come in and they would say, well, what is going on, Ben? I would
say, well, let me give you the whole story. Now, you cannot publish it, but I will
give you the whole story, and then we will pick out what you can publish. Okay.
And I would give him the whole background because, then, they could write a
better story, and they appreciated it. But yet, they never violated a confidence.
That would not happen today.
B: So, you could sort of keep a lid on what could not get out?
H: And I never asked them, only because it was not timely or whether we were
going to do something else. I mean, we were not trying to be out of the
sunshine. It was not that. That was not the deal.
B: I understand, but you did feel as though you could place your confidence in
HILL.CO 72 page 44
H: Oh, I had all the confidence in the world in those two or three men reporters.
B: They would not take advantage of it?
H: Never did they take any!
B: Do you remember any of their names now?
H: Blalock was one of them. Hmm. Do not get old! (Laughs). I cannot think of the
senior member of that journalist team. But, they were the right kind of guys.
B: Now, I have asked you about this name before, and I will just run it by you one
more time to see if you remember anything more. There was a guy named
Thomas V. Standifer, who was the paid executive director of the EDC. Do you
remember anything about him at all?
H: I just remember there was such a person. I do not recall him being in Tampa.
B: I think he came from out of town, and moved back elsewhere after the end of the
H: I just remember there was such a person.
B: You told me already about another one I wanted to know about. That is George
Howell. Somebody else who was very active in the affairs of the EDC, especially
on transportation, was George Holtsinger.
H: George was chairman of the Chamber of Commerce Board of Governors'
highway committee, and he was the one who proposed or was fighting for the
extension of U. S. 19 into St. Petersburg. St. Petersburg objected, I think, just
because it came from Tampa. I wondered why in the hell he wanted to spend all
of his time working for St. Petersburg and not Tampa? But, I remember very
clearly that George was really the stemwinder of getting that thing going, on the
Chamber now; I do not know where it came from politically.
B: What kind of fellow was he? Was he a forward-thinking person, would you say?
H: No, he was just a hard-headed businessman. He was a Ford dealer. I know he
was on the board of directors at First National Bank. I do not think he was
chairman of the board. But, he was fairly well-to-do and from an old time family
and also a member of my church. He was a very gruff person and big, one of
HILL.CO 72 page 45
those big guys [grunts]. I know I will never forget one morning. It came out in
the paper that morning that I was elected chairman of the Tampa Cancer Society
or the Polio Foundation or something like that. It was one of those things like
that, and it came out in the paper that morning, Ben Hill has been made
chairman or something. I walk into his office and I said, George--(imitates
voice): I am too busy to talk to you, too busy to talk to you, too busy. I said,
okay; I just wanted to buy a new car. Whoa, good morning! (Laughter). He
thought I was there for a donation, see. He was that kind. You know, if you
know people's background, their character, you can make a little bit of the story.
But, he came in my store. I had this discount store, this Self-service Suit Center.
It was the last business I was in. I had these coats, these nice looking canvas-
type, you know--nice looking coats. We had them for $19.88, which was one
heck of a price on them, and he is a multimillionaire. He came in and bought a
coat. (Laughs). He was very conservative.
B: Maybe that is how he got to be a multimillionaire. That is one way.
H: That may be. Anyway, he was not a particularly well-liked person. I mean, he
was not disliked. He just really was not a friendly person. He was gruff, he was
big, and I do not think he went out of his way to make friends.
B: Okay. What about a guy from the Chamber of Commerce who was involved in
aviation, I guess. Jerome Waterman? Do you know him?
H: Oh yes. Jerry was the--his daughter, by the way, Cecille Essrig, was on the
school board. His wife was Daisy Guggenheimer, I believe. The
Guggenheimers were the big department store in Lynchburg, Virginia, I believe it
was. Then, Jerry was the nephew of the Maases who had Maas Brothers
Department Store. Maas Brothers Department Store became a member of Allied
Chain, the national chain, and a store in Lynchburg became a part of Allied,
which gave him a pretty good chunk of Allied stock. He was pretty well off. He
was a good guy. He did like aviation, and he tried to promote it. Nobody was
promoting it in that day.
B: Would you say that made him a forward thinking sort of a person?
H: I think he was in that sense. I will give you an example. I was a director of the
Merchant's Association, and so was he. It came up after World War II that, in
some of the outskirts, suburban malls were being built, all over the country, not
just here. The stores did not open on Monday night in downtown Tampa. I
mean, everybody closed at six o'clock. That was it. So, we had a meeting on
whether we should stay open or closed on Monday nights, make one night for
shopping. It was about out of twenty, twenty-five, thirty people in the room, the
HILL.CO 72 page 46
directors in the room, and they took a vote. We will say it was twenty-five.
Twenty-four said to close; one said to open. Well, the one who was going to be
open was Jerry Waterman, and that was the Maas Brothers, so everybody
B: It was one to twenty-five, which made it a tied vote! (Laughter).
H: Yes--everybody opened when he said, I am opening. So, he was a forerunner.
That was the beginning of it. Maybe he did slow down the growth of the suburbs
to a certain extent, and then finally he went to the suburbs.
B: Did he resist moving out to the suburbs?
H: I think they all did. I mean, most people were satisfied with what they were
doing. I mean, he was the major department store. You know, you as a
merchant, or not being merchant, you do not think about these things, see? For
instance, Wolf Brothers Men's Store, which was a very fine men's store in
Tampa, went to Clearwater and they went to St. Petersburg. Well, what you do
is just triple your inventory. That is tripling your investment.
B: Same amount of business? Same number of customers?
H: You have to have the same merchandise there. If you buy 1000 suits a year,
you have to have 1000 suits at each store. You cannot have 100 and bring them
back and forth. So, it made everybody short on capital, and I think they all
B: Yes. Do you think it paid off for the ones who did eventually make the move?
H: Not eventually, I mean, I think--Maas Brothers went out of business, Wolf
Brothers went out of business. I mean, Wolf Brothers sold out to R. Shephard
Lauren, and Allied sold out to some other chain. I forget what it was.
B: Federated, I think.
H: Federated, I think it was, and they closed the Maas Brothers stores and changed
the names and all that. So, I think in the long run, well, they stayed in business,
but they did not really. Like Harold Wolf told me, of Wolf Brothers, he said he
opened up a store in Pensacola. Well, I happened to have lived in Pensacola
back when I was with Goodrich, until I came back home. There was two brothers
out there, and one had a nice men's store, and the other had a good men's store
and I said, Harold, you cannot compete with those boys out there; they are just
like you are in Tampa; they are the old time people down there, and Pensacola
HILL.CO 72 page 47
was a pretty closed city. I said, well, what the hell do you want to do? He said, I
like to see them run. I said, well, you are going to run, alright. He did the same
thing in Jacksonville. He opened a big store up there, and it boomed. Actually, I
think he was smart enough. I think he was building these stores just to have
something to sell. In other words, it is easier to sell five stores as long as you
are going to sell one.
B: If he sells at the right time.
B: Did he?
H: Yes, I think he did. I think the boys came out alright--of course, he died, but I
think his sons came out alright.
B: Do you remember, what was the first shopping center that was built in Tampa?
Was it this one up here on North Florida Avenue?
H: I think it was Northgate.
B: Northgate Shopping Center?
H: Yes, I think that was it.
B: Right, and then there was another one that opened up--Britton Plaza?
H: Britton Plaza.
B: Were they both pretty much competing with each other?
H: Well, they were on different sides of town. They did not bother. Nobody would
go back and forth.
B: Now, you were a downtown retailer at the time when those shopping centers
opened up. How did you feel about those shopping centers?
H: They did not bother me. I mean, we had a pretty selective clientele. Ours was a
business store, and there were business people downtown. Now, if they moved
out of downtown, that made it bad, and they did move out of downtown.
B: So, you think it did affect you?
HILL.CO 72 page 48
H: Well, when the business people moved out to West Shore and all those places.
That made an impact on downtown businesses. There are really not that many
retail stores in downtown Tampa now.
B: That is a fact.
H: I do not know of any. I cannot name one, to tell you the truth. Major stores,
bigger than the small ones that are there. The retail business is...I have always
said that I had wrong religion and that I could never be a good merchant.
B: What church do you belong to?
B: Yes, me too.
H: Did you ever get to know Preacher Gordon?
B: No, but I have heard a lot about him. As a matter of fact, I just bought his
biography at a used book sale. Preacher Gordon was the pastor at First
Presbyterian in Gainesville.
B: I know who he was, but I never had the pleasure of meeting him.
H: The first time I ever saw him, I was in SPE, Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, and we
were just off of the corner. The house on the corner backed up with the next
house on University. So, it was right on University Avenue, and I heard
somebody yelling at us on the sidewalk. I looked out the window; who the hell is
that? The guy was in fishing clothes. Another guy said, that is Preacher
Gordon. He said, does anybody want to go fishing?
B: I have heard he was quite a fisherman.
H: Yes. I think this story may be in that book. If it is not, it is a cute story. The
Baptists were holding a convention or some kind of meeting in Gainesville. They
asked various people, would they open up their houses to house the ministers
when they came in. The preacher says, well, I can take four of them. The
[other] preacher says, you cannot take four; you only have a two-bedroom
house. He says, oh, those Baptists are so narrow, they can sleep four in one
HILL.CO 72 page 49
B: I will look in the book for that.
H: I will tell you what. He took those football boys, like Julian Lane, who was
captain of the football team, and he fed them. He was just a real godfather to
them. He was an old bachelor, you know. He would invite them in for supper
and feed them a good meal. Not only just the football [players], but then the
other students. At that time, I was Methodist, so I did not go to the Presbyterian
church. My folks were Methodist. But, he was just a wonderful person.
B: That is the same I have heard about him everywhere I go, from everybody who
had ever had any contact with them.
H: And, you did not ask me about one person. Of course, I was there with John J.
B: I have heard that name too.
H: He was president of the University [of Florida, 1928-1947], and I will never forget
that man as long as I live. They ask, how were your activities in school? Well, I
say, when you get to the senior graduating and they have your picture there with
the class: Ben Hill, Tampa, Florida, SPE. I said, that is all they ever had to say
about me because I was nobody in school. I was in freshman swimming, I was
on the swimming team. This had to be twenty or twenty-five years later after I
graduated. Dan McCarty, this was before he was elected governor, called me
and said, Ben, would you take over the chairmanship of the American Cancer
Society for Hillsborough County? I said, okay, for you, I will do it. Anyhow, he
called later and said, we have a meeting down in West Palm Beach, and said,
we want you to come down so that we can outline our program. I said, okay.
So, I went down there. I was in the hotel restroom standing at the urinal, and
there was a man standing next to me. When he turned around, he was Dr.
Tigert. He said, you are Ben Hill, are you not? I said, yes, sir. And he said, you
were on the swimming team. And I said, yes, sir. That did it for me. I mean, I
never made any waves at the University. I never did anything that, you know,
would be called anything that gained notoriety, whatsoever. I might have met
him one time when I was registering or something. But, after about twenty or
twenty-five years, and the thousands of students that went through that
B: That is amazing.
H: I will never forget that as long as I live.
B: An amazing feat of memory.
HILL.CO 72 page 50
H: Was it not, though? Now, it might have been, when I graduated--he made the
graduating address. He said, I want to close my address to you graduating
seniors from one of our most famous southerners, Benjamin Harvey Hill. Of
course, that is my name and I said, hey! So, Hill, he was an orator from
Georgia, a great orator.
B: I see.
H: Maybe the fact that I was connected with that name or something...
B: What was the quote that he made from Benjamin Harvey Hill? Do you remember
H: I have no idea. I have read on so many of his quotes, I cannot remember one
B: Yes. Well, let us see. We talked about the Economic Development Committee
and some of the people who were active on it. One thing we did not get to talk
was the interstate expressway yet. Off the tape earlier, we chatted a little bit
about how the EDC got involved with the route, but when do you remember first
finding out that there was going to be an interstate coming to Tampa? Was it
well in advance?
H: No, I think it was when they started condemning the property. What are they
doing? Well, they are going to build a road soon here.
B: So, there had not been a big deal about it?
H: I do not recall any big commotion on it. In fact, I had a store on Dale Mabry, on
the north side, out this way. The traffic was so heavy, the people had a hard
time turning into the store.
B: Okay. Were you in a shopping center?
H: No, just a little strip. Then, they built 75, opened 75, which is now 275. Boy, I
said, oh boy, my traffic fell off to nothing. I did not have any customers, hardly.
Of course, then, it started building back up. But, it shows you the effect it did
have on traffic is what I am trying to get at. I had a perfect measure of it
because I was in business.
B: Did you use the interstate yourself to get around Tampa once they built it?
H: I do, now. I did not have the occasion to use it, but we lived out in Lutz. We had
HILL.CO 72 page 51
seven acres out on a lake, then. But, when I was downtown, it was easier to
take 75 or 275 out to Bearss and get off and got to Lutz. Now, on this side of
town, I never use it. I just use Dale Mabry. Of course, this was a cow pasture,
where we are now. There was much less traffic.
B: I think, probably, the best thing to do would be to leave off here for now. I do
have a couple of questions that I will ask you off the tape.