Title: Walter Fuller
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White interviewing
Walter Fuller
Jan. 26, 1973.

Education and Politics SLW

W: Arthur White, assistant professor of Education, interviewing Walter

Fuller, member currently of the Pinellas County Housing Authority,

also retired from active work in the St. Petersburg area, and is now

writing books. His most recent publication St. Petersburg and its

People. The interview is taking place in the office of the Pinellas

County Historimuseum and Commission on January 27, 1973 at approxi-

mately 12:20 P.M.

F: This is Walter Fuller. I am that rare animal in Pinellas County--a

native born Floridian. I was born in Bradenton, April 6, 1894. I

came to St. Petersburg in 1915 and have been active in business and

political affairs since that time. I am currently retired and am

making a very dismal failure of retirement because I'm busier than

I ave ever been in my life. The only difference is I mainly do things

that I like to do rather than things I have to do to make a living.

Yes, I came, I came to St. Petersburg in 1915 because of 80 hungry

mules. There was a money panic and my father was a contractor in

Bradenton and he could get no oats or grain because he had no cash.

He had, he couldn't cash his checks in Bradenton because they had no

But St. Petersburg had just sold a small road bond issue, the money was

in a bank in New York and was not tied up in the Florida tightness

on money; so he came up here with his mules and bid on the road con-

tract and got it, and the family has been here ever since.


we were. And I was introduced to him at that time.

W: What year was that?

F: That was 1915 or '16, that was right after I was first here. A little

later than that perhaps, because people didn't come to Clearwater

easily in those days because there was no way to come except on the

train--there was no road and if a St. Petersburger came to Clearwater

on business he had to stay there all day and go home on the night


W: ... personality did he have? Was he abrupt? Was he an impressive

kind of man?

F: Mr. Hollings was a big man. He was inclined to be too heavy; he had

a ery large face and head. He would never look directly atyou. But

don't let that fool ya. Because he knew exactly what you were doing

and what you were looking at and usually he knew what you were


W: What kind of a person was he?

F: Wijen Dixie Hollings came into a room, he immediately was one of the

strong radiating influences there and was pretty apt to dominate

the conversation and the action from that point on. He never appeared

to do this however, he, he was indirect usually, and sly, and I

hesitate to use the word but he was tricky. Uh, you, if you listened

to what he said. you were just being fooled; the thing to do was to

try to figure out what he was thinking And that was hard to do because

he could think faster than most of the rest of ,us could. Dixie

Hollings was very active in politics, and very powerful for the reason

that he was one of the power group that largely owned and almost

entirely ran St. Petersburg, and to a lesser degree, the county. One

must realize that in those days there was bad feeling between up


F: My father had owned a steamboat on Tampa Bay, he was controlling owner

of the local street car line he had ten or eleven real estate, land

and subdivision developments, he was mostly in Philadelphia bor-

rowing money and without any experience whatsoever, shortly before I

was twenty-one, I was made assistant general manager of this complete

complex of businesses. So I got off to a rather hectic and flying


Business conditions in St. Petersburg were active in 1915 but

could not have been considered a boom. The boom begun to develop in

1921 and got to its heighth in 1925.

W: That's a long way back, and I know Dixie was, he just died here what,

ten years ago. Can you remember him in this period at all--1915,

1916, Dixie Holland?

F: I remember him very vividly. He was active in school affairs in Pi-

mellas County.

W: Give his name. It's not on the tape.

F: Son?

W: Give Dixie Holland's name, it's alright ...

F: Um, I'm talking about Dixie M. Hollands, who was born in north Florida

someplace I think. And he came here and became superintendent of

schools. The first time I ever saw Dixie I was within a hundred

feet of where I now am at the old county building which was a

wooden building. A man I was with was looking down the street. He

said, "There comes Dixie Hollings. He apparently never looks at

anybody, but he knows everything that's going on." He said, "Now

watch him. He's approaching somebody he don't want to see. And

watch him slide across the street." Which he did. And after a little

bit went back to the other side and came on down the street to where

Fla 24A

county and down county, which started when the county formed in

1912, and separated from Hillsborough County. All of Clearwater's

financial and political connections were with Tampa rather than

St. Petersburg. And St. Petersburg even to this good day is the

outsider in county affairs and there are still firm traces of the

antagonisms between the two cities. I have been asked to discuss an

organization known as the "Guardians of Liberty." Sidney J. Katz,

from Alabama, came into Florida seeking the governorship which he won.

His first vehicle and a very insiduous one was "Guardians of Li-

berty." He formed these organizations primarily in north Florida;
convinced the boys of that area that the Pope / the

Catholic church was about to take over Florida, and he was their

rescuer. These "Guardians of Liberty were ... their membership was

secret, their meetings were secret. They formed one in St. Peters-

burg, and they sent word to me, I was managing this complex of

companies that I had too many Catholics in my organization, and they

didn't request, they gave me orders to get rid of some of 'em. I

asked to appear before them and I did. I told 'em that I did

not know the religious affiliations of any of my employees,

it was none of my business, I had no interest.in it, and it was none

of their g.d. business, and if they would tend to theirs, I would tend

to mine. And they threatened Ve with all kinds of ....

W: What were some of the threats, Mr. Fuller?

F: Oh, they were gonna, they were gonna shanghai me, they, they were

gonna, I was in physical danger from they; they were gonna rough-

house me.

W: Would they have hurt your business at all, burn your plant or ...

anything like that?


F: Well, they made, well, they attempted to do that, they couldn't,

they couldn't stop people from travelling on the street car line or

buying electricity or travelling on the steamers; there was no

way they could hurt us, unless they did so with fear, and fortunately

I had none of them and told 'em so. And tol 'em to mind their business

and they did. They, they stopped trying' to do anything with me. I

could tell a very amusing story about Sidney Katz if you'd like it.

W: Yeah, sure.

F: He, he ran as ai independent for governor again after his one term.

There was an interlude and he claimed and he was probably right, that

if elected he would be legally governor again. And he was running.

Meantime I was in Bradenton running a weekly newspaper down there,

he got off the train one day and I took him up to the Garr House,

a cheap hotel, he asked for the cheapest hotel in town, he had no

money. So when we got to the hotel he had, he'd gorten his clothes

wet making a speech in Manatee in the rain. It was the only suit he

had and he asked me to take the suit out to a dry cleaner place and

get it dried out, which I did. The charge was $1.00. So I took

the suit back and delivered it to him and said, "Mr. Katz, you now

owe me $1.00. That's what that costt" He said, "Well, you would

like to contribute a dollar to my campaign, wouldn't you?" And I

said, "No, I wouldn't." So he said, "You just have." And that was

that. I remember very little actually in detail about that campaign.

Dixie campaigned more in private conversation, than he did in

speeches, although he did both. He was well-heeled with money; he

had tremendous energy and ... 'scuse me, he had the knack of getting

people to work for him, and do things for him, so taht he was, he

was that rarity, and excellent campaigner and excellent candidate,


and he was also, give the devil his due, a competent administrator.

He knew how to run things, he knew how to organize things, and he

did a good job. I, I have no personal reliable knowledge or in-

formation as to how Dixie had acquired his money or how much he had.

It was obvious he had money and he was not afraid to spend it. There

was a widespread belief that Dixie got substantial financial assis-

tance from the the marketers of school books. There were rumors

without any definite factual information, that he was being supplied

with money by the "Guardians of Liberty," but I think Dixie mainly

got his money from his own bank account and from the lawyers and business

leaders and the bankers of both upper and lower county because he had

the unique advantage of being acceptable to influential group of

peoples, people in both north Pinellas and south Pinellas. And that

very rarely happened in those, those days.

W: ?

F: Well, he had connections with all of the bankers and the big owners

of downtown business property in both Clearwater and St. Pet~ersburg

who were few in number and who had a clannishness that it was hard

for a person like me to break into, in fact for me it was impossible

I was never acceptable to the power group in St. Petersburg.

W: Why was Dixie acceptable? He came from the outside.

F: Dixie was acceptable to 'em because he got things done, he had the

gift of keeping' his mouth shut, and people could depend ... people who

... key people could and did depend on him.

W: ... Same kind of business ...

F: Yes, well, Dixie, of course, went into the bond business, and his

principal business was refunding the bonds of cities and .counties

that had gone bankrupt. One of his biggest deals and the one I kneo


most about was in St. Petersburg. The, after the 1925 boom, begin-

ning in 1931 cities and counties begun to default on not only their

principal payments but their interest payments on their bonds. And

their was a bondholders committee formed of the big national bond

houses who had marketed these bond issues and Dixie Holings was

hand and glove with them, and participated in many of the refundings.

I came in direct, direct conflict with him on the refunding of St.

Petersburg. was in that same business and I was a bidder for the

refunding job in St. Petersburg, as was Dixie. Dixie beat me hands

down on getting the refunding contract. In the meantime I had got

elected to the Florida legislature, in those golden days there were

no such animals as Republicans in Florida that were visible; and if

you won the Democratic primary you were home free, because you had

no opponent in the general election. So I had been nominated for the

legislature, and Dixie found himself in a dilemma. We were rivals

for the St. Petersburg contract, and while a refunding had been en-

dorsed by a referendum of the voters, this specific refunding pro-

posal needed validation by the legislature. That being a local bill

Dixie had to get Fuller to pass his bill. So he went for me one day

which was a Saturday and begun to butter me up, which he could do very

well, and it was old man this and old man that, old palsy-walsy

stuff you know, and he said, "Now, Fuller, I've got to have this

validating act of the legislature, and I'm gonna have to depend on you

to get it for me, and I'm willing to pay you $5000 for it." I said,

"Dixie, you so-and so, I wouldn't take that kind of money from you

or anybody else. I never have and I don't have to know. But I tell

you what I'll do. I happen to be the only person who owns a complete


list of the names and addresses of the St. Petersburg bondholders.

It would take you amny months and much money to acquire that information.

I will sell you that list.'" He said, "Alright, what do you want for

it?" I said, "$3500." So he hemmed and hawwed and searched

through his pockets and he said, "Old man, I haven't got that much a

cash today. This is Saturday, you know, and the banks are closed.

But I'll get it for you the first thing Monday morning." I said, "No,

Dixie, you won't. I don't want cash from you. I want a check. And

I want you to state on that check what this $3500 is for." Well, it

distressed him very much but he had to settle with me on that basis.

He gave me the check for $3500. Of course that list had cost me years

of effort and a great dela of money so that the $3500 price was not

only reasonable it was cheap. I was more concerned with the wel-

fare of St. Petersburg than I was the welfare of Dixie Hollings. As

to the reason why Dixie ran against Mr. Sheets--it is my sincere

opinion, giving the devil his due, that he had a strong interest in

education, and & that time his principal thought was to make that his

life work--education. And he ran for very sincere and very proper and

very admirable reasons. Well, being a fairly honest person I had to

agree that Dixie had already shown ability superior to those of Mr.

Sheets. Mr. Sheets was obviously in bad health, was limited in

energy and activity, and Dixie undoubtedly was better material for

the job than was Mr. Sheets, although he had had an honorable and an

admirable career. He like all politicians, all public officials, he

didn't know when it was quittin' time. As to the 1920 campaign

I had to be very inactive because my, my information dn intelli-

gence told me that Dixie was the man, and I just couldn't bring myself

to vote for him, and Mr. Sheets, I admired and respected, and I didn't

want to hurt or offend him, so I jst put my hands in my pocket

in that campaign and took no part in it in spite of many pressures

to do so on one side or the other.

W: ?

F: Well, I was asked by, by a banker in St. Petersburg, I was asked by

two or three of the principal merchants, I was asked by some of the

school teachers to support one or the other, but I was asked more

often to support Dixie than I was to support Mr. Sheets. Mr. Hollings

was a large man; he had a big frame, not fat, just a big, heavy

frame, big head, big, powerful hands, but his handshake gave you the

creeps. He, he wouldn't, he wouldn't grasp your hand firmly. His

hands were always cold, and you felt they were slimy; you felt un-

comfortable shakin' hands with him. A handshake with him was very,

very brief and I'm repeating myself but my main objection to him i

was he would never look at you.

The 1915, 1920, 1921 period of Florida was a very.placid, easy-

going one. A majority of the citizens were native-born Floridians,

or escapees from Florida. We were leisurely people and when the

vigorous Northerners came down a preponderance of them being Re-

publicans, we were swamped by 'em before we realized. I like to

give this comparison which might be germaine to your subject. The

year I was born there were about 400,000 people in all of Florida.

Today in Pinellas County alone the smallest county in Florida there

are 50% more people than there was in the entire state of Florida

when I was born. Now Ralph, you may want to correct me about Pinellas

being the 1f smallest county, 'cause most people say it is the second

smallest, but actually in land area it is the smallest. By law in



order to figure out the amount of gasoline tax that each county gets,

the coastline counties, you have to include three miles of the gulf.

And that three miles of water, three miles wide by thirty-odd miles

long increases the size of Pinellas about twenty-five, about twen-

ty five per cent. And you subtract that and just measure the land

Pinellas is actually the smallest county, of the sixty-seven in


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