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Sun City Development and Motion Picture Studio Plat Map Sheets

 Collection — Container: Drawer 2
Identifier: MSS 2007-046

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of seven plat map sheets of Sun City, "Florida's Moving Picture City," filed with the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Hillsborough County on November 17, 1925. In addition to tracts of land, these sheets show all "parks, parkways, boulevards, avenues, drives, streets, alleys, and highways dedicated for public use." They also indicate the locations of the motion picture studio. They are signed by H.C. Van Sweringen, President, and J.H. Meyer, Secretary of the Sun City Holding Company. The plat sheets document how the development appeared shortly after Sun City was dedicated.


  • Created: November 17, 1925


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open to all researchers.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright has not been transferred to the Florida State University Libraries. All requests for permission to quote, publish, broadcast or otherwise reproduce from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Associate Dean for Special Collections and Archives. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Florida State University Libraries as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the researcher.

Biographical or Historical Information

During the 1920s Florida Land Boom, with its burgeoning population, many investors from St. Petersburg, Tampa, and Jacksonville moved to Sun City, near present-day Ruskin, in Hillsborough County. The Florida population was growing four times faster than any other state, spurred by the abolition of income and inheritance taxes and an active road-building program. The 500-acre Sun City (FL) Motion Picture Studio was built at a cost of $300,000 through land investments near present-day Ruskin, in Hillsborough County, in late 1925. It was constructed in the Spanish-Moor style with business offices, a projection room, a carpentry room, and 20 dressing rooms. Unlike any other studio, it offered a visitors gallery where Sun City residents and tourists could watch motion picture stars work. The studio was dedicated in October 1925, and, according to the St. Petersburg Times, "1,500 speculators poured into the new silver-screen development."

Herbert C. Van Swearingen, who made his living in real estate in Cleveland, Ohio, was the chief developer of Sun City. At the dedication of the studio, Swearingen spoke to everyone in attendance, vowing to "continue to build a moving picture city of gigantic proportions and one of the most beautiful in the country, providing all the comforts of the ideal home life and with environments that will excite the active interest of noted producers throughout the nation." Other local newspapers noted that rose bushes were planted along its main street leading to a state-of-the-art movie studio, tourists camped on the edge of town, and there were plans to build homes, a city hall, school, theater, and church.

Initially, the venture was successful. Two-hundred 60-by-40-foot lots were sold for $1500 each, then resold for more. Land sales hit $2-million. However, by early 1926, the price of land had climbed so dramatically that new buyers could not afford it. Many who had bought land could not cash in on such high prices, and put their land up for sale. Speculators who bought contracts on property for a 10-percent down payment were eager to sell.

On July 4, 1932, all of Sun City was auctioned at the Hillsborough County Courthouse. Orlando businessman W.W. Staplen dismantled the movie studio and sold the bricks for $1,500. According to the St. Petersburg Times, "streets named after 1920s movie stars washed away, weeds soon overtook the flower beds, and palmetto grew where houses were to be built."

In the mid to late 1930s, J.T. Fleming, a developer and inventor from Georgia who went broke during the land boom in Florida and lost everything except 500 acres in southern Hillsborough County, bought special masters deeds to Sun City for $100. He settled all its delinquent taxes for $163 under a special legislative act. Fleming believed that the land in Sun City would be worth millions as a moviemaking destination where filmmakers and actors would live among regular residents. However, Fleming became increasingly involved in legal battles. He contended that the Florida State Road Department illegally cut a road through Sun City and turned Gloria Swanson Avenue into a drainage ditch. Fleming hired a Tampa law firm to sue the department and won $26,000. The proceeds he won from that case led to other lawsuits against the state and county, which grew so numerous that he had trouble finding a lawyer to handle his cases. After years of continuous legal challenges, Fleming in 1953 was ruled insane, incarcerated for 19 months, and finally had his rights restored by a Fulton County (GA) court. When Fleming died in January 1968, Hillsborough County reclaimed his 500 acres of land near present-day Ruskin for unpaid taxes.

As of 2007, Sun City was largely a mobile home park situated among industrial sites, fish farms, orchards, and scrapyards near Ruskin. Most of its acreage became divided among three landholders, with the county holding deeds to some property.


7.00 items

0 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Custodial History

Dr. Nelson acquired the collection from Elizabeth Reeder, Sun City, Florida, date unknown.

Method of Acquisition

Given by Dr. Richard Alan Nelson, Professor of Mass Communication and Public Affairs, Louisiana State University Manship School of Mass Communication in December 2007.

Existence and Location of Originals

Portions of collection available online?: No

Processing Information

Processed by Burt Altman in January 2008.

Sun City Development and Motion Picture Studio Plat Map Sheets
Burt Altman
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the FSU Special Collections & Archives Repository

116 Honors Way
PO Box 3062047
Tallahassee FL 32306-2047 US