July 3, 2020
Cocoa Beach is on the Atlantic Ocean barrier island. Its closest cousin is Cocoa, a separate town on the mainland across the Indian and Banana Rivers.
The population of the city is about 12,000 in 2020.
Cocoa Beach is located between Kennedy Space Center on the north and Patrick Air Force Base on the south.
The main route through the city is State Road A1A. The highway connects Cocoa Beach to the City of Cape Canaveral and the shipping and cruise port of Port Canaveral immediately north.
Native Americans lived in the area in the very early days. The first settlers after the Civil War were a family of freed slaves that formed a small community.
Some Cocoa businessmen bought all of what is now Cocoa Beach in 1888, but did nothing with it. It remained undeveloped until 1923 when it was bought by a member of the original group, Gus Edwards.
Edwards was City Attorney for the city of Cocoa on the mainland. He owned 600 acres and gave up his law practice to develop his property.
The Town of Cocoa Beach was established in 1925. Gus Edwards was a talented promoter and the town began to grow.
There is an old story that I can't vouch for, but will tell anyway.
Gus opened a roadside zoo as a tourist attraction to bring in tourists so he could sell them lots.
Among his zoo animals were a few armadillos, not native to Florida and a real curiosity to visitors to Cocoa Beach.
A storm came along and the armadillos escaped. Soon their descendants were showing up all over Florida.
And now you know the rest of the story. True history? I don't know, but I like the story.
In 1935 the State Department of Transportation built State Road A1A down to what is now known as the beach area near Eau Gallie Causeway.
The late Brevard County Commissioner, Joe Wickham, as a young man helped survey the route along the ocean through the rattlesnake infested palmettos.
World War Two hastened the growth of Cocoa Beach when the Naval Air Station Banana River was built south of town. It generated a need for housing and support businesses.
After the war the Naval Air Station became Patrick Air Force Base.
The space program began to heat up in the 1950s with missile launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
After President Kennedy pledged to put the United States on the moon before the end of the 1960s, the population of Cocoa Beach and Brevard County began to grow faster than any other area in the United States.
NASA purchased thousands of acres on North Merritt Island and established Kennedy Space Center.
The original Mercury astronauts became regular fixtures in Cocoa Beach, and drove Corvettes provided under very reasonable lease terms by Melbourne car dealer (and 1960 Indy 500 winner) Jim Rathmann.
Alan Shepard, Gordon Cooper, Buzz Aldren and Gus Grissom were among the first to lease the Corvettes. Soon it become common to see astronauts driving their Corvettes around Cocoa Beach.
One of the symbols of Cocoa Beach's prominent position in the aerospace age was the futuristic looking Glass Bank on State Road A1A in south Cocoa Beach.
When it opened in 1962 it was a bank, an office building, and had a restaurant on the top floor. It was one of the most unusual looking buildings in Florida and people liked to drive by and just look at it.
People either loved the looks of the Glass Bank or hated it. Not many folks were neutral. It became obsolete and run down and was finally demolished in 2015.
Ron Jon's Surf Shop started on the New Jersey shore, and in 1963 opened a small shop near the Cocoa Beach pier.
The shop grew into a major brand with a large retail store on State Road A1A.
In the 1960s everybody who wanted a job had one either working in the space program, or providing goods and services to those who did.
Many worked very long hours and sometimes seven days a week. The tremendous work load took its toll on family life.
Cocoa Beach and Brevard County in the 1960s had a divorce rate of more than twice the national average.
The town, especially along State Road A1A, was lined with bars, night clubs and restaurants where busy workers and astronauts could let off steam when not working.
Some of these places stayed open all night rather than closing at 1 or 2 AM like other places in Brevard County.
Popular dining and drinking establishments included the Mouse Trap, Lee Caron's Carnival Club, Ramon's, Bernards Surf, Beef n Reef and many more.
None of these once famous places have survived into today's world.
Parades down State Road A1A were common in those days with prominent politicians, astronauts, and television commentators like the space buff, Walter Cronkite, who covered many of the launches.
One of the first tall buildings in Cocoa Beach was the Cape Royal Office Building on State Road A1A.
Like the Glass Bank, the building also had a restaurant on top with a spectacular view of the ocean and beach.
The 1960s also saw the start of a popular television series, "I Dream of Jeannie." The series was actually filmed in California but had a Cocoa Beach setting.
Larry Hagman played an astronaut and beautiful Barbara Eden played his obedient servant Jeannie. Men everywhere wished they could be so lucky.
What could be better? Be an astronaut and have a girl like Jeannie.
Cocoa Beach named a street in her honor: "I Dream of Jeannie Lane."
After the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969, the Apollo Program ended with Apollo 17 in 1972. Thousands of workers were laid off from NASA and related aerospace contractors. The economy of Cocoa Beach and all of Brevard County went into a tailspin.
Many unemployed people simply left their homes and moved away. The real estate market plummeted. The unemployment rate soared.
Slowly but surely, Cocoa Beach rebounded and once again has a healthy economy. Cocoa Beach is heavily tourism oriented, but still has many residents who work at Kennedy Space Center or Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Patrick Air Force Base.
There are many motels and hotels on the ocean, and condominiums that are not as tall as in many Florida beach communities. The city passed a height restriction ordinance many years ago.
A popular pastime in Cocoa Beach is watching rocket launches from nearby Kennedy Space Center. Large parties gather on the beach to picnic and enjoy the spectacle.
Launches at night are especially memorable. The giant rockets light up the sky as if it were daytime and the rumble of their powerful engines vibrate the beach and everthing nearby.
Cocoa Beach has also established a reputation as a great place for surfers and people who like to watch them. A popular place for surfing is next to the Cocoa Beach pier.
The pier has shops, restaurants and a very nice open tiki bar at its very end. The pier is a center of beach activity including beach volleyball.
They even have a Surfing Santa celebration in December where hundreds of surfers dressed like Santa come riding in on the waves. The proceeds of the event go to charity.
Thousands of people come to the pier and the beach to watch the event, many of them also dressed like Santa.
Surfing was and is a way of life for many people in Cocoa Beach, young and not so young. Years ago I owned an engineering company in Brevard County and most of my staff were surfers.
Cocoa Beach was their mecca, even though their might have been better surfing waves at Sebastian Inlet. They loved Cocoa Beach because of its surfing related ambiance and camaraderie.
Surfers everywhere know the name of Kelly Slater. He began surfing when he was 5 years old and by the time he was 10 he was winning age-division surfing championships.
He turned professional in 1990 and by the time he was 20 became the youngest world surfing champion in history. He has won a record 11 world surfing championships.
He has expanded his surfing popularity and talent into a second career as an actor, model, author and businessman. As an actor, he appeared in 27 episodes of the hit television series Baywatch. He also made other appearanced in dozens of films and television shows.
He is considered the greatest professional surfer of all time.
You know you have a unique town when you not only produce a Kelly Slater, you even have a mayor who not only supports surfing, but gets out there and shows how it's done.
Mayor Robert J. Murkshe was mayor of Cocoa Beach during its most challenging and high growth years. He continued to lead the city through the economic hardships caused by the massive layoffs at the Cape when the moon landing had been completed.
He served as mayor from 1963-1972 while working full time on the space program.