September 5, 2019

Aladdin City: the “Town Where Homes Will Rise Almost Over Night”

The Aladdin Company of Bay City, Michigan was a competitor of Sears in the mail-order house business. The founders of the company, brothers Otto and William Sovereign, planned a city in Florida  in which every house would be manufactured by Aladdin. It would bear the name Aladdin City.

The Sovereigns and some other investors created The Aladdin City Sales Company in 1925 and purchased a large parcel of land located 20 miles south of Miami. And they began to build the Moorish-themed city in December of that year.

Cover of the sales brochure for Aladdin City. Scan courtesy of the Clarke Historical Library of Central Michigan University.

The Project
The sales brochure announced: "Because the inspiration for its name is derived from the wonderful Oriental story of Aladdin and because location, surroundings, climate, and vegetation so peculiarly fit it, the Persian style has been selected for the motif of Aladdin City."

The center of city was Ali Baba Circle. Inside the circle was to be Ali Baba Park, with a large pool in the middle.  Ali Cogia Circle surrounded Ali Baba Circle, and those circles would constitute the city's commercial district. Other streets in the city were named Sovereign Boulevard, Aladdin Boulevard, Damascus Street,  Cairo Street,  Hassan Street, Mustapha Avenue, Bagdad (sp.) Street, Sinbad Street, Cathay Street, Sahib Street, and Mecca Avenue.

Can you imagine an American developer today using those street names?

The plat for half of Aladdin City.

They planned to build a plant at Aladdin City that would manufacture the ready-cut houses for the estimated 10,000 people that would live in the city. Then the plant would be used to build houses for the Florida market, the West Indies, and South America. Advertising stated that: "Aladdin City is NOT a suburb--NOT a subdivision. It is a complete self-sustained city in the heart of the great Redland agricultural district--and with an INDUSTRIAL PAYROLL back of it."

Illustration of Aladdin City from the sales brochure. This was a big project! Scan courtesy of the Clarke Historical Library.

The Houses

The house models designed for Aladdin City were bungalows with "typical Persian detail". (All scans courtesy of the Clarke Historical Library.)

These models were some of the highest priced homes Aladdin sold. Aladdin offered these models for sale nationwide, not just in Aladdin City. The materials for the Aladdin City houses were shipped from Aladdin's plant in Wilmington, NC.

The Launch
On opening day, January 14, 1926, Aladdin built a "dawn-to-dusk" house. The company chartered six airplanes to bring in building materials from Fort Lauderdale. 

Hundreds of spectators witnessed 21 carpenters, plasters, electricians, plumbers, and cement workers put up the house, complete with landscaping. A local school let students out early so that they could watch too. A press release from Aladdin stated: "In the morning the sun rose on a vacant lot and by nightfall a house had been carried in sections by airplane, fitted up and completely furnished so a family was able to move in."

The Santiago model was shown in the ad, but I'm not certain that's what was actually built. Ad from the Miami News.

An advertisement in the Miami News announced that 874 home sites had been sold on opening day. $250 down would buy the home site (total cost $1000) and Aladdin would "aid you in planning your home, build it for you, and help you finance the entire transaction...."


The first 49 seconds of this video is the dedication of Aladdin City. The "house built in a day" is already completed. I believe those are the Sovereign brothers who are speaking--William first, then Otto.  The footage is housed at the Wolfson Archives of Miami Dade University.

A later advertisement in April 1926 invited people to "See a city unfolding before your eyes! Giant road crushers making beautiful 100-foot boulevards. A wonderful swimming pool and sunken gardens being created. Homes being rushed to completion. Business blocks being built."

The planned water tower for Aladdin City. There's no evidence that this was ever built. Scan courtesy of the Clarke Historical Library.

Things appeared to be moving forward.

A Doomed City
The Sovereign brothers' timing could not have been worse. Aladdin City was doomed due to factors outside their control.

First, there were logistical problems.  Florida, and particularly the Miami area, was in the middle of a housing boom in 1925. The railroads found that they could not handle the volume of freight due to the massive amounts of building materials being ordered. Trains took almost a week to get from Jacksonville to Miami because of the traffic, and when they reached their destination, there were already more than a thousand freight cars waiting to be unloaded. Consequently, the largest three railroads were forced to place an embargo on imperishable freight to ensure food, fuel, and perishables (like ice!) could be delivered.

The lack of available building materials greatly slowed the initial progress of Aladdin City. "Long delayed arrival of machinery and equipment for developments has interfered with our progress schedule....come and see the ten Spanish bungalows now under construction" said an ad from February 1926.

The final blow to Aladdin City was the real estate bubble in Florida.

In the early 1920's people across the United States began to see the Miami area as a tropical paradise. Property prices rose rapidly on speculation since credit was easy to obtain. City lots in Miami were bought and sold as many as ten times in a single day!

Otto Sovereign wrote in his autobiography, Fifty Million Dollars on a Shoestring, "I observed Aladdin City emerge from a raw forest with an urgency born of fear that the boom would be over before the lot selling campaign got underway."

By the summer of 1926, there were no more buyers for the overpriced land and properties, and prices began to come down. Investors started selling their properties to lock in their profits. Then panic selling ensued as there were few buyers, and the real estate market crashed. Investors went bankrupt under their crushing debt loads.

The Aladdin City development suffered. By mid-1926 no one was buying real estate. There was no mention of Aladdin City in the local newspapers and no advertising after spring of 1926. The Aladdin City Sales Co. was in receivership by August of 1926.

The Aladdin City Sales Co. was finally dissolved in November 1936. Through 1939 the Sovereigns continued to liquidate their land holdings at a major loss.

The Aftermath
Aladdin constructed about 8-10 homes in Aladdin City, as well as a town hall. The nicest home was purchased by a couple who were investors in the development. The house was on Sinbad Street and cost them $6,000. After the real estate crash, they sold it for $500.

The Aladdin City town hall was used as a polling place through the 1930's and then gradually crumbled. It was rubble by the 1960's.

The bank building was started but never completed. The streetlights were never turned on. The streets were dirt and never paved.

The Seaboard Air Line Railway built a train station in Aladdin City in 1927. By 
1936, the empty train station was leased and used as a potato packing house through the 1960's. Then it was reduced to rubble by a hurricane.

Aladdin City died a slow death. Reportedly one of the Aladdin houses was moved to nearby Goulds. By 1960 almost everyone had moved out. 

Fred Frasier stands in front of an abandoned house in 1960. This looks like the side of the Santiago model (see below).

This 1960 photo was captioned: "E.A. Frasier stands in front of his house that was built in a day." I have no idea what model this is. This is the same house shown in the video above.

In 1960 the train station was used as potato-packing house. Later, the station was destroyed by a hurricane.

In 1963, Aladdin City drew the attention of author John Steinbeck. In observing Florida's real estate boom of the 1950's and 60's, Steinbeck wrote: 
"There is the extravagant talk, once again, of building whole new 'cities'. (For a 1920's version of a 'city' that was to be, consider a place called Aladdin City in South Dade County which consists of a single shack with, behind it, streets and sidewalks running through the woods.)"

In 1969, Eva Fletcher was still living in one of the original Aladdin City houses on Cairo Street. She purchased it in 1930 for $600 (the house originally cost $5,000). Photo courtesy of the Miami Herald.

A 1979 photo shows Aladdin Boulevard.  Photo courtesy of the Miami Herald.

By 1987, only a few of the original houses were standing. One of those was a house that was originally built on Sinbad Street (renamed SW 210 Terrace). It was the three-bedroom Bahama model.

16265 SW 210 Terrace, Miami Florida. Photo from the Metropolitan Dade County Historic Preservation Board. In 1987, the board designated the house as an individual historic site.

In 1992, Hurricane Andrew, a Category 5 hurricane with 165 mph winds, destroyed all remaining structures in Aladdin City. Much of the land originally platted by the Sovereigns is now used for farming. Some of the streets are still there, and most have been renamed.

Aladdin City today. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Aladdin City is largely forgotten and information is scarce. If you have old photos or anything else to share, please email me. I'd love to hear from you.

A reader named Jack miraculously located the Aladdin house that was moved to unincorporated Miami-Dade County sometime before 1960. Based on Google Streetview, it appears to be a Bahama model.

22215 SW 124th Ave. Goulds, FL. The house has a distinctive crenellated roofline. The porch has been partially enclosed. Image from Google Streetview.

Aladdin Bahama.

You can see the front door from this angle and the original arches on the sides which haven't morphed into rectangular windows. Image from Google Streetview.

This Moorish Revival house was built in 1926 according to the county, which is the exact year the Aladdin City houses were constructed. The county believes it is being used as a church, which is interesting because it has no parking and no signage (and no windows).

Now take a look at the house next door, which resembles the Aladdin Havana. The county says it was built in 1930. Hmm.....

22295 SW 124th Ave. Goulds, FL.  Could it be? I know it's missing a fireplace, but maybe in South Florida the owners thought they didn't need one! Check out that unique roofline. Image from Google Streetview.

Aladdin Havana.

Feel free to post your thoughts in the Comments below.


Cati said...

What an amazing story, Lara!
When people wonder why we're so obsessed with preserving the kit house history, they should read this. It was such a unique period in American social and architectural history, and I think you're just touching on the fact of how much of it has been lost forever...

Sears Homes of Chicagoland said...

Thanks for the nice words! I'm really hoping someone comes through with some photos. I'd love to see what was built.

Anonymous said...

This is some amazing info Lara. I knew of this place but did not know much about the houses you posted here. Thanks for sharing. MH

Sarah Glenn said...

This is a GREAT post, and just the background info I was looking for. Thanks for including the floor plans; I love those.

Unknown said...

Thanks so much for this great post! Do you know if the Clarke has the sales brochure for Aladdin City online? I'm curious about the photos too - where did you find them, and are there any others? Many thanks! - Lee Ann

Sears Homes of Chicagoland said...

Hi, Lee Ann! The Clarke does not have the brochure online. The vast majority of their materials are not online, unfortunately.

The photos were old press photos from a Miami Herald article written in the 1960's. That's all I could find. I have not been able to dig up the text of the article, but I was trying to find someone in the Miami area who could get it. The problem is that I don't have a precise date.

I have been in touch with some descendants of people who lived in Aladdin City but no one has been able to find a photo of the houses or the place itself. There must be photos out there... Also I have been unable to track down E.A. Frasier's descendants but I'll give it another look this week,

Thanks for your note!

Anonymous said...

Hi thank you for a very entertaining post. I was searching out ghosts in Florida and stumbled across Aladdin City. Ghost town yes. Haunted? Thanks again. Kat

Jim said...

Could you post the whole brochure?
Does it have plans for commercial buildings in it?

Sears Homes of Chicagoland said...

Hi, Jim! It's not my brochure so I don't have permission to post the whole thing in its entirety. There were no details on commercial buildings. It was a pre-sales brochure for prospective homebuyers.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lara. I have lived down the street at SW 200 st and 162 ave since 1969. When we built our home, the roof tile was shipped from Ohio to Aladdin City by rail. There was a rail spur there at that time. My first grade teacher, Mrs. Fletcher, lived in one of these homes. Her son still lived at this location a few years ago. Loved the article. Most people know nothing about this planned city. Brenda Webb

Sears Homes of Chicagoland said...

Hi, Brenda! So glad to hear from you. So you're *right there*! Can you please email me at I would like to hear more about your teacher's son and where I might reach him. I'm looking for photos of the houses from back in the day. Thanks!

Kevin said...

Hi Lara, What year was this brochure? Also, I found this: best, Kevin

Sears Homes of Chicagoland said...

Hi, Kevin! The brochure about the houses was copyright 1926.

That ad certainly grabs your attention!

Katherine Gongora said...

Hello, I moved to one of the houses here in Aladdin City about 4 years ago and this was very interesting to read. The last picture that was courtesy to Wikipedia, my family and I go there everyday to check the mail. I never knew that this small area that I live in held so many dreams and potential.

Sears Homes of Chicagoland said...

HI, Katherine! If you see anything interesting to photograph, please send it my way. Thanks for your note.

Architectural Observer said...

What a fantastic post! LOTS of material to go through, and well worth it. Just imagine what might have been had Aladdin City been fully built as conceived by its developers! Would it have survived and thrived? Would it have become outdated and scorned? A whole town entirely filled with houses built in various Revival styles would be captivating beyond belief. The proposed water tower is wonderful... so much more interesting that the water towers we are all accustomed to. Thanks for documenting this fascinating place!

Sears Homes of Chicagoland said...

Thank you! You might want to check out Opa Locka. That community was also developed in 1926 but made it much farther along.

Bill F said...

Mrs.Eva Fletcher shown in the picture above was my Granny thats what we called her, she was indeed a first grade teacher for thirty years at redland elem. Iwas in that house almost everyday from 1965 when we moved into our house directley behind her until the mid 80s when she moved to Indiana to live with my aunt.
I have pictures of her house after hurricane andrew, it was flattend.Bill Fletcher

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