Walter B. Fraser
A Georgia native and accomplished educator, Fraser came to St. Augustine in 1925 where he purchased the celebrated Fountain of Youth. He then embarked on a lifetime of tireless work on behalf of Florida; his three primary achievements for Florida tourism were: the preservation of St. Augustine, the Nation’s Oldest city; the creation of a unified, funded marketing effort for Florida tourism; and the consistent advocacy of the need to develop a tourist-friendly atmosphere in Florida.
Fraser saw the value in saving the Oldest City’s decaying historic resources both as a testament to America’s enduring history and as an irresistible tourist attraction. He enlisted the Smithsonian Institution’s help in documenting an amazing Native American burial ground on his Fountain of Youth property.
He built his own radio station, WFOY, which possessed the ability to broadcast at phenomenal ranges taking messages about Florida as far as England. Fraser was in the forefront in appealing to tourists, from his efforts to make travel here easier by halting road construction from December through April, to eliminating tolls paid by tourists to use state roadways and bridges. It was Fraser who first convinced Floridians statewide that tourism is “good for us” and “tourist are always welcome.”
An eight-term mayor of St. Augustine, in 1940 Fraser launched a campaign for governor. Nearly half his platform was devoted to tourism and he predicted the proper development of the state’s veritable gold mine of treasured attractions would lead to a future where visitors to the Sunshine State would number in the millions, not in the thousands, and on a year-round basis. Although his gubernatorial bid failed, in 1944 he was elected to the state legislature where he immediately set out to create a State Advertising Commission with an annual budget of $1 million, and became the voice of tourism promotion in the state.
Today his Fountain of Youth continues to combine indisputable history with fables and romance to create an attraction that is fun and educational. He was the first to see the value in promoting directly to Hispanic audiences not only South Florida but throughout the Americas, and by the 1950s he was working diligently on this aspect of promotion, something that continues today.