Sunday, July 15, 2018

Norman Johnson's Upside-Down House, a gimmick to drive traffic to Sunrise Golf Village. Over there, similar, but right side up, houses were for sale. It was the 1st gimmick upside down house, and started a thing around the world of copycats for tourism

above 1966, a photo from an extended family member's really old slides, or photos. They took a vacation in 1966

Norman Johnson was the founder, developer, and mayor of Sunrise Golf Village, at the I75 and I595 by Ft Lauderdale on the edge of the Everglades.  Gov. Farris Bryant appointed Mr. Johnson its first mayor, even though he was not a resident of the village and never would be

In 1960 an Iowa-born developer with big dreams paid $9 million for 2,650 acres of land in southwestern Broward County, approximately six miles west of Fort Lauderdale.

Norman Johnson decided to call his community Sunset Village. But the few residents who lived there, mostly retirees, complained that Sunset sounded too final, so he named it Sunrise Golf Village.

Norman’s plan was to subdivide his land and sell plots to northerners who wanted to build a Florida home. The problem was no one had ever heard of Sunrise, since he’d just created it. Getting the word out to prospective buyers was proving to be a challenge.

That’s when Norman came up with a great marketing idea. He would build a model home. But this wouldn’t be just any old model home. He would build an upside-down house. And furnish it. And even put an upside-down car in the upside-down carport.

Bruce Johnson said his father was driving along Car Row -- 36th Street in Miami -- in mid-1960 when the promotional idea he needed popped up in front of him. As he pulled closer to what he assumed was an accident, he saw drivers stopping to gawk at a car placed upside down in a car lot.

By July 1960, the Upside-Down House had been built for $11,500 on Sunset Strip and opened to the public. Furniture and fixtures were bolted, nailed, wired, glued or welded in place, a Pontiac convertible was parked in the carport and shrubs filled a planter in front of the home -- all upside down.

``We needed something really outstanding that would attract people into our subdivision,`` Mr. Johnson said in 1985. ``This brought the people out, plus they were talking about Sunrise and found out where it was. The only problem was you had to change the plants every two months, because they`d turn around and start growing toward the sun.``

The media ate it up! They wrote stories that made the house sound like one of the seven natural wonders of the world, right up there with the Grand Canyon. Life magazine published a full-length feature complete with photos.

When the car was being turned upside down, a chain broke, and the back fender was crushed

 Billed as a land developer's operation, Mr. Johnson and fellow developer, F.E. Dykstra designed and built an upside-down house to attract prospective property buyers.

In 1961 there was a population of 350, by 1967, there were 4300, and in 1968 there were 7400 by extensive annexation, by 1971 there were 15,000 population

Development was nothing new to the Iowa-born Mr. Johnson. He was training as an Army Air Force pilot when World War II ended, and soon after his discharge he moved to Davenport, Iowa, where he built 200 homes before moving to south Broward in 1948.

One of his first ventures in Florida was constructing the Adobe Hacienda motel in Hollywood. He ran the inn, which still stands, for 10 years before selling it.

A short time later, he bought a small private airport and began developing several hundred homes in his Look subdivision, between what is now Johnson and Sheridan streets and Dixie Highway and Interstate 95. He used the airport runway as the community`s main street, his son said.

His Plantation Isles subdivision followed in 1957, and he moved his family into one of the first homes he built. He later was president of the Plantation Chamber of Commerce.

Sunrise came next. He built the state`s first ``true`` condominiums, developed his village and was mayor from 1961 until 1967, when John Lomelo was elected to the post. He set up an office on a road he had named Sunset Strip -- after his favorite television show, 77 Sunset Strip -- and had the Postal Service number the building 77 even though it was out of sequence.

Later, Johnson was an owner/operator of Miami-Hollywood Speedway, and built the Johnson Presidential and Phantom cars... excalibur ugly things, built over 1980s Camaro donor cars


  1. This post is so great! My family were among the first to settle in Sunrise in 1961. I really love the first photo of the upside down house. I'm the administrator of the I Grew Up In Sunrise Facebook Group. Would there be any way I could use that image for a t-shirt I would like to make for members of the group? Of course I would give you credit and a free shirt! Thanks so much, Scott Schwebke

    1. Thank you! I figure you ought to just do it, it's not like anyone is ever going to see your t-shits from whoever might own the rights to the photos... seriously. But I don't own any of these photos, I got them all from

  2. You didn't mention that John Lemelo was indided 14 times then convicted on the 15th time for crooked things he got away with the seniors.

    1. That's true, I didn't mention it... 2 reasons. First reason? I didn't post about Lemelo. Second reason? He was never idided. Indicted maybe, but that's a different word.

    2. True. I worked for John Lemelo. Parks and recreation dept. I set up funtion at Whoring Hall. When John finally went to Jain, Larry Hoffman took over. I worked from 1979 to 1982 or so.