When dairy farmer Henry D. Perry sold 640 acres of his land to the U.S. Navy in 1943, no one, not even the most prescient Broward County resident, could have guessed that a remote flight-training field would stand as witness to some of the most explosive growth in Florida. Back then, open pastures and pine forest cross-stitched a vast, mostly uninhabited land whose western boundary bumped up against the Everglades wilds.
Hardly a trace of that frontier remains in the 35-square-mile area now known as Pembroke Pines. Today, North Perry Airport, that once-isolated flight school, is surrounded by development. Lots and lots of it: houses and townhomes, miles of broad boulevards and narrower residential roads, a dizzying variety of restaurants and an equally impressive number of retail shops, from national chains to smaller neighborhood holes-in-the-wall.
“It was a quiet, sleepy town, very cozy,” recalled Jan Wells, 83. “Pretty much everyone knew everybody. You’d even go into City Hall to pay your water bill.”
Wells and husband Bob moved to Pembroke Pines from Hialeah in 1972, attracted by the city’s quiet charm and the area’s proximity to Florida’s Turnpike. The population then was about 50,000, all the roads were two-lane, Pines Elementary consisted of a bunch of portables and the now-sprawling Century Village had only one section.
“It’s hard to imagine, but there was no traffic to speak of,” Wells added with a rueful laugh. “All the kids walked or rode their bikes to school.”
She would raise her five children over the span of 30 years in Pembroke Lakes, in what is now known as east Pines, before moving west to one of the more modern neighborhoods in 2002. Active in the city’s historical museum, Wells has lived through the city’s relentless westward march as it grew. And grew. And grew.
Pembroke Pines is now, by all accounts, massive and diverse, Broward’s second-most populous city and Florida’s 11th. Its estimated 2013 population clocked in at 162,329. Though its boundaries include a fair share of nooks and crannies, the city tends to a mostly rectangular swath, with Pembroke Road to the south and Sheridan Street to the north, the Turnpike to the east and U.S. 27 to the west. It is home to residential developments with names that suggest faraway places and halcyon days: Walden Lake, Spring Valley, Estancia, Ivanhoe, Malibu Bay and Stoneridge Lakes Estates.
But in many ways Pines is really two cities: the older, eastern sections clustered along the Turnpike, and the newer planned communities that have popped up to the west. Drive Pembroke Road or Pines Boulevard or Sheridan, past Southwest 72nd Avenue and University and Flamingo drives, past Interstate 75 and just beyond 208th Avenue, and you’ll see the manicured entrances and winding walkways that have sprouted since the 1990s. The newest development is the Pines’ City Center, a $58 million project on 80 city-owned acres near Pines Boulevard and Palm Avenue. It will include entertainment venues, office and retail space, restaurants, a hotel and other amenities.
“We have everything here,” boasted Wells, “from smaller, affordable family homes to the big mansions. They built, and the people came.”
Pembroke Pines’ beginnings are relatively humble. Families and retired servicemen moved into the area after World War II, prompting the construction of new homes and the paving of new streets. Gerry Witoshynsky, the city’s historian who died in January, recalled those early times in an essay: “A not uncommon sight was a parade of dairy cows walking down the street.” Residents also stabled horses on University Drive and rode them around the neighborhood.
The city incorporated in 1960 (its 55th anniversary celebration is April 18; see sidebar), about three years after the Turnpike opened new routes for development. It was less than a square mile. Dr. Seth Kipnis, the first mayor, presided over a seven-member Board of Aldermen. In the 1970s, a developer agreed to have 320 acres north of Pines Boulevard and east of Davie Road Extension annexed, which allowed the city to push west. In the 1980s the city doubled its size when it again added property from Flamingo Road to U.S. 27.
True population growth, however, didn’t come until 1992, when the destruction wreaked by Hurricane Andrew prompted thousands of Miami-Dade residents to settle in Pembroke Pines. By 1999, the city would earn the title of the third-fastest growing city in the country. Notably, the city started a charter school system and adopted an ambitious school construction timeline to accommodate the ever-increasing number of families. Its current collection of charter schools is believed to be the largest municipally-run nonprofit charter system in Florida.
Growth also transformed Pines into a more Hispanic city, with 41 percent of the population now identifying itself as Latino, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Thirty-six percent are foreign born and 49 percent speak a language other than English at home.
Most of Pines’ Latins are Puerto Rican or Cuban, but there are a good number of Colombians, Dominicans, Peruvians and other Latin Americans as well, many of whom crossed the border over from Miami-Dade. In fact, several Miami-based Hispanic-owned businesses run Pines locations, including Sedanos, La Carreta, Las Vegas, Vicky Bakery, Sweet Art by Lucila and Misha’s Cupcakes. There are also plenty of homegrown places of course, such as Casa Borinquen and Don Pepe III.
Frank Nieves, president of the Puerto Rican-Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Broward County, credits Pines’ family atmosphere and business-friendly attitude for the city’s robust growth. He points to two recent surveys that give the area top marks. Using 19 key metrics such as Hispanic entrepreneurship rates, corporate tax systems and the share of businesses owned by Hispanics, WalletHub, a social media company for consumers and small businesses, named it the Top City for Hispanic Entrepreneurs. Pembroke Pines also made it onto Time magazine’s 50 best places to live in 2014.
“It’s very welcoming,” Nieves said, “not like in other cities that make it very hard and unaffordable for businesses to establish themselves.”
The city’s growth has resulted in a diversity of restaurants. Longtime Pines resident and hairdresser Carl Lee, who eats out often, believes most if not all cuisines are well-represented in the city. There’s a strong Asian tradition, he adds, including Japanese (Nami and the newer Mikan, recently relocated from Miami), Vietnamese (Pho 78) and the venerable China Pavilion, known for its dim sum.
“You won’t go hungry here,” Lee said, “and we have a lot to pick from.”
The sleepy town of two-lane roads is long gone, but even as it has spread and multiplied beyond its pioneer residents’ wildest dreams, Pembroke Pines remains, at its heart, the little town that could.
“I miss the quiet, sure,” Jan Wells said, “but we love it here. We wouldn’t want to go anywhere else. This is our home.”
Where to go
FOOD & DRINK
Thai World, 11262 Pines Blvd.; 954-432-4008, thaiworldrestaurant.com.
Pho 78, 7849 Pines Blvd.; 954-989-6770, pho78florida.com.
China Pavilion, 270 S. Flamingo Rd.; 954-431-2299.
Gimme a Burger, 2010 N. Flamingo Rd.; 954-241-4799, gimmeaburger.com.
JT’s Sports Bar & Grill, 10466 Taft St.; 954-441-3833.
Pines Blvd Pizza & Wings Parlor, 6472 Pines Blvd.; 954-589-0602.
Jersey’s Wings & Raw Bar, 12592 Pines Blvd.; 954-450-2133, jerseyswings.com.
Nami Japanese Restaurant, 8381 Pines Blvd.; 954-432-2888
Nami Sushi & Grill, 17007 Pines Blvd.; 954-450-2388, namimenu.com.
Mikan Japanese Restaurant, 12502 Pines Blvd.; 954-471-2719, mikansushi.com.
Don Pepe III, 7900 Pines Blvd.; 954-964-9717, mydonpepe.com.
Casa Borinquen Puerta Rican Cuisine, 1411 N. Palm Ave.; 954-237-7700, casaborinquen.com.
Latin American Grill, 12638 Pines Blvd.; 954-435-0504, latinamericangrill.net.
Las Vegas Cuban Cuisine, 2150 N. University Dr.; 954-431-6883, LasVegasCubanCuisine.com.
La Carreta, 301 N. University Dr.; 954-966-8161, lacarreta.com.
La Hormiga de Oro, 7902 Pines Blvd.; 954-894-7340.
Mezes Greek Taverna, 10040 Pines Blvd.; 954-430-1725, mezestaverna.com.
Doris Italian Market & Bakery, 10020 Pines Blvd.; 954-499-0600, dorismarket.com.
Buenos Aires Bakery & Café, 2220 N. Flamingo Rd.; 954-499-4604.
Misha’s Cupcakes, 14539 SW Fifth St.; 754-400-8380, mishascupcakes.com.
Sweet Art by Lucila, 9642 Pines Blvd.; 954-885-1011, sweetartbylucila.com.
Vicky Bakery, 15955 Pines Blvd.; 954-271-2662, vickybakery.com.
EVENTS AND PLACES
C.B. Smith Park, known for its annual chili cook-off, this Broward park is a favorite. Check out the Paradise Cove Water Park, 900 N. Flamingo Rd.; 954-357-5170.
Jazz in the Pines on Sundays at William B. Armstrong Dream Park, 1700 Dykes Rd.; 954-435-6525, ppines.com.
Havana Nights, May 3 at Southwest Focal Point Community Center, 301 NW 103rd Ave.; 954-435-6525.
Walter C. Young Resource Center and Jim Davidson Dinner Theatre, 501 NW 129th Ave.; 954-437-0515.
Pines Ice Arena, 12425 Taft St.; 954-704-8700.
Pines Day celebrates the city’s 55th birthday, 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. on April 18, mostly at Pines Rec Center; 954-435-6525.