A planned community on the Gulf Coast that fully embraces the nostalgia of old time seaside resorts.
Decades after the beginning of construction in 1981, Seaside is still famous for its expectation that no two houses can look alike as well as being the location of the popular movie The Truman Show.
Seaside’s developer, Robert Davis, is the grandson of the original owner of what would become the Seaside property. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Davis was a builder and designer in Miami. He and his wife moved from Miami to Grayton Beach, a small village in Walton County in the late 1970s. It was there that they began exploring the possibility of developing the beachfront property.
The 80 acre (32 hectare) property along the Gulf Coast is in a part of Florida that is still relatively undeveloped. Since the site was private property and outside of any municipality, Davis was able to create his own set of building codes. Those codes would become a model for other late 20th century planned communities. Construction began on Seaside with only one street and two houses in 1981. Over the next few years, a community of about 300 houses and a centrally located retail and business area arose from the white sand.
Seaside was considered a success when much of the construction was completed in 1985. It’s considered to be an expression of the New Urbanism architectural planning movement, whose proponents focus on creating walkable neighborhoods, a wide variety of housing types and strong community identities. Seaside was the first fully New Urbanist town.
Several other communities were created using Seaside elements. Probably Seaside’s most significant sister community, at least in Florida, is Celebration, which was created by the Disney Development Company (DDC) on land near Walt Disney World. The Celebration Company, founded by DDC, began construction in 1996 on land owned by Disney in Southwest Osceola County. Celebration is often considered to be Seaside on a grander scale – 5,000 acres (2,023 hectares) of land versus 80 acres for Seaside – though Disney avoids the use of the term New Urbanism in reference to their development.
1998 was the year that much of America was introduced to Seaside. Peter Weir, director of The Truman Show, chose the development as the location for the movie. Arguably, it became one of the stars of the movie. Initially, Weir looked for sites on the east coast of Florida and even reserved sound stages at Universal Studios, but wasn’t happy with the choices. It was actually Weir’s wife Wendy Stites who told him about the little community. Weir liked the look and feel of Seaside and so a majority of the filming took place there. The home of Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) and his wife Meryl (Laura Linney) is in the village and has a small sign on the front fence that proclaims The Truman House.
It’s an irony that a movie which questions the reality of reality TV would use such a stylized planned development, almost as if Seaside’s initial construction was to be a movie set that eventually was turned into a real village rather than the other way round. Seaside, and especially Celebration, feel almost like film sets.
Seaside continues today with a mixture of full-time residents, vacation homes and rentals for vacationers. The center of the village has a variety of shops and restaurants as well. It’s buildings and style have become iconic aspects of late modern Florida and its a popular tourist destination.