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Highway 50 Revisited

Exploring one of the busiest, yet most overlooked, roadways in our region

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1953: 24 parcels of land along Colonial Drive are taken in the county’s largest condemnation suit to date.

1954: Completion of the Colonial Drive section of the East-West Highway spurs rezoning of the city from Orange Blossom Trail to Mills Avenue. Much of what was once residentially zoned is opened to commercial development, and Colonial Drive is officially dedicated as State Route 50. “Official dedication of Colonial Drive was held Aug. 18, with the Acting Governor Johns the honor guest,” says Eve Bacon’s Orlando: a Centennial History of the affair. “A parade and street dance highlighted the celebration, with Cracker Jim (Hanley Pogue) in charge of a hog-calling contest.”

1955: Western Way Shopping Center on West Colonial Drive opens, with Moses Pharmacy and Landis Stone’s Hardware Store as anchor tenants.

1956: Colonial Plaza shopping center opens.

1960: Evangelist Oral Roberts draws 10,000 faithful to Orlando for a 10-day religious revival set up in a huge tent on West Colonial Drive.

1963: Highway 50 is widened into four lanes and the first traffic light at the corner of East Colonial and Maguire Boulevard is installed.

1974: Speed World, a 3/8 mile high-banked oval racing track, opens near the intersection of State Routes 50 and 520, 15 miles east of Orlando.

1974: Town gossip Charlie Wadsworth’s Orlando Sentinel column Hush Puppies details a controversy involving the renaming of Cheney Highway to William B. McGee Highway by Gov. Reubin Askew. McGee was a 29-year employee of the Florida Department of Transportation. Sen. Bill Gibson, R-Orlando – pressured by the Orange County Commission – brokers a deal with the Florida Department of Transportation to split the highway: McGee on the west, Cheney on the east.

1975: First Vietnamese refugees arrive in Orlando, according to Orlando: a Centennial History, Vol. II. According to the book, a Saigon neurosurgeon and educator, Dr. Pham Huu Phuoc and Nguyen Ninh Hoan, were sponsored for emigration by Orlando psychiatrist Dr. E. Michael Gutman. Gutman and his wife formed what became known as “the Gutman Shuttle,” which helped more than 1,300 families relocate from Vietnam to the United States after the fall of Saigon. The Gutman Shuttle is credited for the dense population of Vietnamese immigrants that settled in Orlando throughout the ’70s. Gutman died in 2009.

1999: Orange County Commissioner Homer Hartage proposes redevelopment of West Colonial Drive. Hartage’s attempt is followed by a 2002 Special Design Overlay District for West Colonial Drive from North Pine Hills Road to Good Homes Road. Numerous businesses are unhappy about the restrictions designed to reduce blight.

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