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80th Anniversary of Land Sales for Davis Islands

December 15, 2011 | By | 1 Reply More

 

Davis Islands Reaches Historic Milestone

by Rodney Kite-Powell

Curator, Tampa Bay History Center

October 2004 marks the eightieth anniversary of land sales for lots on Davis

Islands. Developer David P. Davis had worked his whole life to get to that point, and

over one and half million dollars in sales proved that the wait was worthwhile. He did

not work alone, nor did he just hang out a sign on the morning of October 4, 1924 stating,

“lots for sale.” Davis organized men and materials, planned entertainment and baited the

local newspapers. Months in the making, the advertising operation for Davis Islands was

like no other.

 

Davis launched his sales campaign in the summer of 1924. He continuously

touted Davis Islands in half and full page newspaper advertisements in Tampa=s morning

and evening papers. He also placed large ads in other newspapers across the state, in

guidebooks and in tourist magazines targeted toward that growing market. The term

>mass media= had just entered the national lexicon in 1923, and Davis understood its

power. He bought time on Tampa=s flagship radio station, WDAE, and insured his ads

found their way into all manner of Tampa tourism and promotional publications. He also

sponsored, in 1926, publication of Kenneth Roberts=s Florida, a history of the state.

Everything Davis did in the summer of 1924 led up to his ultimate goal B the

opening of land sales on Davis Islands. Davis spent lavishly on elaborate brochures, a

fleet of buses and vast improvements to his sales office, located on the corner of Franklin

and Madison Streets in downtown Tampa. With the final design of the islands complete,

maps were created showing lot locations. Davis divided the development into eight

sections, six of which carried a name describing a particular feature or its proximity to

nearby landmarks. The Hyde Park Section, at the northern end of the islands nearest to

Hyde Park, the Bay Circle Section, just southwest of the Hyde Park Section, named for

its waterfront lots and circular street pattern, the South Park Section, at the southern end

of Marjorie Park, the Hotel Section, so named for the Davis Arms Hotel, which was

never built, the Yacht Club Section, named for the Yacht Club which, too, was not built,

and the Country Club Section, including five of the nine holes of the Davis Islands Golf

Course and its clubhouse. The southern end of the islands, though platted, did not carry

section names. Land sales, Davis decided, would go one section at a time. The fateful

first day was finally at hand.

 

The first sale of lots, the Hyde Park Section, came on October 4, 1924. The

results of that first day’s land sales are well documented — all available lots, a total of

300, sold within three hours at an average cost of $5,610 per lot. Few of those lots were

above sea level, let alone graded and ready for construction. Some speculators waited in

line for forty hours for the opportunity to buy into the yet unbuilt islands. Total sales for

that day reached an overwhelming $1,683,000. More interesting was the staggering

resale of those same lots, some reportedly made inside the Franklin Street sales office

between the first owners and eager prospects still waiting in line.

Davis encouraged everyone to view his emerging paradise. Like many other real

estate developers of the time, Davis owned a fleet of buses on which prospective buyers

could tour Davis Islands. The buses, specially painted with the D. P. Davis Properties

logo, brought people from as far away as Sarasota, Orlando and even Miami. Prospective

buyers received colorful brochures, booklets and photographs showing how all of their

dreams could come true, just by buying property on Davis Islands. Venetian style canals,

luxurious homes, boating and waterfront grandeur all were depicted on lithographed

pages within leather-bound booklets.

 

A carnival-like atmosphere surround all Davis Islands land sales, including boat

races around the Islands and along Bayshore Boulevard, airplane exhibitions with stunt

flyers, sports celebrities such as Olympic swimmer Helen Wainwright, who swam around

Davis Islands, plus tennis tournaments and golf lessons from tour professionals Bobby

Cruickshank and Johnny Farrell.

The fervor created by the first land sale carried into the next, when lots in the Bay

Circle Section went on the market on October 13, 1924. This scenario repeated itself

each time lots came on the open market. As with his developments in Miami, Davis

made sure to mention that many lots were purchased by Ahome folks@ who knew a good

investment when they saw it. Realizing the need to not flood that lucrative market, Davis

spaced out the sales from days to weeks apart, allowing the property values to increase

each time.

Resales between individual buyers contributed to the frenzy of Florida=s land

boom, and the action surrounding Davis Islands proved no exception. Davis understood

the importance of resales, both in how they maintained interest in his property and how

they enhanced his own bottom line. He could raise the price on his own lots and, in

theory, could also participate in the resale market himself. After October 15, 1925,

resales were the only method of acquiring land on Davis Islands. These resales remained

steady for another few months. Davis’ good fortune soon reversed, and in the spring of

1926 he collected only a small portion of the property payments owed him. Despondent,

Davis sold his islands investment to Stone & Webster, a Boston-based engineering

company. He received $250,000 in stock from the new company and booked passage

aboard the Majestic. He died under mysterious circumstances at sea on October 12,

1926, just two short years after the first sale of Davis Islands land.

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  1. Alex Belluscio says:

    Hello! My Great grandfather and my grandfather were builders in Davis Island during the 1920’s. Their address in 1927 was 1716 9th Ave, Tampa.I was hoping to get some more info. and anticipate visiting the area this January. Is there a historical society or museum in Davis Island?Any info would be greatly appreciated. My Great grandfather would have been Lorenzo, or Lawrence Belluscio, My grandfather, Anthony Belluscio. Thanks for your time, Alex Belluscio, 908-600-8389

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