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Apartments and Hotels on Davis Islands

December 15, 2011 | By | 1 Reply More


Apartments and Hotels on Davis Islands

by Rodney Kite-Powell

Curator, Tampa Bay History Center


Davis Islands was conceived as an escape from reality. Vibrant and tropcial

landscaping, exotic architecture and a wide variety of amenities awaited residents

and visitors alike. To accommodate as many people as possible, David P. Davis

included a number of apartment buildings and hotels for tourists, as well as the

Islands’ seasonal and year around residents. By placing these larger structures

along Davis Boulevard, he also created a buffer between that busy street, and the

commercial district on East Davis Boulevard, and the single-family homes that he

saw as the lifeblood of the Islands.

Probably the most recognizable apartment and hotel buildings are the

Mirasol, Palazzo Firenze (Palace of Florence), Palmarin Hotel (now known as

Hudson Manor) and the Spanish Apartments. They embody the grandeur of Davis

Islands, each reflective of a different component within the overall Mediterranean

Revival style of architecture. The largest and most elaborate is the Mirasol, which

includes a small marina, large lobby, dining area and penthouses. The recently

restored Palace of Florence first opened as a seasonal hotel, but now serves the

Islands as an apartment building. Like the Palace, Hudson Manor started out as a

hotel, featuring a restaurant that was popular with Islands residents and visitors

alike for decades.

Some early multifamily buildings, notably the Biscayne Hotel and Venetian

Apartments, have since been demolished. The Biscayne was located along

Biscayne Boulevard, serving first as a hotel, then later as apartments and finally as

the campus for Berkeley Preparatory School. The building was demolished after

Berkeley moved out, making way for a series of townhomes, which still occupy the

site today. The Venetian Apartments was at the northern tip of Davis Islands, on

the west side of Davis Boulevard. The Venetian was demolished to allow for

construction of the second Davis Islands Bridge. A condominium also occupies a

portion of the old apartment site.

Smaller apartment buildings, such as the Augustine and Columbia

Apartments on Columbia Drive, Flora Dora Apartments and Boulevard Apartments

(now the Ritz Apartments, completed shortly after Davis’ death) on Davis

Boulevard are still in use. Though smaller and less elaborate than their sisters, they

are just as important to the Islands history and architectural heritage.

Davis sold his Davis Islands investment, shortly before his death in 1926, to

the Boston engineering firm of Stone & Webster. By the time of the sale, most of

the major hotel projects were under construction or were already complete. Only

one of the original hotels planned for the Islands did not get off of the drawing

board. That one, the Davis Arms Hotel, was projected to sit between Blanca

Avenue and the waterfront at the end of Biscayne Boulevard, but it did not have

the financial backing necessary to insure its completion.

The hotel market on the Islands did not live up to the high expectations

placed on it by D. P. Davis Properties. By 1929 many operated well below total

occupancy and one, the Palace of Florence, functioned as an apartment/hotel. The

Biscayne Hotel represented the only closure, in late 1929 – early 1930, only to reopen

in 1931.

The financial picture was not totally bleak. One area of marked growth on

the Islands occurred in the rental market. Davis Islands featured six apartment

buildings in 1927: the Venetian Apartments, Spanish Apartments, Royal Poinciana

Apartments, an apartment building at 48 Davis Boulevard, Boulevard Apartments

and the Flora Dora Apartments. Combined, they sustained a sixty percent

occupancy rate, which is somewhat skewed by Boulevard Apartments lying

entirely vacant. By mid-1928, twenty-three apartments were added when the

Augustine and Columbia Apartments opened on Columbia Drive. In total, there

were eight apartment buildings with a combined total of ninety-two units. Of

those, thirty-seven remained unoccupied, maintaining the sixty percent occupancy

rate from the previous year.

The occupancy rate dropped in 1929, to fifty-three percent, but again the

figure is misleading. Fifty apartments were added, two entirely new buildings plus

the transition of the Palace of Florence from exclusively offering hotel rooms to

also providing rooms for rent. The total number of leased apartments increased by

twenty. The rental market enjoyed a surge by 1930, when both the number of

available apartments and the number of rented apartments both increased. The red

brick Kornell Apartments opened at 25 Davis Boulevard (the first departure from

Mediterranean architecture in a Davis Islands commercial building), and offered

three apartments, which were all leased, and the Venetian Apartments added two

units to the fifteen already available.

Growth in the apartment market slumped until after World War II, when a

second land boom hit Tampa and Florida. The majority of the rental units on

Davis Islands date to this second building boom. Hotels, on the other hand, never

made a comeback, with the conversion of the existing hotel buildings to other uses

coming after the war as well. The presence of multifamily residences on the

Islands provides both neighborhood diversity and increased population density,

and because of the Islands original plan they complement (for the most part) the

homes that Davis knew would be the cornerstone of his Islands.

Category: Association News

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  1. debbie nowell says:

    I lived in Tampa for 4 wonderful years. I had to move back to my hometown to help with my elderly mother. I have tried to find the answer to my question over & over but no luck. Does anybody know the history of the apartment complex at 106-108 Columbia Dr. Davis islands Tampa FL?

    Thanks for any help,

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