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Davis Acquires Islands

December 15, 2011 | By | Reply More

 

Davis Acquires Land (and water) for Davis Islands

by Rodney Kite-Powell

Curator, Tampa Bay History Center

 

In the early days of 1924, David P. Davis began the lengthy task of

assembling property for his Davis Islands development. The first step

centered on land acquisition and a contract with the city of Tampa that

would sell him Little Grassy Island plus its share in Big Grassy Island. He

also needed to receive permission to fill in the surrounding submerged lands.

Negotiations between Davis, represented by attorney Giddings Mabry,

and the city were surprisingly public, with the Tampa Morning Tribune

covering their progress on an almost daily basis. Though Davis and the city

quickly came to terms, some public opposition did exist. A small, but

wealthy and influential group of residents who lived on or near Bayshore

Boulevard objected to Davis’ plans because it would be detrimental to their

view of Hillsborough Bay.

These residents, led by Dr. Louis A. Bize, president of Citizens Bank

and Trust, outlined their problems in a letter sent to Tampa City

Commissioners on February 12, 1924. The Bayshore residents’ view

corridor was not their only concern. Their letter outlined six points of

“protest” to the city commission. The first four stated that the city had no

right under Florida law to sell the riparian (under water) rights to Davis, or

any other developer, for the purpose of filling in. The fifth point served as

an appeal to the environmentalists on the commission (there were none),

explaining that the development “would be a spoilation of a great portion of

Hillsboro [sic] Bay, the greatest natural attraction in the vicinity of said

city.” They ended with a general attack on the contract itself, which Bize

and his neighbors saw as “vague, uncertain, indefinite, and fails to provide

limitations against additional encroachments upon the lands held in trust by

the City of Tampa and the State of Florida.”

Though submitted by eight people, the neighborhood contingent kept

their protest to one page. In contrast, Karl Whitaker, a powerful local

lawyer and future city attorney, wrote a twelve page screed, attacking the

proposed contract point by point. Whitaker began by explaining he did not

“care at this time to enter into a discussion as to the merits or demerits of the

so called Davis Development Project.” Whitaker then outlined what he

would like to see happen to Little Grassy Islands – a park similar to one in

Miami’s Biscayne Bay.

His comments then ranged from the legalities and limits of the project

to the wording of certain parts of the contract to the size and dimensions of

planned city park space to the small number of limitations placed on Davis

and his development. While the city did adopt some of Whitaker’s

suggestions in this regard, such as the prohibition of “railroad terminals,”

they did not include a covenant restricting “persons of African descent” from

buying property within the Davis Islands neighborhood. The appearance of

such a covenant would not have been unusual, as there were other

developments in Tampa and around the country that included them, but it

was not expressly detailed in the final contract.

While wrangling with the city and citizenship over his proposed

contract and development, Davis also went about the task of purchasing the

non-public portions of Big Grassy Island from the estates of the Brown,

Henderson and Whitaker families. Davis and his attorney negotiated the

purchase of the Brown and Henderson portion of Big Grassy Island for

$100,000, or $1433.69 an acre. He was not as fortunate in his dealing with

the Whitaker Estate, of which Karl Whitaker was an important part. Davis

finally purchased the six and one third acres of Big Grassy Island for

$50,000 – $7936.50 an acre. Following the mantra of the times, if Whitaker

could not stop progress, he would at least profit from it.

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