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Davis In Miami

December 15, 2011 | By | Reply More

 

Part Two of the Early Life of D. P. Davis: Davis in Miami

By Rodney Kite-Powell

Curator, Tampa Bay History Center

 

The people of Miami found themselves in the midst of a real estate boom at the

close of World War I. Several factors contributed to the astonishing growth in south

Florida. Personal transportation had been revolutionized by the appearance of affordable

automobiles and the construction of new roads, connecting not only the state with its

neighbors, but also cities and towns within the state. This combined seamlessly with the

emergence of a new American middle class that had both extra time and extra money.

Florida=s notoriously low land prices provided the necessary catalyst, offering an

excellent opportunity for people willing to suffer through the heat and mosquitoes – two

facets of tropical Florida that had not yet been conquered.

Davis was not in the early group of Miami land speculators, which included Carl

Fisher and the Lummus Brothers, but he did watch and learn from them. Like most every

aspect of his life, the story of how Davis first started selling real estate in Miami is more

parable than history. The basic story is as follows: Davis came across a development

that had been Alanguishing@ on the market. While not in the most advantageous location,

with a little perseverance and a lot of advertising, Davis sold every available lot within

days, making a tidy profit for his efforts.

While there is undoubtedly some truth to the story, Davis’ publicity machine,

which went into overdrive after 1924, probably enhanced the original details. Davis did

begin selling land that was thought too difficult to sell because it sat two and a half miles

from the city center. He then opened his own company, United Realty, and started his

first development, a business district dubbed Commercial Biltmore. This property lay in

the greater Buena Vista subdivision, located just north of Miami=s city limits. Buena

Vista, or at least a section of it, is likely the fabled “languishing” property. He knew the

importance of advertising, but more importantly he understood the benefit of providing

complete infrastructure with his subdivisions. For Commercial Biltmore, that

infrastructure included wide streets, curbing, sidewalks, water and sewer service and lush

landscaping. Davis did not use the Mediterranean Revival style of architecture that later

would become synonymous with the Florida Boom. Instead, his architects used a local

vernacular style, building mostly bungalows in the residential areas with Colonial and

Federal influences found in the commercial sections.

While his Miami adventure provided a financial windfall for Davis, it also took

away something very dear. His wife, Marjorie, died while giving birth to their second

child, a boy named David Paul Davis, Jr. in 1922. It is unimaginable how Davis, at the

peak of his professional life, felt as his personal life seemed to fall apart. The baby

survived the ordeal, and Davis pulled himself together and finished his real estate

projects. He did not do it alone. He asked his younger brother, Milton, along with

Milton=s wife Louise, to come to Miami and help him with his developments and,

probably, with his wounded family. Milton went to Miami and, though he worked for a

different company, Fidelity Realty, their offices were less than a half-mile apart.

After his wife=s death, Davis began to indulge in the excesses that marked the

Jazz Age. Defying prohibition, a Davis hallmark, was a core tenet of the era. He also

began seeing a woman named Lucille Zehring, one of movie producer Mack Sennett=s

“Bathing Beauties.” Another product of the free-wheeling Twenties, Zehring would play

a very pivotal role in Davis’ future.

Davis had to realize that, despite his accomplishments in Miami, he could not

compete with developments like Fisher=s Miami Beach or George Merrick=s Coral

Gables, or for that matter Addison Mizner=s Palm Beach. Once again, Davis began to

look elsewhere for new opportunities. He decided to return to Tampa, which itself was

caught up in Florida=s land boom. In addition, with the exception of Milton who was in

Miami, Davis=s immediate family lived in the bustling west coast city, and he could rely

on them to help care for his two young boys.

Unfortunately, all of Tampa’s prime real estate had long been sold and developed

B at least the land above sea level. Davis heard of a plan that would change the City of

Tampa forever. Burks E. Hamner, a local real estate promoter, had conceived of the idea

of developing the mudflats in Hillsborough Bay in 1921. Hamner likely contacted Davis

in late 1922 or early 1923 about beginning what would become Davis Islands. During a

Tampa Rotary Club lunch in early 1923, Hamner described Ain minute detail@ his idea for

an island development. Club members, at the time, claimed he had a Avivid imagination.@

Davis and his two boys departed Miami in January 1924, almost exactly four

years after his arrival. He left behind six thriving communities and, in a more practical

move, retained his Miami business office which he renamed D.P. Davis, Inc.

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