Bite Sized Bits of Davis Islands History

Odds and Ends of Davis Islands History
by Rodney Kite-Powell
Curator, Tampa Bay History Center

I thought I’d open up the New Year with a series of bite-sized bits of Davis
Islands history – items that by themselves do not necessarily warrant a full article, or
topics where information is scarce, but are interesting none the less.
Some of these stories can, and will, be expanded when new information becomes
available. Chief among those topics are the stories of two long-time Davis Islands
employees, Lauriston G. Moore and Edith Davis (no relation to D. P. Davis). Both
Moore and Davis started working for D. P. Davis during the early stages of the
development of the Islands. When Stone & Webster purchased the project, Moore
became a vice president in Davis Islands, Inc., and was the resident manager of the
property. Edith Davis worked first as a stenographer, then as executive secretary for the
company. Moore and Davis both lived on the Islands from the 1920s until their deaths in
the 1950s.
Other Davis Islands topics are much more trivial, but no less interesting. Things
were very different on the Islands in the 1930s. There were only about one hundred
buildings on Davis Islands, with the vast majority located on the northern end. This left
hundreds of acres of land lying fallow. Part of that land was covered by clover, which
grew to an amazing seven feet high according to an article in the May 17, 1936 Tampa
Morning Tribune. The clover seeds were in bales of hay from the Midwest, which were
brought to the Islands in the 1920s for the mules and horses used during the early stages
of construction.
Though the Islands have always been regarded as a great place to live, it has also
had its share of problems. During the 1930s, the city decided that it would use vacant
land at the southern end of the Islands as a garbage dump. Despite numerous complaints
by residents, the dump was not removed for quite some time.
Another sanitary problem to plague Davis Islands was an invasion of rats, fleeing
the Hyde Park area in 1976. The discussion of why this was happening (a spate of
demolitions in the old neighborhood) and how to get rid of them consumed a large
quantity of ink in the Tampa Tribune.
Other creatures have visited the Islands within the last eighty years, but perhaps
none were more dangerous than the seven foot “crocodile” (it was really an alligator)
pulled from the canal on the west end of Peter O. Knight Airport on October 27, 1937. A
man named Leroy Johnson was fishing in the canal when he saw the gator and, not
knowing if he was “seeing things,” decided to shoot a load of buckshot into the water.
He then pulled the live, but wounded, animal out of the water and took it to the Tampa
Daily Times building in downtown Tampa, where a photographer documented the story.
Why Mr. Johnson had a shotgun with him while he was fishing on the Islands is still a
mystery, but he must have been happy he did.
If you have any stories about life on Davis Islands, or if you have any information
or photographs relating to the ones mentioned here, please feel free to contact me at the
History Center. You can reach me by phone, (813) 228-0097, or by email,
rkp@tampabayhistorycenter.org

Davis Islands, Then and Now – The Bridge, The…

Davis Islands, Then and Now – The Davis Islands Bridge, the Mirasol and the Davis
Islands Tennis Courts
by Rodney Kite-Powell

Another in an occasional series…
The bridge to Davis Islands. The Mirasol Hotel. The tennis courts at the Davis
Islands Country Club. Few locations are (or were, in the case of the tennis courts) as
iconic and emblematic of Davis Islands.
The original Davis Islands Bridge was dedicated in 1929. Construction of the
bridge was part of the deal David P. Davis made with the city in order to develop Davis
Islands. The bridge took four years longer to complete than anticipated, and the
dedication ceremony provided a symbolic end to the city’s ties to D. P. Davis (Davis died
at sea in 1926).
The 1920s era bridge could not keep up with 1950s era traffic, so the city decided
to demolish the old bridge and construct two bridges connecting the Islands to the
mainland. The new, wider bridges were finished in the 1960s, and though less attractive,
they provide for easier access on and off the Islands.
The Mirasol Hotel is one of the original hotel buildings built on Davis Islands. It
was also the tallest, and largest, residential structure on Davis Islands until the arrival of
the condominiums on Adalia and Columbia in the 1980s. The Mirasol’s unique location
– facing Davis Boulevard and backing up to a yacht basin connecting to Hillsborough
Bay – allows visitors to access the building on foot, by car or by boat.
Of all the original features on Davis Islands that are no longer in existence, the old
tennis courts are perhaps the most missed by Islands residents and visitors alike.
Countless people learned how to play tennis on the courts of the Davis Islands Club. The
clay courts also were home to numerous tournaments, the most popular being the annual
Dixie Cup. The seemingly exponential growth of Tampa General Hospital doomed the
courts. New courts were opened south of the original location, named for one of the
more notable alumni of the original courts – former Tampa mayor Sandra Freedman.
Rodney Kite-Powell is the Saunders Foundation Curator of History at the Tampa Bay
History Center.

Tampa General and Peter O. Knight Airport – Then…

Davis Islands, Then and Now – Tampa General Hospital and Peter O. Knight
Airport
by Rodney Kite-Powell

Another in an occasional series…
Of all the businesses and institutions that make up the Davis Islands community, two
stand out due to their large size and larger contributions to the economy of the Islands in
particular and the city in general – Tampa General Hospital and Peter O. Knight Airport.
No other Davis Islands institution has changed as much over the past eighty years as
Tampa General Hospital. The facility opened in 1927 as Tampa Municipal Hospital and
was considered a state of the art solution to Tampa’s long standing critical care woes.
The hospital replaced the outmoded and outdated Gordon Keller Memorial Hospital,
which was located on the grounds of the Tampa Bay Hotel (now the University of
Tampa).
To say the hospital has grown over the past eight decades is an understatement. Indeed,
the original 1927 building is almost unrecognizable under the various expansions that
have taken place over the past fifty years. The original hospital building stands literally
in the heart of today’s Tampa General, representing the hopes and pride of a previous
generation.
Peter O. Knight Airport is a fixture on the southern end of Davis Islands. Constructed
over seventy years ago, Peter O. Knight has hosted private air service and commercial
airlines, sending and receiving people to and from a wide variety of cities, states and
countries.
Originally configured with a seaplane basin for international air travel, the small airport
has since evolved into a municipal airport serving the greater Tampa Bay area. The
terminal has changed over the years, too, going from the original coquina block structure
of the 1930s to the current modern design. Though its look has changed, the airport’s
mission has remained the same.
Rodney Kite-Powell is the Saunders Foundation Curator of History at the Tampa Bay
History Center.

Davis Islands Swimming Pool

The Davis Islands Swimming Pool
by Rodney Kite-Powell
Curator, Tampa Bay History Center

Tucked behind an apartment complex on Davis Boulevard and
Bosphorous Avenue, across from the Marjorie Park Yacht Basin and Hudson
Manor, sits one of the original amenities designed for residents and visitors
of Davis Islands. Constructed in 1929 and originally known simply as the
Davis Islands Pool, the Roy E. Jenkins Pool at 154 Columbia Drive has
provided cool relief from Tampa’s hot summer sun for seventy-five years.
One of the last of David P. Davis’ original design features, the
“Roman Pool” was to be a focal point of recreational activity on the Islands.
The pool was similar to the one located at Temple Terrace, another 1920s
community, located north of Tampa on the Hillsborough River. Other area
pools were at Palma Ceia Springs by the Bayshore (present-day Fred Ball
Park) and the pool at Sulphur Springs. With the exception of the Temple
Terrace pool, which has since been removed, no other pool in the city was as
ornate as the pool on Davis Islands.
Built at a cost of $75,000, the original plan for the pool was as
elaborate as the rest of Davis’ plans for the Islands. Unfortunately, the
financial climate had cooled when the time finally arrived to build, so Davis
Islands, Inc., the successor to Davis’ DP Davis Properties, had to adjust the
building plans accordingly. Looking back, it is amazing that the facility was
constructed at all.
Cost-saving measures would be the rule, and corners were cut in a
variety of places, from the overall scale of the pool and ancillary buildings to
the interiors of those buildings. According to a September 15, 1929 Tampa
Morning Tribune article, the company “changed the plan to use high grade
wooden lockers to ready-built metal lockers from Ohio” because of the need
for “home labor” to be given extra attention. Though home construction did
continue in 1929, it was at a much slower pace than during the boom era of
the mid-‘20s: more workers were not needed. A more likely reason is that
budgetary constraints allowed for neither the high grade lockers nor the
skilled labor necessary to install them.
The pool did feature a number of modern conveniences and what were
considered high-tech mechanisms designed to keep the pool and its patrons
clean. The pool water was treated with alum and lime, then sterilized with
chlorine. Among the technological advances were “rapid sand filters” and
showers and a circulating water basin, intended to both wash contaminants
off of swimmers before they reached the pool deck and to discourage people
with street shoes from walking on the deck at all. The 1929 Tribune article
boasted “Tampans and their visitors will swim in water pure enough to
drink.”
The Davis Islands pool was part of a bigger plan for that section of the
Islands. The overall layout was to include: dressing rooms for 400 bathers,
200 for the pool and 200 more for a “sunken pool” to be built to the south; a
children’s pool, plus a playground and solariums “placed in an adjoining
garden.” According to Davis Islands, Inc. president George Osborn, the
entire block was to be a “pleasure ground for kiddies and grownups.” Most
of those features were not constructed, though there was a small garden just
to the south of the main entrance to the pool which is now the site of a small
playground.
The Davis Islands pool was renamed in 1965 to honor the memory of
Roy E. Jenkins, a man who was “known throughout the South for his keen
interest in the youth of Florida and in water safety,” according to a Tampa
Tribune article marking his death. Jenkins, who passed away the year before
the city honored him by naming the pool for him, entered the water safety
program offered by the Tampa Red Cross in 1923. Jenkins spent a lifetime
encouraging both aquatic sports and the Red Cross Lifesaving Corps. He
was an honorary director of the Greater Tampa Swimming Association and
served for eleven years as an official for the Tampa Invitational Swim Meet.
Tampa’s city council recently bestowed local historic landmark status
to the Cuscaden Park swimming pool, which was built in cooperation with
the Works Projects Administration during the Great Depression in the
northern part of Ybor City. In addition, the city parks department restored
the swimming complex, bringing an old gem back to life. Perhaps it is time
for the city to expend the same effort, and extend the same honor, to the pool
on Davis Islands.

Davis Islands in the 1980s

Growth, Changes on Davis Islands in the 1980s
Davis Islands has experienced several periods of growth during its eighty year history.
One of the more important spurts occurred during the 1980s, when expansion first had a
significant impact on the Islands’ original building stock. Though Tampa General
Hospital provided the main impetus for change, other projects left lasting impressions on
the landscape of Davis Islands.
Tampa General Hospital has brought more prosperity, and more controversy, than any
other institution on Davis Islands. Opened in 1927 as Tampa Municipal Hospital, Tampa
General first expanded in the mid 1950s. By 1980, the hospital was again too small for
the county’s burgeoning population. The hospital authority released plans for a 1000 bed
expansion to the hospital, which would more than double the facility’s capacity.

Davis Islands in the 1950s

Davis Islands in the 1950s
by Rodney Kite-Powell
Curator, Tampa Bay History Center

Though developed in the 1920s, Davis Islands was poised at the close of World War II to
experience its greatest period of growth. The locally owned Crest View Realty Company
purchased the Islands from Davis Islands, Inc. (itself owned by the Boston-based engineering
firm Stone & Webster) on October 22, 1945. The ownership group, which retained the services
of long-time Davis Islands, Inc. employee Laursten G. Moore, included W. Howard Frankland,
J. H. L. French, Wallace C. Tinsley and Alfred Dana. Two of the members, Tinsley and Dana,
already owned buildings on Davis Islands; Tinsley co-owned the Mirasol and Dana owned the
Venetian Apartments. The Tampa Morning Tribune reported “the new owners plan to begin
construction on 100 or more new homes, ranging in price from $7500 to $15,000 or above, when
materials become available.”
Over two hundred homes were constructed on Davis Islands between 1946 and 1951. In
addition, eleven apartment buildings, four townhouses and two commercial buildings sprang
from the sandy ground. This phenomenal growth flourished from an even larger trend felt across
the city and state. Home buying statistics for 1950 showed that sales in Tampa were at an alltime
high, totaling $53,000,000 in city-wide sales.
City officials decided, during this period, to sell city-owned land that was previously set
aside for a large park at the southern end of the Islands. The first series of sales occurred on
August 10 and 11, 1954. At the conclusion of the two-day sale, 56 lots, of an available 73, were
sold for a total of $173,440. The city held another 55 lots, which it planned to sell in the near
future, as well as land formerly occupied by the nine-hole golf course.
At about the same time that the city was divesting itself of its residential holdings, Davis
Islands, Inc. was doing the same thing, ending an almost thirty year presence on the Islands.
Frankland and his partners finished what D. P. Davis started in 1924 and L. G. Moore sustained
in the 1930s and 1940s. Construction of an expanded business district, growth in the multifamily
segment of the Islands’ real estate market (represented mostly in rental properties) and the
completion of long-standing infrastructure projects occurred under Crest View’s management.
The Islands’ few remaining empty lots rested in the hands of a small number of developers and
private land owners, while city and county agencies owned the public buildings and lands.
The end of Davis Islands, Inc. did not mean the end to growth on the Islands. Quite to
the contrary, both residential and commercial construction sped along on newly paved roads. In
particular, expansion of the business district spread quickly along East Davis Boulevard between
Barbados and Chesapeake. What had always been set aside for commercial use finally stirred
from a long hibernation.
D. P. Davis built only one commercial building dedicated to retail amenities during his
ownership and development of Davis Islands. That building, Bay Isle, was designed by noted
Tampa architect M. Leo Elliot. Located at 238 East Davis Boulevard, the Bay Isle building
remains the anchor of the Islands’ business district. In the early 1950s, though, it stood alone
amid a sea of sand and slowly maturing palm trees. Other, less attractive if more functional,
buildings eventually joined the landmark on East Davis Boulevard, starting with 230 and 232
East Davis, constructed between 1950 and 1951. By 1956, there were twenty-six business
addresses along East Davis Boulevard, including two automobile service stations. These
buildings, which together constituted what amounted to a small strip mall, offered a clothing
store for women, a toy store, a pharmacy, a hardware store and variety of other shops.
Municipal additions to the Islands included a fire station, Tampa Fire Department’s
Station #17, which opened on the Islands in 1958 and an addition to the Hospital, also completed
in 1958. The hospital renovation, the first of many that would greatly increase the institution’s
size, overwhelmed the original building, obscuring its north face from view.
Construction of commercial buildings on East Davis Boulevard coincided with a larger
pattern of building on the south side of Davis Islands. South Davis Boulevard, non-existent
before the mid 1950s and absent from directories until even later, became clogged with work
trucks and building materials during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Other streets, such as
Hudson, Itasca, Ladrone, Madeira, Martinique and Rhine, blossomed in a similar fashion in a
matter of a few years, after lying virtually dormant for decades. This rise in construction pushed
the total housing inventory on the Islands to 861 in 1956.
Most of the houses constructed during this era reflect the architectural tastes of the time,
not to mention the removal of the approval process established by Davis and continued, with
revisions, under Davis Islands, Inc. Single-story, ranch style homes became the norm, with few
builders opting for the more compatible Mediterranean Revival style homes reminiscent of Davis
Islands’ 1920s heyday. By 1961, roughly 74% of the current buildings on Davis Islands had
been constructed. Davis Islands was finally reaching maturity.

Davis Islands in the 1920s

Davis’ Plans Leave Lasting Impression
by Rodney Kite-Powell
Curator, Tampa Bay History Center

David P. Davis planned Davis Islands as the quintessential 1920s Florida real
estate development. He knew that, while Florida’s sunshine would bring people to the
area, he needed first class amenities to get them to buy into the Islands project. Always a
grand thinker, Davis made big plans and bigger promises.
Many of the promises made by Davis and his company were realized, such as a
golf course, hotels, apartments, canals and parks. One key aspect of the Islands plan, a
business district, was also completed. Billed by Davis as “congruous with the plan of
establishing on Davis Islands an ideal residential city complete in itself,” the business
section centered around the Bay Isle Building, located at 238 East Davis Boulevard and
designed by noted Tampa architect M. Leo Elliot. Elliot followed Davis’ requirement
that the building “harmonize architecturally with the surrounding Island beauty.”
Completed in 1925, the Bay Isle Building is still the anchor of the Islands’ business
community.
Diagonally across East Davis Boulevard from the Bay Isle Building sat another
commercial structure. Little is known about this second business building, except that it
contained eleven store fronts; four facing Biscayne Avenue, five facing East Davis
Boulevard and two opening south toward the neighboring property. A central arcade
traversed the large building, which occupied four lots. The only evidence of this
structure lies within the pages of the Sanborn Fire Insurance Company’s maps of Davis
Islands. It is possible that this market never existed. The words “from plans” run
beneath the schematic of the building on the 1931 Sanborn Fire Insurance map. Aerial
photographs from the time are of too poor a quality to determine if this mystery structure
actually stood on the southeast corner of East Davis and Biscayne.
Houses, too, began to dot the sandy landscape of the growing islands. The
architecture of these single-family structures strictly followed the design guidelines set
forth by D. P. Davis Properties. Mediterranean revival, Italianate and Spanish styles
featured soft pastel colors and intricate tile and figural designs. Two houses, one located
at 32 Aegean and the other at 116 West Davis Boulevard, merit special attention. Both
homes are associated with Davis. The West Davis Boulevard home has long been cited
as Davis’ personal residence. The existing historical evidence suggests differently,
indicating that the home on Aegean was where Davis resided. Both homes are roughly
the same size (around 3,000 square feet), but the home on Aegean is directly across from
Davis’ office. The home on West Davis may have been a “company home,” since two
presidents of Davis Islands Incorporated (successor to D. P. Davis Properties) occupied
the home in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Like so much in Davis’ life, the answer to
this question may never be known.
The Islands Plan included several hotel and apartment projects. The most
noticeable are the Mirasol, Palazzo Firenze (Palace of Florence), Palmarin Hotel (now
known as Hudson Manor) and the Spanish Apartments. The Mirasol, Davis Islands’
tallest building, sits at the end of a canal and has its own yacht basin. The Palace of
Florence drew its inspiration from the Palazzo Vecchino in Florence, Italy. Designed by
Athos Menebun and M. Leo Elliot for Philip Licata of the Tampa Investment Company,
the Palace of Florence incorporated a variety of materials, such as terra cotta, wrought
iron and stucco and boasted a tower on each end of the front elevation.
Some early residential buildings, notably the Biscayne Hotel, Bachelor
Apartments and Venetian Apartments, have since been demolished. Others, such as the
Augustine and Columbia Apartments on Columbia Drive, and the Flora Dora Apartments
and Boulevard Apartments on Davis Boulevard are still occupied. The Merry Makers
Club, situated on land given to the club by Davis on the corner of Danube and Barbados,
represents the only social club originally planned for the Islands.
The Davis Islands Coliseum, completed in 1925, embodied the largest project
originally planned for the community. Funded through the sale of stock certificates, the
Coliseum housed concerts, auto shows, conventions and many other events within its
auditorium – among the largest of its kind in the southeastern United States. Located on
Danube, the Davis Islands Coliseum was destroyed by fire in the mid-1970s.
Among the original buildings hidden from view on the islands is the Davis Islands
Garage. Located at the northern tip of the main island near the site of the original tennis
courts, the garage reinforces the notion that Davis Islands was designed for people with
automobiles. Part storage facility, part repair shop, the Davis Islands Garage fits
architecturally, thematically and functionally into Davis’ idea for a self-sufficient planned
community.
The vast majority of the buildings and amenities that Davis planned and his
company, or Davis Islands, Inc., completed are still standing. Notable exceptions are the
golf course, original tennis club and, as noted above, the Coliseum. Still, the notion that
Davis had of an all-inclusive community survives to this day.

Davis Islands Golf Course

Davis Islands Golf Course
by Rodney Kite-Powell
Curator, Tampa Bay History Center

Of all the amenities originally designed and constructed for Davis Islands in the
1920s, the Davis Islands Golf Course was the largest in scale and the latest to be
completed. Designed by “internationally known” golf course architect A. W. Tillinghast,
the golf course occupied a large portion of the southern half of the Islands, was entwined
within the streets and canals of the southern half of the Islands.
Construction began on the course in late January 1927, four months after the
engineering firm of Stone & Webster purchased Davis Islands from D. P. Davis, and
three months after Davis’ mysterious death at sea. The start of construction was heralded
by the development’s newspaper, Life on Davis Islands, with the banner headline “Golf
Course is Begun.”
The straight forward course layout consisted of nine holes, covering 3,060 yards.
The only water hazard of any significance was the 100 foot wide Grand Canal that cut
across the middle of the second hole. The same canal sat behind the green on Number
One and ran along the left side of the fairway on Number Three. Sand bunkers seemed
the bigger obstacle, with as many as five appearing on a given hole.
The clubhouse, located between the fairways of Number One and Number Nine,
was constructed and open three years before the course opened. The Mediterranean
Revival structure stood two stories tall and featured dining rooms, meeting space and a
dance floor. More unique, however, was the retractable roof which could be opened to
allow dancing under the stars. The building operated as a supper club before being
converted back to its original purpose, that of a proper Country Club.
Opening festivities took place on December 31, 1928, with revelers
simultaneously ushering in the New Year and the new golf course. A members-only
tournament was held the following day to officially open the course. Membership to the
country club was restricted and set by a meeting of “prominent Tampans” in December
1928. Memberships for winter visitors, still a big target demographic even after the Bust,
were also available.
Despite its grand beginnings, the golf course eventually fell into disrepair. In the
early 1950s, a young Tampa Tribune reporter named Leland Hawes played on the Davis
Islands golf course. In speaking of the course years later, Hawes, a Tampa historian now
retired from the Tribune, recalled that it was not in very good condition, to say the least.
By this time, the Davis Islands golf course was public and owned and operated by the
city. Though not necessarily neglected, the course did not receive the same attention it
did as a private, members-only course.
Florida in general, and Tampa in particular, was experiencing another land boom
during this time. Fueled by the confluence of a booming economy, new home
construction under the GI Bill and the advent of affordable home air conditioning, the
boom in part completed what the 1920s land boom started. All of this meant that land on
Davis Islands was again marketable, and a nine-hole golf course was expendable in the
face of potential profits.
Another, more sinister, theory exists to explain the course’s demise – the idea
that, with continued successes of the Civil Rights movement, African Americans would
have to be allowed to play on the city-owned course. The Davis Islands course was the
only municipal course during this time that ran through a white residential neighborhood,
which potentially could explain this idea. Again, this is just a theory with no supporting
evidence.
Whatever the reason, the Davis Islands golf course was transformed into the
Byars Thompson addition to Davis Islands in the mid-1950s, with hundreds of homes
appearing on the former fairways, greens and tee boxes. The Davis Islands Country Club
transition into the “Davis Municipal Building” and by 1966 was demolished, too. All
that survives of the golf course today is the incongruently named “19th Hole” cantina,
which is now a private residence.

Davis Islands Coliseum

The Davis Islands Coliseum
by Rodney Kite-Powell
Tampa Bay History Center

A devastating fire gutted the once-venerable Davis Islands Coliseum, formerly
located on the corner of Chesapeake and Danube (90 Chesapeake), forty years ago this
month. On the evening of January 26, 1967, the dark night skies turned a brilliant
orange-red with the out of control blaze. The fire, which started at around 9:30 in the
evening on January 26, 1967, occupied most of the Tampa Fire Department’s force –
fourteen units, twenty-three fire trucks and over one hundred fire fighters battled the
blaze from 10:40 until well past midnight. There was little firefighters could do since the
building had burned undetected for over an hour. Flames and smoke, which reached
“hundreds of feet” into the sky, could be seen as far away as Sulphur Springs to the north
and St. Petersburg to the southwest.
The building was only forty-two years old, but it was a full forty two years.
Though once a popular facility, with a full social calendar and promising future, the old
Coliseum was already considered obsolete before its fiery demise.
The Davis Islands Coliseum, constructed in 1925, embodied the largest project
originally planned for the community. Funded through the sale of stock certificates, the
Coliseum was instantly considered a landmark for both Davis Islands and the City of
Tampa. The massive building – among the largest of its kind in the southeastern United
States – housed concerts, auto shows, conventions and many other events. Dances and
formal gatherings, including Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla’s annual Coronation Ball,
were also common during the Coliseum’s early years.
Harry J. Warner, who served as the general manager of the Coliseum before
World War II, purchased the Coliseum building and installed a skating rink, which
operated for over twenty years. Warner sold the building in 1963 for $100,000 (over
$610,000 in today’s dollars), and the rink gave way to a bowling alley and cocktail
lounge. The new owners defaulted on their loan from Warner, and he took back the
building two years later.
With his resumption of ownership, Warner had a new idea for the old Coliseum –
a grocery store. The city, however, refused to change the zoning from residential to
commercial. He next offered to sell the building to the city for $100,000 for use as a city
recreation building. The city refused this, as well, and the building sat empty for the next
year and a half.
It took only a few hours to erase a structure built on forty-two years of memories.
Joe Gomez, the city’s fire marshal, ruled that vandals caused the fire. Warner reported
that he’d had to repair several acts of vandalism over the past few months. The fire
attracted close to a thousand onlookers from all parts of the city. The Tampa Tribune
reported that, despite the high volume of cars pouring onto the Islands, the new bridge
handled all of the traffic without incident.
One problem that did arise, though, was the countless numbers of burning embers
that were spread across the neighborhood. Through the valiant efforts of the Tampa Fire
Department, aided by residents with garden hoses, no other buildings were lost during the
blaze.
The remnants of the burned-out building continued to smolder well into the next
night. The memories of the long-lost Davis Islands Coliseum still smolder within Tampa
residents to this day.
Rodney Kite-Powell is the Saunders Foundation Curator of History at the Tampa Bay
History Center.

Apartments and Hotels on Davis Islands

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.