Davis Islands and World War II
by Rodney Kite-Powell
Curator, Tampa Bay History Center
With the Sixtieth Anniversary of the end of World War II close at hand, it is interesting
to look back at what effects the war had on Davis Islands. The war, and the Depression which
preceded it, serves as break between the two major growth periods on the Islands, the 1920s and
the 1950s. It also serves to demonstrate on a small scale what was occurring in Tampa, and
Florida, as a whole.
World War II brought a variety of benefits and liabilities to Davis Islands. One of the
primary concerns of local political leaders and their military counterparts during the war
concerned the housing of soldiers in town for training. Davis Islands’ apartments and hotels,
particularly the Mirasol and the Mirasol Plaza (formerly the Palmerin, now Hudson Manor)
hotels, accommodated some of the city’s newest military residents. Laursten G. Moore, vice
president of Davis Islands, Incorporated, was too old to serve in the military, but still contributed
to the war effort by serving on Hillsborough County’s rationing board.
Among the most pressing concerns early in the war was the question surrounding the
future of Peter O. Knight Airport. The Army Air Corps had taken over two of Tampa’s
municipal airports, Drew and Henderson Fields. Peter O. Knight, then, became the only airfield
in Tampa available for commercial and private planes. This did not protect the field from
closing “for the duration,” which was seen as a method of securing the area and reducing the
number of airplanes appearing in local skies. The main drawback to the closure plan, though,
was the elimination of civilian air travel in a large portion of the Tampa Bay area. The Tampa
Aero Club mounted a campaign to save the airport, which proved successful. Passenger and
private planes continued to use Peter O. Knight Airport throughout the war.
As pro-airport advocates correctly predicted, Peter O. Knight gained importance due to
its role as the only public airport available and its close proximity to downtown, but its
deficiencies also began to show. It seemed apparent, as early as 1943, to some of the area’s
aviation boosters that the Islands’ airport was too small for the larger passenger planes. People
such as Roslyn Burritt, who championed the saving of Peter O. Knight Airport, now wanted
Henderson Field, near Temple Terrace in northern Hillsborough County, to be the county’s
international airport when the war ended. County leaders began constructing Henderson Field
before the United States became involved in World War II, but the war department intervened
before construction could be finished.
Neither Peter O. Knight Airport nor Henderson Field became Tampa’s international
airport. Drew Field, in existence since the 1920s and expanded by the army air corps during the
war, became Tampa International Airport in 1947. Peter O. Knight currently serves small,
private planes. Remnants of Henderson Field=s asphalt runways are barely visible amid the
tourist meccas of Busch Gardens and Adventure Island.
While Allied forces raced through Europe, giving the people of the United States a sense
that an end to the war in Europe was near, things began to stir on Davis Islands. On January 10,
1945, Mr. and Mrs. Melvin Hudson purchased one of the Islands= original hotels, the Mirasol
Plaza Hotel, located at 115 East Davis Boulevard, plus three rear lots which fronted on Columbia
Drive. Previously known as the Palmerin (and not to be confused with the Mirasol Hotel, 84
Davis Boulevard), the hotel soon became known as Hudson Manor. The hotel featured 52
rooms, each with a bath, and “was filled with guests” at the time of the purchase. The former
owner, Dr. Sherman Smith, owned another set of 1920s boom-era properties in the area, Temple
Terrace Estates, which he sold to Florida Christian College earlier in 1945.
Events on the other side of the globe quickly grabbed headlines in the middle of 1945,
culminating with the news that Japan had surrendered on August 14, 1945, ending World War II.
Closer to home, W. Howard Frankland, owner of Tampa’s Pioneer Tire Company, began to
acquire a real estate empire consisting mostly of 1920s properties in downtown Tampa. His
investment company, Crest View Realty, purchased the Wallace S. Building, the Stovall Office
Building and the Haverty Furniture Company Building in February of 1945. These
procurements were small in comparison to his takeover, with three partners, of Davis Islands,
Incorporated on October 22, 1945. The sale encompassed “the stock of the corporation and its
realty, consisting of between 800 and 1000 lots on the island, as well as the Davis Islands
Country Club.” With the purchase of Davis Islands by Frankland’s syndicate, the property
returned to local hands. Vast amounts of vacant land sat ready for development, which was right
around the corner.
Davis Islands and World War II