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.