DAVIS ISLANDS HISTORY
Born out of the 1924-1926 Florida Land Boom, Davis Islands was acclaimed as the most comprehensively planned community in the Tampa Bay region. Big Grassy and Little Grassy were bay islands at the mouth of the Hillsborough River purchased by D.P. Davis in 1924.
In order to complete his project, Davis needed to purchase the City of Tampa’s interest in the islands. The City was very reluctant to sell because homeowners along Bayshore felt that the development would block their view of the Bay and lower their property values. After Davis agreed not to come within 700 feet of Bayshore Boulevard, as well as donate 55 acres along the east side of the island as parkland, the purchase was complete.
Then Davis had to join the city in a lawsuit challenging the legality of a contract which conveyed bay bottom lands. The Florida Supreme Court met in a special session and voted 3-2 to uphold this historic, unprecedented sale of submerged bay bottom lands. Davis then had to clear his project with the War Department Engineers who were concerned about navigational obstructions. Davis planned to dredge 8 million cubic feet of sand from the bottom of the bay.
Davis envisioned “Venetian” canals (with 11 miles of reinforced concrete seawalls) flowing through this “canal-laced, water oriented community.” Targeting an affluent market, the community was “designed to appeal to a resort and sports minded public with increased amounts of leisure time and ready access to automobiles.”
Davis hired architects who favored the Mediterranean and Spanish Colonial styles. Many of the early homes built abound with the Mediterranean details and style sought after by Davis. Hollow tile construction, stucco-clad walls, barrel tiled roofs, arches, towers, and an extensive use of tile were some of the architectural elements found on “Davis Islands.”
From the beginning, Davis Islands emphasized a quality of life. The exciting and dramatic plans for Davis Islands included elaborate yacht basins and a marine speedway, an entertainment coliseum, tennis courts, an above-ground Roman pool, polo fields, a nine-hole golf course, a country club and luxury hotels and apartments, with Venetian gondolas winding through the canals, and “the most magnificent and commanding entrance of any development in America,” according to an article of the day. One such article declared the Davis project to be “The greatest piece of architectural splendor in the Southland… Such superiority of craftsmanship marks a new era for constructive development programs in Florida and will give Davis Islands the distinction of possessing a true and delightful Venetian atmosphere.” Today, the pool, tennis courts, marina, baseball fields on the channel front, and airport offer a variety of activities for every family member.
When driving across the Davis Islands Bridge one has a feeling of entering a world apart. The sunlight dances on the water and the palm trees silhouette along the horizon…surely this is a magical place.
COURTESY OF JEANNE WOLFE