Davis Islands: Central Florida's Version of San Marco?

July 29, 2011 9 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville explores an urban Tampa neighborhood with a number of similarities with Jacksonville's San Marco: Davis Islands.


Davis Island was built upon two man-made islands atop two small natural islands formerly known as "Little Grassy Key" and "Big Grassy Key" at the mouth of the Hillsborough River. The islands were built from mud dredged from the bottom of Tampa Bay in the 1920s and expanded. This dredge-and-fill operation was undertaken at the height of the Florida Land Boom by developer and Tampa native D. P. Davis. Davis then purchased all the dredged land for $350,000. He planned a resort community with three hotels, nine-hole golf course, airport, and swimming pool. D.P. Davis then sold 306 of the original lots for $1,683,582. The development stalled when the Florida land boom of the early 1920s wound down, and Davis was mysteriously lost at sea while making a transatlantic voyage in October 1926.

Many of the original Mediterranean-style structures are still standing and have received national Historic Designation, as well as local protections. Buildings of note include the Palace of Florence and Mirasol. Today Davis Island is a mix of residential and retail areas. Most predominant today is an eclectic mix of architectural styles because of the slowdown in development in the 1930s.

Construction on The Palace of Florence began in 1925. Its Mediterranean Revival architecture mixes medieval and classical elements to reproduce the look of a grand scale Italian palazzo, and includes a dramatic four-story battlement tower with exterior staircase. The design, by artist Athos Menaboni, is loosely based on that of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy., hence the building's name.

Born a luxury hotel of the 1920's era, The Mirasol remains the "crown jewel" of Davis Islands, Florida. This exquisite Mediterranean Revival masterpiece now houses 58 apartments including studios, one bedrooms, two bedrooms, a villa, and a penthouse.

Like San Marco, because Davis Islands is not an official historic district, it is home to a variety of architectural styles.

About Davis Islands

Davis Island is also home to Peter O. Knight Airport and Davis Island Yacht Club. Also on the Islands are the Marjorie Park Municipal Yacht Basin & Marjorie Park at 115 Columbia Drive and the Seaplane Basin just South of the Airport. Marjorie Park was donated to the City of Tampa and named by Davis after his wife Marjorie Merritt Davis.

With a canal fully separating a portion of the island from the rest of it, Davis Islands is technically an archipelago, hence the plural form "Islands" in its name. Originally, Davis Islands consisted of three islands. With the construction of the airport, however, the end of one canal was filled in to make enough land area for a runway, connecting the two largest islands at their southern ends and reducing the archipelago's island count to two.

Nearly all streets on the island are named after bodies of water or islands. They are loosely arranged in alphabetical order starting with Adalia Avenue. (the first street crossed after arriving on the island from the only bridge that connects it to the mainland) and ending with Severn Avenue, the street farthest away from the bridge that leads to the main island's southernmost point, on which the Davis Island Yacht Club is situated.

A pedestrian trail spanning most of the island is to be completed in 2010, with amenities such as benches and water fountains.

Tampa General Hospital (TGH) is a 1,004-bed teaching hospital in downtown Tampa, Florida. It is located on Davis Islands.

Tampa General Hospital has about 6,700 employees, works in partnership with the University of South Florida, and has one of just four burn centers in Florida. Tampa General Hospital is a level one trauma center, with a five-helicopter fleet, serving 23 counties.

TGH has specialty centers for Orthopedics, Trauma, Obesity, Neurology, Parathyroid Surgery, Head and Neck Surgery, Burns, Cardiac Surgery, Transplantation, Vascular Surgery, Women's Health and OB/GYN, Pediatrics, Neonatal Intensive Care, In-vitro Fertilization, and others. Tampa General hospital is home to one of the leading organ transplant centers in the country, having performed more than 6,000 adult solid organ transplants, including the state’s first successful heart transplant in 1985.

TGH has been accredited the "magnet status" by the American Nurses Credentialing Center since 2005.

Peter O. Knight Airport (IATA: TPF, ICAO: KTPF, FAA LID: TPF) is an airport on Davis Islands, five minutes (3 NM, 5.6 km; 3.5 mi) from downtown Tampa, Florida. Built as a Works Progress Administration project, it was Tampa's main airport from 1935 to 1945, and is still used by general aviation operators today because of its proximity to the central city. The airport was named for prominent attorney and businessman Peter O. Knight, namesake of Holland & Knight.

The airport's original administration building was torn down in the 1960s, and replaced by the current building. Although seaplanes aren't quite as popular anymore, the basin is still there at Davis Islands

The local fixed base operator (FBO) was recently sold by Tampa Flying Service and is now operated by Atlas Aviation.

The residents of Davis Island where the airport is located have complained about the noise and appearance of the facilities. The current plan is to extend the north east end of the runway by 65 ft (20 m), and add 175 ft (53 m) to the south end of the runway. During a meeting on September 18, 2007 some residents voiced concerns about larger aircraft using the longer runway, and any related increase in the volume of noise generated there.

Sound tests conducted by the Aviation Authority showed an increase of 3 dB or less over current usage at the closest residences, or an average of about 58 dB during run ups to take off. During the same tests, nearby lawn mowers, motorcycles, and automobiles frequently reached over 75 dB.

The extension of the north/east and south/west ends had been completed in 2008 with no noticeable impact to the local area. The improvements to the runway have added to the safety of airmen utilizing this facility.

Like San Marco's River Road, Davis Islands' Channel Drive is a popular place for fishing.  

Harbour Island and the Port of Tampa can be seen across the Seddon Channel.

Harbour Island was originally known as Seddon Island, which was named after W. L. Seddon, chief engineer for the Seaboard Air Line railroad. In 1906, a public hearing was held to plan a new port for the city. Seddon's plans were adopted and soon his company dredged a channel and established a port facility on Grassy Island. The 177 acres (72 ha) island was later purchased from the Seaboard Coast Line in 1979 for residential, office and retail development purposes. The first phase of development did not begin until 1985.[1] Between 1985 and January 1999, Harbour Island was linked to Downtown Tampa by the Harbour Island People Mover, an automated tram shuttle system that ran on an elevated concrete trackway connecting the Harbor Island shopping center to the Franklin Street parking garage a mile and a half away. Today, the island consists of mostly exclusive residential areas, with high-end hotels, nightclubs and cafes at the northernmost strip.[3][4][5] The TECO Streetcar "In-Town" trolley connects the island to Downtown and Channelside.[6] NEVs also connect the island to other core neighborhoods such as Hyde Park.

Looking down the Sparkman Channel towards the Channel District.

The port of Tampa is the largest port in the State of Florida, and currently ranks 16th in the United States by tonnage.[1] Although there are bulk and tanker ships, most of the ships that sail in and out of the Port of Tampa are general cargo ships. Currently connected to major Asian container ports, with global connections, the port is focused on growing its container trade. Millions of dollars in infrastructure improvements are underway or are in the planning phase.

Tampa is also one of America's most popular departure ports for western Caribbean cruises. Three cruise lines sail from the port and a fourth coming in 2011: Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International, Holland America Line, and Norwegian Cruise Line coming in 2011. The Port of Tampa has been a growing port since the 1990s. It has 3 cruise terminals. Nearby attractions are Channelside, The Florida Aquarium, and Ybor City.

Business District

East Davis Boulevard is the commercial area of the neighborhood. Along several blocks there are restaurants, cafes, bars, and shops in a tranquil sidewalk setting. The area is also very pet-friendly due to the pedestrian nature of the island.

San Marco (Jacksonville)/Davis Islands (Tampa) Random Similarities

Dominant Era of Development: Early 1920s

Original Architectural Theme: Mediterranean Revival

Boulevards: Both neighborhood's main streets are boulevards named after them, E. Davis Boulevard and San Marco Boulevard.

Water: Both have miles of waterfront frontage.

Medical Centers: Both neighborhoods have major medical facilities on their Northwest border.

Walkable "Town Center": Both neighborhoods have vibrant, historic, walkable commercial center districts.

Airports: Davis Islands' Peter O' Knight Airport was built in 1930 as a Works Progress Administration project.  An airport in San Marco/Southbank would have become a reality if the City of South Jacksonville had not been annexed into Jacksonville during the 1930s.

South Jacksonville's fancy took flight.

Mayor Taylor J. Harris was in Washington, D.C., talking the federal government into a South Jacksonville international airport.

Did it, too.

After a public hearing in which all were taken with the splendor of the project, the War Department gave the green light.

The department approved plans to dredge the river bottom, build 5,000 feet of bulkhead, dump $2 million cubic yards of fill and, in general, spend $1.25 million.

The project would increase six-fold the size of the existing South Jacksonville airfield, a modest strip housing a flying school.

''Planes of all sizes will be able to land on the field when the work is completed,'' the Jacksonville Journal said.

Harris returned to South Jacksonville later in the week. He invited all to support the metropolitan aerodrome in the hitherto rather subordinate municipality across the river from Jacksonville.

''Mayor Taylor J. Harris, one of the first to realize that the surface of the triangular-shaped body of land jutting into the heart of the Jacksonville business district and surrounded on three sides by water, offered an ideal site for a major airpost which could serve both land and water planes, returned to South Jacksonville inspired by assurances that the project was approved by the federal government,'' The Florida Times-Union reported.

The sixfold airport was not to be, however, although the attractive property did become a quite popular golf driving range.

Jacksonville, which already had a municipal airport, absorbed its neighbor city in 1935 and the South Jacksonville airport faded into the mists of what-might-have-been, leaving the land to lie fallow for Prudential Insurance Co. and Baptist Medical Center, et al., in the years to come.

Visiting Davis Islands

Davis Islands is a Tampa neighborhood and archipelago made of two islands. Its proximity to Downtown Tampa, and its views of the Port of Tampa, make it a popular area to live. The population was 5,436 at the 2000 census.

Article by Ennis Davis.