Coconuts, Cottages, and Casinos

Dated: July 31 2021

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The Boom

The mid 1920s brought a boom to Florida as more and more Americans were discovering the wonderful beaches and clear waters surrounding the state.  America was experiencing prosperity, and for the first time, many people had money to invest.  The invention of the automobile made Florida accessible to the common man, and the common man came south hoping to become rich by investing in Florida real estate, which at that time, was affordable for many middle aged, middle class Americans.

The real estate boom took a little longer to reach Crescent Beach (as Fort Myers Beach was known at the time)  than Miami or Tampa.  In 1920, Fort Myers Beach was still relatively primitive with no water, no electric, no roads, and no bridge to allow cars to get across the bay.  However, these issues did not deter a few brave businessmen who saw the potential in making our beach (then called Crescent Beach) a tourist destination.  Two of these early entrepreneurs were T.H. Phillips and Jack Delysle.

Thomas Phillips

Thomas Phillips was a wealthy inventor from Maryland who is best known for his San Carlos on the Gulf development started in 1920 but never finished.  Phillip’s first investment on Crescent Beach, however, was a casino/bath house located where the Cottage now stands (later known as the Gulf Shore Inn).

The casino was a two-story building with a 100 foot boardwalk in front.  Phillips also building a 50 foot pleasure pier in front of the casino.  The casino was called Pete Nelson’s “Crescent Beach Casino” and was quite the in place back in the early part of the century.  In 1921, Phillips built the Silver Sands Cottages which are still in operation today.

Jack Delysle

Another early casino investor was Jack Delysle who was in the British Army during World War I. Delysle arrived in the United States sometime in 1920.  He constructed a 50 square foot café and 65 square foot dance pavilion at the end of Connecticut Ave.  Eventually called the Seminole Casino, Delysle had big plans for his project proposing a 100-room hotel with 10 cottages, a tennis court, a putting green, a large dock on the bay side, and a large pier on the gulf side.

A New Bridge

Phillips and Delysle realized that their casinos needed customers to survive and unless they could create an easier way to access the island, this would not be an easy task.  After failing to get the County Commission in Fort Myers to take on the construction of a bridge, the men formed the “Crescent Beach Bridge and Road Company” whose sole purpose was to build a “serviceable road from McGregor Blvd to Estero Island” including a draw bridge that would be designed to allow cars to cross over to the island.

Before this bridge was opened in 1921, anyone who wanted to visit the island would drive down McGregor Blvd to John Morris Road.  You would then have to turn left at Bunch Beach and follow the shoreline until you reached the site of Diversified Yachts.  Finally, you would have to take a barge across the bay and walk to the beach.

To pay for the new bridge, the company sold “stocks” in the project, promising that the 50-cent toll would allow stockholders to make money on their investment.  The bridge was completed in August 1921 and proved to be a wise investment.

For the first time, people from Fort Myers had a safe and quick route to the beach, and they took advantage of this new opportunity.  Suddenly, Crescent Beach became the “go to” place for residents of Fort Myers and eventually, for the rest of the country.

After the bridge was opened, it was not uncommon for 200 cars to cross in a single day bringing over 1,000 visitors to the island where they would drive on the beach, park in front of the casinos, and enjoy the warm gulf waters for bathing.  Jack Delysle wanted to make the trip from Fort Myers to the beach as easy as possible, so he opened a bus service that ran daily from downtown to the beach.

The Boom Continues

Phillips and Delysle continued to invest in Crescent Beach.  Phillips created Ecalyptus Park which was originally part of the H.C. Case subdivision.  The lots were very small (20 foot each) and were advertised at a “very low price.”  Phillips also platted the Crescent Park Addition which began at Crescent Street and ended at Primo Drive.  As a part of this development, Phillips dug the first canal in 1921.

Delysle bought the Case property which was located towards the center of the island.  He cleared the brushes, drilled a well, filled the ponds, planted seeds, and even prepared a garden for his hotel.  When the hotel was finally finished, it had 50 rooms facing the gulf.  In 1920, Dr. Voorhis opened Red Coconut Trailer Park on the gulf side of the blvd.

Things were going so well on Crescent Beach that the Fort Myers Press stated in a headline, “Crescent Beach Center of Most Intense Development in Florida Today.”





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Ellie and Bob Bunting

Ellie has returned to real estate sales after spending the last 40 years teaching English at Florida SouthWestern State College in Fort Myers She has teamed up with her husband, Bob, who has been a....

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