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Cover – Bayshore Gardens

Bayshore Gardens

Bayshore Gardens

A Mid-Century Modern Community

By David Breakfield, MLIS, Manatee County Public Library System

By Kim Burns, REALTOR, SaraBay Real Estate

Kim Burns had a desire to learn about her subdivision, Bayshore Gardens. In beginning to research the neighborhood’s history she learned that the Manatee County Library was planning a 2018 exhibit on Bayshore Gardens. Wanting to be a part of bringing the exhibit to life, she met David Breakfield who is spearheading the project for the library. There is a renewed interest in the subdivision and homeowners are becoming more aware of the unique community, as well as the importance of preserving the architecture as much as possible. Evidence can be seen by driving through the neighborhood, where owners have begun or are in the process of restoring their homes. Let’s trace the development of Bayshore Gardens.

2015 marked the sixtieth anniversary of the founding and development of Bayshore Gardens. It was the brainchild of New York’s Sydney Newman, who purchased the land in 1955 for approximately $1.5 million. According to an article announcing the purchase, it was the largest amount of land to be purchased since the 1920s. Bayshore Gardens is comprised of approximately 3,000 acres or about 3.6 square miles.

Newman’s original intention was for the new subdivision to extend down to Whitfield Estates, before subsequently selling this land to other developers. It was one of the earliest planned communities in Florida. The post-World War II period ushered in an era of great prosperity, and great imagination. Another factor was the creation of a national highway system, still in use today, and allowed access to areas previously cut-off. Locally, this push to develop the south county area was also part of a nation-wide shift to the rise of suburban areas, which in turn sparked the gradual decline of downtown areas, which had for many years been the core of cities and towns. Westgate Shopping Center appeared in 1956 at the 3900 block of Manatee Avenue, and Cortez Plaza at US 41 and Cortez Road opened later in 1959, signaling the rapid development of the western and southern ends of the county.

Construction began in 1956 on the first four model homes in Bayshore Gardens and the subdivision held its grand opening in 1957. The new community was planned to be entirely self-sufficient, with a post office, schools, and a recreation center with a pool, a marina, and eventually a shopping center which opened in 1959. According to dollartimes.com, $11,500 for a house in Bayshore Gardens in 1957 is $100,597 in 2017 money.

According to Cathy Slusser’s recent article on Bayshore Gardens, there were several architects and engineers involved, including Ruth Richmond, who was the first woman in Manatee County to earn a grade “A” ontractor’s license, Freeman Horton, who designed the original Skyway Bridge, Sidney Wilkinson, who either solo, or in collaboration with firm partner Douglas Croll designed several buildings in the area, such as the Neel Auditorium on the Bradenton campus of State College of Florida.

The land originally consisted of mostly tomato fields. In fact, a good portion of the south county area was originally agricultural land, which included citrus, dairy and gladiola farms. The homes in the subdivision were designed in the then-current mid-century modern architectural style, which had its roots in the designs of Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus school, which flourished in pre-World War II Germany. The war and the political situation in that country in the 1930s-40s stunted the movement, but had a resurgence after the war, aided by new lights in the area of architecture, such as Charles By the 1980s, a second campus was added in east Venice and the college became Manatee Community College. In 2009, it was renamed a third time as State College of Florida, and began offering four-year degrees in competition with nearby University of South Florida’s Sarasota campus. The importance of Manatee County having a college, was perhaps in the minds of the developers and planners and translated in the naming of Bayshore Gardens’ streets after various colleges and universities, such as Columbia and Harvard, which can be seen today.

The new community wanted to be both progressive and also to highlight a tropical way of life as evidenced by the vBy the 1980s, a second campus was added in east Venice and the college became Manatee Community College. In 2009, it was renamed a third time as State College of Florida, and began offering four-year degrees in competition with nearby University of South Florida’s Sarasota campus. The importance of Manatee County having a college, was perhaps in the minds of the developers and planners and translated in the naming of Bayshore Gardens’ streets after various colleges and universities, such as Columbia and Harvard, which can be seen today.

The new community wanted to be both progressive and also to highlight a tropical way of life as evidenced by the model homes named after various flowers native to the area. By 1963, the subdivision we know today was nearly complete. Bayshore Gardens Shopping Center was open and busy with new customers and now sported a 1,000-seat cinema theater.

Residents of the community realized that one more thing was missing from the area: a public library. As early as 1965, there was discussion of a library for the south county area. At the time, there were two public libraries, Bradenton Carnegie in the downtown area, and Palmetto Carnegie Library in Palmetto. By the late sixties, a new branch library had also opened on Holmes Beach on Anna Maria Island. Population growth in the south county area meant that the area needed a public library of its own.

A group of five residents formed a committee to raise the necessary funds to purchase land. They succeeded, and in the fall of 1967, ground breaking took place at Bayshore Gardens Parkway and Roslyn Drive, across the street from the shopping center. By 1968, the building had opened and was an immediate success, but within a few years it needed an extension built on the existing building due to huge growth in the area. In the early 1990s, it was apparent that the area needed a new larger facility. After looking at some possible sites, it was decided to build the new library across the street from Bayshore Elementary School on 26th Street West. It opened in 1994, and continues to thrive and serve the residents of southern Manatee County.

As with any community or neighborhood, the Bayshore Gardens subdivision has weathered changing economic and real estate trends, and in the last few years its owners have been in the process of restoring many of the houses that have become worn with age. A 2014 University of Florida School of Architecture study’s results found that the subdivision might be eligible to apply for historical district status. The study found that many of the homes are still intact with original features such as a clerestory window (an example of this can be found in the Bird of Paradise model) and other artistic exterior decorations.

At any rate, this study and an awakening of interest in mid-century modern architecture have raised awareness of the importance of preserving this unique community.

Sources:
Photo 1: 2-19-1956 Bayshore Gardens Previews, Manatee County Public Library System
Photo 2: Heritage Model, Manatee County Historical Records Library
Photo 3: 2-19-1956 Bayshore Gardens Previews, Manatee County Public Library System
Photo 4: SCF Campus, State College of Florida Archives 1950’-1960’s
Photo 5: 11-2-1959 Bayshore Gardens Shopping Center Opens, Manatee County Public Library System
Photo 6: 1965 Bayshore Gardens Library Planned, Manatee County Public Library System
Photo 7: 3-22-1957 Camellia Model, Manatee County Public Library System
Photo 8: 1964 Bayshore Gardens Ariel Photo, Manatee County Public Library System
Photo 9: Queen Palm Model, Manatee County Public Library System
Johnson, Matt. (2014, December 13) “Bayshore Gardens may become part of architectural history”. Bradenton Herald. Retrieved from http://www.bradenton.com/homes/article34770216.html
Slusser, Cathy. (2015, January 27) “Manatee History Matters: Bayshore Gardens, hidden jewel of Mid-Century Modern Architecture.” Bradenton Herald; Retrieved from http://www.bradenton.com/news/local/article3478715.html
University of Florida School of Architecture, Spring 2014 Practicum: “Bayshore Gardens, Final Report”. Abrado, Cayley, Brady, Anna, et al. Dr. Linda Stevenson, professor.

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