Home' The River Weekly News : RWN 010617 Contents Historic Downtown Fort Myers, Then And Now:
Phoenix Hall, Fort Myers’ First
All–Purpose Community Center
by Gerri Reaves, PhD
The miscellany of merchandise spread out in front of Evans
& Co. makes it difficult to notice anything else in this
Everything from lamps, barrels, ploughs, mattresses and
washboards to chairs, gun holsters, rugs and sewing machines
made it apparent why Edward L. “E.L .” Evans (standing in
doorway) proclaimed that his store sold everything one needed
between the cradle and the grave.
The store was built in 1890 by Howell A. Parker on the
southeast corner of First and Hendry. Parker was not only the
town’s first mayor, but also had been one of its first merchants.
And, he was the great-uncle of the legendary businessman Harvie
Evans, a major merchant in his own right, ran the store and, in fact, in later years
went on to partner with Heitman.
But located above the eye-catching store spilling wares onto the street is a place that
made its own significant history. Phoenix Hall – note the name at the top of the building
– w a s the town’s first community center.
Of course, community events had always been a part of the town’s civic and social
fabric. Church halls, schools, and outdoor venues such as parks, gazebos and even tents
provided early Fort Myers with drama, celebrations, musical performances, contests and
But Phoenix Hall was
a designated community
space, a sign that the
town was maturing.
In early Fort Myers, it
hosted everything from
club meetings, lectures
and dinners to political
rallies and dramatic and
It was even used as
a rollerskating rink for a
few w inters!
The hall had a fairly
short history – a little
less than a quarter of a
century – but things were
accomplished and fun
was had at Phoenix Hall.
It had a grand
opening in June 1890
with a dance and supper
given by the Knights of
Pythias of Royal Palm
Lodge Number 16.
organization’s name on
the door at the photo’s
left, a door that evidently
led to the hall, where lots
of good ideas and projects got
The Fort Myers Dramatic
Society debuted in October
1890 in a performance of
Lady Audrey’s Secret.
In January 1896, the
town’s first baseball club was
The volunteer fire
department also organized
there, in May 1901. The new
organization put even the roof
to good use by placing a fire
alarm bell on it.
The first season after
railroad service began in
1904, the Four Pickerts Stock
Company arrived and gave
seven dramatic performances
in the hall.
Over the years, other
touring companies would
follow, fulfilling the town’s
ever-increasing desire for
The Phoenix Hall building
was demolished around
1913 to make way for the
neoclassical-style First National
Bank, which was constructed
in 1914. Evans moved across
the street and opened the
successful Heitman-Evans Co.
in a new brick building.
gathering spaces sprang up
in the booming 19-teens and 1920s, among them the clubhouses of several fraternal
organizations, modern schools with large formal auditoriums, such as Edison Park, and
in 1927, the Pleasure Pier Auditorium on the downtown riverfront.
Today, a law office is located in the former bank that stands where the Fort Myers
community once shopped downstairs and socialized upstairs.
People still sit on the steps at First and Hendry, but on the walkways are metal
sculptures and tables for ice-cream shop next door.
Walk down to First and Hendry and imagine attending a dramatic performance or
organizing a baseball club in an upstairs hall.
Then, learn more about the history of community meeting places at the following
The Southwest Florida Historical Society is an all-volunteer non-profit organization
open Wednesday and Saturday between 9 a.m. and noon and Wednesday 4 to 7 p.m.
It is located at 10091 McGregor Boulevard on the campus of the Lee County
Alliance for the Arts. Call 939-4044 or visit swflhistoricalsociety.org for more
The Lee County Black History Society is located at 1936 Henderson Avenue,
adjacent to the Williams Academy Museum at Roberto Clemente Park.
Hours for the all-volunteer non-profit organization are 11 a.m . to 4 p.m . Tuesday
through Friday and noon to 4 p.m . on Saturday.
For more information, call 332-8778 or visit leecountyblackhistorysociety.org.
Sources: Archives of the Southwest Florida Historical Society and The Story of Fort
Myers by Karl H. Grismer.
The First National Bank was built on the site in 1914 and is
now a law office. Buildings come and go, but the inclina-
tion to sit on steps never changes photo by Gerri Reaves
Phoenix Hall, a community center above Evans & Co. store,
opened in 1890 on the southeast corner of First and Hendry
photo courtesy Southwest Florida Historical Society
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Marion Hauser, MS, RD
Ross Hauser, MD
Capt. Matt Mitchell
Ann Ziehl, Manager
Diane L. Wynocker
Gerri Reaves, PhD
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THE RIVER - JANUARY 6, 2017
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