Home' The River Weekly News : RWN 092818 Contents Historic Downtown Fort Myers, Then And Now:
Walker Plumbing On Bay
by Gerri Reaves, PhD
In the 1920s, J. Deleon “JD” Walker opened his plumbing
business on Bay Street across from the Arcade Theatre.
The business is pictured here in a photo probably taken
circa-1934. By that time, however, Walker had sold the business
to GH Blemke, although the business retained Walker’s name.
The two people in the photo are unidentified.
Walker’s years of ownership spanned the 1920s boom.
Before setting up shop on Bay, the plumber had worked
out of his home on McGregor Boulevard in the mid-19-teens.
By 1921, he was working in connection with Heitman-Evans
Hardware at First and Hendry.
Within a couple of years, he had moved to a small two-story building on Bay Street
next to the new Ford Garage. He shared the building with a cigar factory.
The year 1926 spelled big changes for Bay Street. In June, Fort Myers was abuzz
with the development of the street into a commercial center, as the press grandly put
The invention of modern Bay Street from Jackson to Dean Street was made
possible courtesy of fill. It should be noted that it wouldn’t be the last time the business
district stretched north thanks to fill.
Along with street construction came the Morgan Hotel addition, the Towles
Building at Bayview Court, a new service station and a Cadillac company. All helped
to bring the street up to boom-time standard.
Walker Plumbing wasn’t left out. Even the building occupied by it and the cigar
factory was rebuilt and got the new Spanish stucco façade visible in the historic photo.
That year seems to have been a good one for Walker, as for many local business
people. He showcased his skills in an ad announcing that he had installed the
plumbing, heating and vacuum cleaning systems at the Morgan Hotel at First and
“My work is appreciated,” the ad straightforwardly attests, “because it is done well.”
Also that year, Walker Plumbing was one of several contractors featured in
prominent ads for the “Ideal Homes” being constructed in the new subdivision of
Valencia Terrace just south of downtown.
By 1928, GH Blemke bought out Walker, advertising as his “successor” on Bay
Street and retaining the business’s name. Walker, meanwhile, continued his plumbing
work from his home on East First Street.
Also that year, Prather’s completely new dry cleaning plant opened on Bay,
adjacent to Walker’s east side. Note the sign for Prather’s Dry Cleaning Co. in the
One curious detail in this photo can’t be overlooked – the gopher tortoise the man
is displaying. The animal was possibly a contestant in a gopher tortoise derby, an
event with a long history in Fort Myers. For many years, it was even a regular Edison
In January 1931, the first official gopher derby was held in Fort Myers. (By the
way, derbies were held in other Florida cities, such as Punta Gorda, too.) That first
derby was held on First Street and was sponsored by the American Legion.
The animals were decorated, sometimes quite elaborately, like the tortoise in the
photo, and they were named. Some were even displayed in store windows days before
the event to promote businesses.
The chair man of that first derby, JG Holst, was quoted in the Fort Myers Press
answering a question about what could be done if the tortoises didn’t respond to the
starting gong: “...we would put turpentine on their toes, or a mild acid on their tails,
or use some similar device.”
While we have to allow that those were different times and that no doubt the
chairman meant the remarks to be humorous, they certainly have the power to make
us cringe today.
In March 1935, the poisoning of the previous year’s champion and the theft of
12 others brought a somber note to the derby. Someone stole the key to the gopher
paddock in the Patio de Leon and committed the offenses. That year the derby was
continued on page 22
THE RIVER - SEPTEMBER 28, 2018
Today, a parking lot is located on Bay Street between Hendry and Jackson and at side-
walk’s end is the parking garage for Campo Felice. At left is the Tidewater Building.
photo by Gerri Reaves
Circa-1934, an unidentified couple display a “decorated” gopher tortoise at the Walker
Plumbing storefront on Bay Street. In the distance at the end of the sidewalk is the Royal
Palm Hotel casino.
photo courtesy SWFL Historical Society
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Marion Hauser, MS, RD
Ross Hauser, MD
Capt. Matt Mitchell
J. Brendan Ryan, CLU,
Ann Ziehl, Manager
Gerri Reaves, PhD
Independently Owned And Operated
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