Home' The River Weekly News : RWN 070519 Contents THE RIVER - JULY 5, 2019
Historic Downtown Fort Myers, Then And Now:
First Modern City Hall
by Gerri Reaves, PhD
The first week of 1954 began with exciting plans for city
buildings and expansions. Among the proposals was the first
modern city hall, pictured in the circa-1954 photo. One wing
would be the police department.
By the time city hall was completed in summer of that year, the
city not only had a gorgeous new building but a trail of wreckage.
The current city hall was a late 19th century frame structure
that had originally been the home of Capt. Edward Lewis “EL” and
Carrie Belle Hendry Evans. Both were true Fort Myers pioneers,
and Edward had been a friend of Thomas A. Edison.
The couple lived in the house until 1921, when they moved to
a newly constructed home in the new subdivision of Dean Park.
The Evans house and property, which stretched 270 feet along Main and north to the
Caloosahatchee, was sold to the city. The house became the first permanent city hall and
the land around it became City Park.
The new city hall really got underway in March 1954 when city officials solicited bids
for what was to be an L-shaped one-story concrete and stucco building.
It was to extend 148 feet along Main and 145 along Heitman.
The police station “wing,” which was seemingly connected to the other, would face
Heitman and be separated by a wall and have separate entrances.
And, wonder of wonders, it would be air-conditioned.
In April, the existing city hall’s location had to be shifted on the site so construction
could begin, even as employees continued to work in the same historic building.
On the last day of April, city employees began moving from what had been City Hall
since October 1, 1921. But employees didn’t go far – just to the adjacent Park Hotel on
Main, which would be a temporary workplace until the new building was complete.
Even as they transferred office equipment, files, typewriters and the paraphernalia of a
city office, the nearby tennis courts in City, or Evans, Park were being torn up.
And as the foundation for the modern building was being laid in early May, the
historic Evans house was being demolished.
City officials had offered to give the frame structure to a non-profit, but no interested
party could afford to move and/or renovate it.
So, when the time came, it had been sold to James and Robert Reilly, who planned
to salvage some of it to build homes. Who knows? Perhaps remnants of the Evans home
survive today as parts of homes the Reillys subsequently built.
Construction progressed rapidly.
On Sunday afternoon, August 29, an open house was attended by 1,500 to 2,000
people. The mayor, city councilmen and their wives and city employees gave tours, and
refreshments were served.
The News-Press described the new hall as “tropical” because of the terrazzo floors,
cool green interior paint, stylish bent-cane furniture with tropical floral prints, light-oak
desk furniture and art prints on the walls.
The landscaping had been designed by Robert Halgrim, manager of what was then
called the Edison Home.
In 1973, another new city hall opened on Second Street. However, the police
department remained in the sleek building at Main and Heitman until a new police station
was built in 1983.
The once-celebrated city hall was demolished, and a bank was constructed there.
Walk down to Main and Heitman and imagine going to the exciting open house for
the new city hall.
Then visit the following two research centers to learn more about where city offices
have been located over the years.
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 www.swflhistoricalsociety.org for more information.
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 volunteer, non-profit organization are Wednesday through Friday from
11 a.m . to 4 p.m . and on Saturday by appointment only.
For more information, call 332-8778 or visit www.leecountyblackhistorysociety.org.
Sources: Archives of the Southwest Florida Historical Society; The News-Press; and
The Story of Fort Myers by Karl H. Grismer.
A bank was built on the site in the 1980s
photo by Gerri Reaves
Pictured is the circa-1954 photo of the new Fort Myers City Hall at Main and Heitman with
the sunset streaming behind it. The police department was located in the section facing
photo courtesy IMAG History & Science Center
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matters of emphasis and interpretation that appear in news stories.
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Marion Hauser, MS, RD
Ross Hauser, MD
Craig R. Hersch
Capt. Matt Mitchell
J. Brendan Ryan, CLU,
Ann Ziehl, Manager
Gerri Reaves, PhD
Independently Owned And Operated
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