by Lila Zuck, Naples Historical Society Historian
Third Street was the heart of Naples, the second shelled road after 12th Street South. It was the town’s first main street,
home to a general store, a community building, the first filling station and Naples’ first hotel. But Fifth Avenue was the town’s gem, welcoming motorists to Old Naples as they arrived from points north along the Tamiami Trail (U. S. 41) to The Four Corners, the highway’s intersection with the avenue.
Fifteen months after Hurricane Donna stripped Naples of most of its greenery in 1960, taking with it the Naples Pier, the rebuilding of which was funded by resident Lester J. Norris, in November 1961 Naples City Council decided to zone a “green belt” around the city, launching a Fifth Avenue Beautification Program.
The City and the Fifth Avenue South Property Owners Association equally shared the $12,000 cost of new lighting and landscaping of the avenue, which included the removal of 20 of the 80 coconut palms and replanting them at newly completed Lowdermilk Park. The remaining 60 palms between 6th Street and The Four Corners were respaced.
Along the wide sidewalks, ideal for strolling arm-in-arm, designated areas were planted with tropical and flowering shrubs, around which stepping stones were placed, leading to pastel-colored benches. One of the objectives of the beautification program was to encourage foot traffic and window shopping.
In 1962, when the project was completed, Fifth Avenue was nothing short of a horticultural showcase. Dedication of Fifth Avenue’s “new look” was held at Cambier Park. Each of 31 side street homeowners received 10 silver dollars for taking part in the beautification program, and one homeowner whose participation was exemplary was awarded the grand prize of 100 silver dollars.
Members of the Naples High School Science Club, assisted by the Naples Garden Club and City’s Public Works Department, identified and labeled 100 species of plants and shrubs that had been planted on the avenue. They wrote the names of the plants on tags affixed to white stakes set in concrete in small cans and inserted in the ground in front of each plant or tree. The Naples Garden Club prepared a map of Fifth Avenue indicating the name and location of each plant specimen and had copies printed for distribution to the walking public. Property owners and merchants along the thoroughfare believed the new avenue needed a new name.
Some options under consideration were “Gulf Mall”, “Shopping Center”, “Gulf Breeze Boulevard”, “Norris Road”, “Florida Avenue”, “Palm Way”, “Neapolitan Boulevard”, “Sunset Drive”, and “Thrift Avenue.” The City Beautification Committee and The Collier County News decided that all Naples residents should participate in renaming the avenue. A simple “yes or no” question on a ballot printed in the newspaper revealed an overwhelming 6 to 1 vote against the name change and Fifth Avenue prevailed.
In 1928, Fifth Avenue had not yet been surfaced with shell. The installation of telephone poles began at the east end of the avenue that year and the Frank Brothers garage and a coffee shop opened on its south side. Brack & Sons Electric opened just west of The Four Corners, on the north side of Fifth Avenue. Steadily after 1930, other service and retail businesses, a bank and motels also opened.
At the far western end, on the southeast corner of Fifth Avenue and Third Street the Naples Airfield opened in July 1933 at the request of the Aviation Division of the State Road Department because of the need for a suitable emergency landing field “for the benefit of the public.” It was not uncommon to see private planes taking off and landing anywhere in town there was an open space.
The Aviation Division built the landing strip on a portion of the site of Naples’ first golf course on the southeast corner of Fifth Avenue and Third Street. By then the golf course at the Naples Beach Club was in full swing. Among the pilots who frequently landed at the Naples Airfield were Charles Lindbergh and his wife, who shopped on route to Captiva.
The airfield ceased operation in 1940. From 1954 to 1962, Santa arrived in town in a sports car, joined the Christmas parade and then checked into his Naples winter home, a red hut built for him by the Naples Jaycees and rotated each December between the business storefronts on Fifth Avenue South.
Naples Historical Society is the Central Voice of Naples History and operates Historic Palm Cottage™ a 3500 square foot house museum opened to the public throughout the year. This article is part of the Society Sage Stories series prepared exclusively for this publication. It is based primarily on the book Naples, A Second Paradise: The History of Naples, Florida (2010). For more information go to www.NaplesHistoricalSociety.org.