Used to Be…

by Jeff Lytle

As you you soak up the scenery around town, you might wonder whether your favorite Naples landmark is the first and only thing at that site, or is it a sequel driven by rising property values?

Take, for example, the booming residential and park development around Central Avenue, U.S. 41 and Goodlette-Frank Road. Naples Square springs from an underachieving shopping center, actually named Grand Central Station; Baker Park is an upgrade from a horticultural landfill built up by storm debris; impressive Mangrove Bay homes are next door. The Eleven-Eleven condominium project succeeds the former Naples Daily News headquarters and an adjoining shanty town slum razed 40 years ago.

1940s original building at today’s Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club.

Nearby, the Neighborhood Health Clinic, serving the needs of the working poor, was preceded by car sales and repair businesses. The University of Miami’s Bascom Palmer Eye Institute on U.S. 41 North by Park Shore, used to be an outdoor awning company.

In the same vicinity, another landmark with striking, shining architecture, Bingham Jewelers, is a whopping improvement from a Burger King. Slightly south, The Chamber Building once was an Arby’s. The castle-like Fifth Third Bank on Goodlette-Frank Road was crowned as an eye-grabber string of nightclubs such as Copperstones and Hollywood Knights.

Carts and crew ready to go at Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club, circa 1960s.

Slightly further south, the Blue Caribbean golf driving range, where heavy hitters could reach Naples High School grounds to the east, gave way to the Gateway shopping center.

My wife, Susan, and I compiled this list from memory and a single cruise around town. My friend Phil Wood, an authority on development as president of John R. Wood Properties, observes another driving range, Gulf Coast Golf, became King Richard’s amusement park and is now Tamiami Hyundai.

He adds that a Hodges Funeral Home, on U.S. 41 North, is now Rooms To Go, and a busy commercial complex at Immokalee Road and 41 North used to feature a drive-in theater.

Wood remembers when today’s Yard House restaurant at Park Shore was a Chili’s, preceded by Big Daddy’s Lounge. “The southwest corner of Myrtle Terrace and 41 North was a 7-Eleven,” he notes. “It is now a strip center with Nassau Pools as the main tenant.” Thanks, Phil.

And now, back to the Lytles. Today’s Bellasera hotel, restaurant and special events showcase on U.S. 41 originated as a more ho-hum Howard Johnson’s motel alongside an iconic orange and teal eatery with a peaked roof. Another peaked roof, originally on the U.S. 41 Dairy Queen, signals today’s Turco Taco. The striking IberiaBank at Goodlette-Frank Road and Golden Gate Parkway leaves predecessor, a bowling alley, in its shadows. Naples shoppers who prayed for more retail options were delighted with Goodlette-Frank and Pine Ridge roads’ Magnolia Square, rising from the original First Baptist Church.

Naples Botanical Garden has sprouted into the crown jewel of Bayshore Drive, once known for drug trafficking when it was Kelly Road. The garden site itself was cobbled from an underachieving strip shopping center and a notorious makeshift dump. A Kmart came before big box tenants such as Party City and Burlington Coat Factory at Park Shore Plaza. No appointments were needed at Pippin’s restaurant, famed for its salad bar, where Engle Dentistry is today. Today’s Charles Schwab investment branch is an upgrade from the honky-tonk Alvin’s Island beach store, which followed a Rhodes furniture store at U.S. 41 and Seagate Drive. The new Hyatt House Naples offers rare guest opportunities on Naples Bay, where restaurant predecessors include Landry’s, Joe’s Crab Shack, Vera Cruz and the Versailles.

Carts and crew ready to go at Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club, circa 1960s.

Bank of America stands at Fifth Avenue South and Eighth Street, minus the time and temperature clock beamed by Bank of Naples and Barnett Bank ancestors. Across the street, the elegant office building hosting the Cheffy & Passidomo law firm started life as headquarters for United Telephone, with a row of heavily used pay phones embedded in its wall facing Fifth. Phones? A red London-style phone booth that decorated the entrance to St. George & The Dragon restaurant, now a vacant lot, has moved north to the Lake Park Diner on Seventh Avenue North, where a car wash cleaned up for decades.

A BB&T Bank cashed in on the former site of a post office on Third Avenue South, just east of U.S. 41; the postal branch moved south, close to City Hall. An IberiaBank is a definite upgrade from the Swamp Buggy Lounge, a dive bar connected to a liquor store at 41 and Fourth Avenue North.

Another liquor store nearby, at the Four Corners, served up the site of Sushi Thai. One of Naples’ old mom and pop motels, the Stewart Motel on 41, evolved into the chic design center that helps set the pace on southern 41 and 10th Street. Another motel, Trail’s End, blossomed into Robb & Stucky.

Part of the glistening strip of super-luxury car dealers across 41 from the Beach Club golf course used to be a Dodge dealer and The Clam Shack, which lived up to its name. Last but not least are properties that defied the trend to bigger and better. Look hard and you will see places, albeit few, in the mold of the Naples Depot and Palm Cottage

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