The Club House was the Island’s first resort
A photo of the hotel
in the 1940s shows the trailer
park and pier in the background. PHOTO PROVIDED
by AMI HISTORICAL SOCIETY
BRADENTON BEACH – Young people watched, tears streaming down their faces, while older residents cheered as the Oar House bar burned to the ground in 1979. In 70 years, it had gone from a grand three-story resort to a one-story mish mash of shops to a popular lounge with rock bands blasting into the night.
First known as The Club House, the resort was the dream of Rurick Cobb, who came to the Island in 1898. Rurick, an Army bandleader stationed in Tampa, fell in love with the Island and moved his family here in 1901, homesteading 160 acres.
The homestead, in north Bradenton beach and south Holmes Beach, ran from the Gulf to Anna Maria Sound. Rurick named it the Ilexhurst subdivision after the evergreen oaks known as ilex.
Rurick’s brother, Sam, had moved to the Island in 1896 and homesteaded an area in the center of Holmes Beach. In 1907, Sam built Cobb’s Marine Ways, the Island’s first commercial establishment, at the end of 52nd Street.
In 1901, Rurick built the first island school for his and Sam’s children. It was near Sam’s home in the center of the Island on property owned by Rurick.
According to some accounts, Rurick built The Club House in 1906, however, his niece, Anna Maria Cobb Riles, claims it was 1909. He courted German-Americans from Tampa, who had interests in phosphate mines in central Florida, as backers in his resort.
The first floor contained a clubhouse with showers for beachgoers. The second floor, featuring a large dining hall, was surrounded by a breezy verandah affording magnificent views of the Gulf. The third floor with its picturesque gabled windows contained 12 sleeping rooms.
Because there was no bridge to the Island, Rurick built a 1,000-foot pier into the sound and later purchased a motor launch to bring his German-American guests from Tampa. However, the lack of a bridge and enough tourists to make a profit proved his undoing, and the mortgage was foreclosed in 1915.
A man named Mr. Zewadski took over the property and hired Frank Farrell to manage it. Zewadski renamed it the Ilexhurst Hotel. Business picked up, but then slowed again during the Great Depression.
In the 1940s, with the popularity of cars and travel trailers, Midwesterners and carnival people began to spend the winter months in Florida. It opened a new door for Mrs. Zewadski.
She began developing the Gulf Park Trailer Park on the land east of Gulf Drive and renamed the hotel the Gulf Park Hotel. She also rebuilt the pier, which was nearly destroyed in the 1921 hurricane.
During World War II, the Coast Guard housed a company in the hotel. It was commanded by former Tampa police officer Jim Sage, who later founded the Admiral fishing fleet based in Cortez.
In 1945, Dick and Betty Dodge leased the property from the now-widowed Mrs. Zewadski and added a restaurant. The Dodges bought the property a couple of years later, and opened the popular Gulf Park Bar on the first floor.
The Dodges kept the trailer park and leased the hotel to Jim Longnecker and Jim Drake in 1950. The two men dreamed of transforming the now termite-infested building into a modern resort with a restaurant, rooms, cabanas and pavilions.However, the effort failed and they ended up with just the bar business on the ground floor.
The Dodges sold the hotel and trailer park to Jim Templin in 1954 and he hired Glen Stafford to manage the properties. In addition to the bar, other businesses over the years included a sandwich shop, an ice cream store, a grocery store and a barbershop.
In 1960, the third floor was condemned and removed and the second floor was eventually sealed off. The properties were sold to several people over the next few years and by the late 1970s, only the bar business, called the Oar House, remained.
It’s owners began catering to young people with rock bands and musicians, including Gregg Allman and Dickie Betts, much to the chagrin of neighbors and city officials. Mayor Dick Connick threatened to close the bar citing vandalism, noise and parking and fire code violations.
On Feb. 22, 1979, it all came to a sad end when a short circuit started the fire that destroyed the building. It melted metal and shattered beer bottles in the 1,800-degree heat, and could be seen on the mainland.
Gulf Park Trailer Park is now known as the Sandpiper Mobile Home Park and the Anna Maria Island Club now occupies the hotel site.