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Anna Maria Island in Manatee County

History of the Anna Maria Community Center

In 1950 the Island school needed to expand and moved to its present location in 4700 Gulf Drive, in Holmes Beach. The old building was used by the Lion’s Club for their regular meetings. Soon, they also began to operate a youth center. Stewart Hawkins, Melvin Davis and Richard Earnest and their wives devoted hours of their time to keep the facility open for dances, Saturday afternoon movies and a variety of other activities. They were following in the footsteps of previous citizens - seeing a need for children on the Island and meeting it.

The following year Fred Hutchinson, his wife Patsy and Bennie Scanio became concerned that land on the island was becoming scarce and the children lacked a proper playground. They approached the City Commissioners with a plea and won the city's full support. A land swap was arranged, Walter Hardin donated property and the Manatee County School Board gave its approval. With volunteer help the playground evolved, tennis courts and a rough baseball diamond were added.

As more and more children flocked to the Magnolia Avenue facility it became clear the old schoolhouse was simply too small. In 1959, under the leadership of Bennie Scanio a campaign started to raise funds to renovate the building. Fred Hutchinson and Dr. Roy Gunther pitched in, ever frugal, they salvaged material from a demolished mainland hotel and the old Ringling Brothers winter quarters for the new building. Al Robson contributed plans, Frank Blount provided the foundation and local contractors and carpenters gave their time. The old schoolhouse renovated and grounds were improved and officially registered as not for profit the Island Teen Center in 1960 serving Island children and families.

Twenty-three years later in 1983, the old schoolhouse had outlasted expectations and once more dedicated community members built a new facility. As word of Anna Maria’s unique lifestyle spread, more people moved to the Island. There are currently more than 8,000 residents, an increase of more than 50 percent over the 1980 figures. Therefore, it is clear the Center must once again expand if it is to properly serve the citizens of the island.

What’s Anna Maria’s top attraction?

We have to say it’s the gorgeous Gulf and our beautiful beaches. But we have much more than that here for you. Folks come here to relax and have fun, and the opportunities for doing that are endless. After all, this is an island surrounded by clear warm sea water, so it figures that the Recreational activities include swimming, sunning, shelling, and scuba diving. (highlight: the sunken wreck of the 247 foot “Molasses Barge”, the tanker Regina, that sank 75 yards off Bradenton Beach in a storm in 1940). And there’s boating, too, all kinds, including yachting under sail or power. If you forgot to bring your own yacht, there are charters available at several Island marinas.

Other vessels, large and small, may be rented or leased while you’re here. They include jet skis, day or hourly trips with captains of sightseeing craft of various shapes and sizes, kayaks, surfboards, skimboards, for sale or rent. And for a real thrill, hire the Parasail skipper to take you out into the Gulf or Bay for a spectacular look at the entire Island from a thousand feet up! Any one of the many fishing boat charters will take you way out there in the Gulf where The Big Ones are. Or you can take your worms to one of our three fishing piers to wet your hook and catch tonight’s dinner. Or you can just stand in shallow water and cast. It’s up to you. Like to play tennis? Why not? There are public courts waiting for you in Anna Maria and Holmes Beach. And if you’re a birder, we have some rare ones.

For social and cultural fun, opportunities that are enjoyable include: the wonderful Island Players Theatre productions, the programs at the Island Branch Library, Garden Club, Kiwanis, Rotary, Shriners, Moose, Red Hat Ladies, the Art League, Artists Guild, Island Gallery West, Gulf Coast Writers Group, Anna Maria Historical Society, Privateers, U. S. Coast Guard Power Squadron, Turtle Watch, Audubon Society, Women’s Club and all the Community Center Activities. Talk about something for everyone, there’s more if you do not mind a few minutes travel time to nearby Bradenton and Sarasota.There’s the South Florida Museum and Planetarium, DeSoto National Park, Manatee County Art League, and Manatee Community College. The picturesque antebellum Gamble Memorial Mansion is in Palmetto. And only a dozen miles south, in Sarasota, are the famous Ringling Museum of Art, the Asolo Center for the Performing Arts, University of South Florida,Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Sarasota West Coast Symphony, Sarasota Ballet, Sarasota Jazz Club, and, oh, so many other enjoyable things to see and do.

They say no vacation is complete unless you “shop till you drop,” and that’s certainly true here. Shopping on the Island for colorful resort and casual clothes, elegant casual for that special occasion, creative, amusing T-shirts, caps and other resort souvenirs and gifts, jewelry (shell and elegant), and even antiques, is a cheery experience around here because of the intriguing stuff offered and the pleasant purveyors who’ll greet you. Even food shopping is warm and friendly, from the centrally-located Publix supermarket to the many nature foods and delis, pizza and “special edibles” shops. Small shopping centers are the norm, tucked into cozy and convenient locations in all three cities, easy to find and consuming to behold. Of note are the shops at Bayview Plaza in Anna Maria, opposite the City Pier: Holmes Beach Shopping Center on Marina Drive: the large Anna Maria Island Center on East Bay Drive in Holmes Beach: and those quaint fun shops along newly-restored Bridge Street in Bradenton Beach. Located in Bradenton, about 5 miles from the Island is the Red Barn Flea Market on US 301 and if you fancy an outlet mall drive East to Ellenton for The Prime Outlet Mall near I-75. First, though, check out the good stuff we have right here on Anna Maria Island.

Our three Island Cities have restricted land use as well as the size and types of buildings allowed here. Unlike most resort areas, high rise buildings are taboo. The “Old Florida” look prevails on the Island, and that includes private homes as well as shops, lodgings and multi-residential construction. If you decide you’d like to make Anna Maria Island your temporary or permanent home,or want to purchase land or commercial property—or already own but need management services for your property—kindly turn to page 68 of this directory, where you’ll find real estate and property management firms. Other Chamber members specialize in insurance regulations, renovations, foreign investment requirements, and types of residential real estate including homes, duplexes, condominiums, apartments and villas. And even a few that might qualify as mansions! But no palaces.

Although still a quaint little beach community, Anna Maria Island has most of the necessary financial services that our residents and visitor can conveniently access. Banking – Three nationally chartered banks (Bank of America, First National Bank of Manatee, and Wachovia have full service branch offices here on the island, all in the City of Holmes Beach. A fourth, Coast Bank of Florida, maintains an ATM in the Bayview Plaza in the City of Anna Maria. Mortgages - Many visitors decide to purchase property in our “little piece of paradise” and they need not go far to get help with financing their vacation home or new residence. In addition to the banks mentioned above, several mortgage brokers are members of the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce and some of these keep office right her on the island.

Butterflies are just as free and welcome here in Anna Maria Island as anyone else, so we’ve created a special habitat for them to come and enjoy. It’s called, of course, “Anna Maria Island Butterfly Park”, and it’s a lovely garden between Holmes Beach City Hall and the Island Branch Library on Marina Drive in Holmes Beach. It’s been planted with the flowers and shrubs that butterflies like best. The Anna Maria Island Butterfly Park is a relaxed place to stroll, or maybe just sit and read a book, or learn about the 26 varieties of the winged beauties who visit us there. There are signs to identify them and their favorite plantings. The Manatee County chapter of the National Butterfly Association, in conjunction with the city of Holmes Beach, broke ground for the Park in 2000, so it’s fairly new. Stop by and enjoy the sculptures, the works of local artists, and the personalized-brick Courtyard.

For decades, the east coast of Florida received prodigious media attention (and visitors), while our Gulf coast barrier islands remained, to most, unfamiliar vacation venues. One of them, little idyllic Anna Maria Island in Manatee County, is surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico to the west, Tampa Bay to the north, Sarasota Bay to the east and Longboat Key to the south. Dreamy. Curiously, the tiny seven-mile island embraces three cities: Anna Maria (population, 1848), Holmes Beach, population, 4978), and Bradenton Beach (population 1565), or an aggregate fewer than 8,500 permanent residents. But somehow it works. The three cities are accessible by boat, of course, but more often, today, via any of the three bridges: two connect the island to the mainland (Bradenton), and one from Longboat Key. The nearby Sarasota/Bradenton International Airport is only about a 30 minute drive, and big Tampa International Airport a little over an hour away. North/South and East/West highways through Manatee County provide easy access to a wide variety of famous entertainment parks, including Busch Gardens in Tampa, Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven, and Disney World, Epcot, Universal Studios, Sea World, and several others just a couple of hours away in the Orlando/Kissimmee area. Anna Maria Island with its three cities, today is known as “My Island in the Sun” by most of its year-round residents and, henceforth, by more visitors like you.

The Anna Maria Historical Society was formed in 1990 by island residents Pat Copeland and Carolyne Norwood, newspaper reporters on the island. Former Mayor Ray Simches spearheaded the project. As Pat & Carolyne interviewed many of the island’s old-timers they realized the necessity of preserving the rich history. Other residents became enthused with the idea, joined the group, and in 1991 this non-profit educational organization was incorporated. Today the Society has more than 200 members whose mission is to collect, research, preserve, and exhibit materials relating to the early days on Anna Maria Island.

Members visit schools, churches, and civic organizations to make the story of the island come alive. Each year the Society awards a scholarship to a graduating high school senior who plans to pursue a college education. Two awards are given each year to winners in the “Anna Maria Island” category in the Manatee County History Fair. Anna Maria City gave permission to the Historical Society to remodel our building on Pine Avenue as a museum. Built in 1920 as an ice house before electricity got here, it was later used as City offices, and auto garage, and police and fire department headquarters. Before the Historical Society took over it was known as the “Turtle House”, where endangered baby turtles were raised in huge tanks of water until they were one year old. The Island Turtle Patrol thought this gave them a better chance to live in the open waters when released. After the state no longer allowed this, the building stood empty.

The Historical Society completely renovated the building, residents and visitors donated, and soon the building became a museum the Island is proud of. Glass display cases line the large front room with artifacts from the past. Displays also trace the early development of the island, dating back to George Emerson Bean, the island’s first homesteader in 1893. There are books to peruse, including scrapbooks with pictures and clippings that tell of the early days. A gift shop offers unique island souvenirs, plus books, pictures, and T-shirts. The most popular item is the recently- published book “The Early Days, 1893- 1940” with many photos and interesting tales. It sells for $13.00. The shop is open year round, except on national holidays. Hours are ( Tuesday, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays) from 10 am to 3 pm., October through April: and 10 am to 12 noon, May through December. There is no admission charge, but donations are gratefully accepted.

The most recent project of the Society is the restoration of the Belle Haven Cottage which sat on pilings at the end of the Anna Maria City Pier, from 1920 until 1926. It served as an ice house and bait seller, and then became a rental residence. Ultimately, the pilings under it rotted and the building fell into Tampa Bay. It was salvaged, for $125.00, by Lyman Christy, placed on a barge, floated around North Point, and settled on a lot on Palmetto Avenue in Anna Maria. Mr. & Mrs. Christy lived in it for a number of years: other families occupied it until 2001, when the property was purchased by a Pennsylvania buyer who did not want the house. About to be demolished, the City of Anna Maria and the Historical Society arranged to have it moved to the museum site on Pine Avenue. A fund-raising drive made renovation possible, and today it is the Belle Haven General Store.

There’s an extraordinary creative spirit alive and well here on Anna Maria Island, and you can see it all over. A few buildings in our cities even have an exterior wall decorated with murals by local artists. Like to mosey among art galleries? Holmes Beach could be called the island’s art center, with three major (and some minor) galleries: Anna Maria Island Art League, presenting works by local artists. The League also holds art classes, with models, in their Holmes Boulevard gallery/studio. Island Gallery West, on Gulf Dr., displays local art as well as works by nationally- known artists. During the winter season it also presents free art demonstrations. (And there’s a huge mural right outside its front door!).

Artists Guild Gallery in the Holmes Beach Shopping Center, besides exhibiting locally-created art and photography, holds monthly “one man show” opening receptions for featured artists. But wait! There’s more! The Restless Natives, a gift shop in Holmes Beach, offers art and crafts to tickle your fancy because they’re so different. Add Niki’s, with not only art, but jewelry, gifts, antiques, and other collectible treasures. Are you an antique lover? Then by all means visit Islander Antiques and Art in Anna Maria, and Essence of Time on Holmes Boulevard, just a couple blocks away from Ginny’s Antiques and Art, and Niki’s on nearby Gulf Drive. What’s more, folks, you never know when you enter a restaurant or other place of business around here, if those paintings on the wall were done locally. Even the Visitors Information Center displays art from local artist. And the Island Chamber’s Cook Book boasts of local artwork featured in the book along with some fabulous recipes.

As one of the only waterfront schools in the state of Florida, Anna Maria Elementary is truly an island school.The school, situated between the gulf and the bay at 4700 Gulf Drive, is a focal point of the island. Originally constructed in the 1950s, the school will feature a new campus beginning January 2006.The 320 students in grades K-5 represent the three communities of Anna Maria Island...Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach, and Anna well as the Manatee County portion of Longboat Key. A dedicated faculty of 22 teachers and 15 support staff members provide quality instruction and a supportive enviroment for all students. Anna Maria Elementary students perform well on state assessments, ranking at the top of the district in reading, science, and mathematics. In addition, students participate regularly in volunteer service projects, philanthroic ventures, dramatic arts, and community events. Parents and community leaders play an active role in the daily activities at the school. Participation in PTO and School Advisory Council activities, student- produced television broadcasts, field trips, the Grandparents Program, and classroom activities are just a few of the many opportunities for contributing to the school program. Over 4,000 hours are logged each year among our outstanding cadre of school volunteers. You’re always welcome to visit our “little school by the bay.”Who knows? You might be our newest volunteer.