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Friday, Aug 29, 2014
Local News

Forest Hills was Tampa's overlooked boom-time neighborhood


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Nestled among sprawling oaks and curved roads with names like Fairway, Fore and Bogie lies an interesting neighborhood with homes that, judging by their general size and age, belie the area's history.

Though it dates from the storied 1920s boom years, the neighborhood is not located in South Tampa or Temple Terrace. And though it was designed around and named after a golf course, the course itself no longer has that name.

The community - Forest Hills - and its golf course, now known as Babe Zaharias, are as old as Davis Islands, Beach Park and Temple Terrace, but it doesn't receive the same attention.

The Forest Hills neighborhood, originally part of a much larger area known as Tampa's North Side Country Club, was created in 1926 by Tampa real estate developer Burks L. Hamner. Hamner already had attained a great deal of success earlier in the decade when he partnered with several other investors to create Temple Terrace. He is also credited with establishing the Parkland Estates neighborhood just west of Howard Avenue between Swann and Morrison Avenues.

Both Parkland Estates and Temple Terrace were well underway by 1926 and, despite the ominous signs of slower land sales, shortages of building materials and an overall backlash against Florida real estate, Hamner pushed forward with his plans to build a new golf course community. Golfland, located in the southern half of his North Side Country Club, is the nucleus of today's Forest Hills/Babe Zaharias neighborhood.

While the layout of the 18-hole golf course has changed over the years, much has remained the same since the start of Hamner's development. Many of the streets retain their original names, including those mentioned above and others with a golf theme, including Underpar, Teegreen, Divot and Elbow. One name, Anglenine, has since been altered to Angeline, with the majority of the street completely renamed to Forest Hills Drive.

Linebaugh Avenue was, and is, the southern limit of Golfland/Forest Hills, and Lake Eckles and Lake Eckles Drive made up the northern boundary (Eckles Drive is now known as Forest Hills Drive, too). Woodleigh Avenue, since changed to Armenia Avenue after the latter street was extended this far north, was Golfland's western boundary and North Boulevard was the border to the east.

Hamner's Golfland neighborhood was just a small part of his larger North Side Country Club community. The North Side community was aptly named - it sat at the northern edge of the city of Tampa, well north of most existing neighborhoods at the time, including West Tampa, Seminole Heights and Sulphur Springs. Due to its location, Hamner marketed, developed and sold the North Side community from south to north. The first subdivision, appropriately named El Portal (The Entrance), was platted in October 1925 with Waters Avenue as its southern border. Just north of that was South Gate, which was almost completely sold out by the end of December 1925, according to newspaper accounts from that time.

His main focus, though, was Golfland. Hamner decided to go against the prevailing architectural trends, which were dominated by the Mediterranean Revival family of styles, and incorporated a Tudor style into the neighborhood. Several homes from this era still exist, and they certainly stand out from the more common 1950s and 1960s block ranch-style homes.

One dominating Tudor structure that does not remain is the original golf club clubhouse. It burned down and was replaced by a much simpler building.

After the real estate crash of late-1926, land sales in Forest Hills, and Florida in general, diminished greatly. The situation worsened after the 1929 stock market crash and the onset of the Great Depression. World War II brought prosperity back to the Tampa area, but it took time for it to make it all the way up to Forest Hills. Burks Hamner died in 1948, and his heirs decided to sell their stake in the golf course.

During this same time, Mildred "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias was becoming a national celebrity. Her athletic prowess already had won her gold medals in the 1932 Olympic Games, plus dozens of other awards and endorsements. By the late 1930s, she turned her attention to golf. As she did with every other sport in which she participated, she became a world-class golfer. The sport even brought her a husband: She met professional wrestler George Zaharias at a golf tournament in January 1938, and they married a year later. They bought the Forest Hills golf course in 1951 (according to Babe Zaharias' obituary in the New York Times).

Their time in Tampa didn't last long due to their travel schedules and Babe's cancer diagnosis. Still, they improved the golf course and renamed it the Tampa Golf and Country Club. Unfortunately, they were forced to sell the course when Zaharias' cancer returned. She passed away in 1956 in her home state of Texas. She was 42.

The golf course again fell into disrepair and was eventually acquired by the city of Tampa in 1974. The Tampa Sports Authority, which operates the course, has worked to upgrade the irrigation system and condition of the course. As a fitting tribute, the golf course is named in honor of its former owner, Babe Zaharias.

v vDo you remember seeing President John F. Kennedy during his trip to Tampa on Nov. 18, 1963? Do you have photographs, film footage or items related to the visit? If so, Lynn Marvin Dingfelder would like to talk to you. She is producing a documentary and planning an exhibition on Kennedy's visit and would like to talk to anyone with memories or memorabilia from that important trip four days before he went to Dallas. You can go to www.jfkintampa.org for more information, or contact Lynn at lynn@jfkintampa.org or by phone at (877) 496-6999.

Rodney Kite-Powell is the Saunders Foundation Curator of History at the Tampa Bay History Center. He wants to hear your feedback and can be contacted via email at rkp@tampabayhistorycenter.org or by phone at (813) 228-0097.

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