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Tuesday July 22nd 2014

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The Public Record 9.16

Dear Maxwell,
Why do people call the area on the beach next to the pier “Casino Beach”? Did a casino ever exist there?
-Lauren J.

……………………

Yes and no. There was a building on Pensacola Beach called the Casino, but it wasn’t for gambling. The Casino was a community recreation complex built in 1930. It was the first tourist attraction on Santa Rosa Island that was accessible by automobile.

The project began with a group of financiers from St. Louis, Mo., and St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minn. Calling themselves the Pensacola Bridge Corporation, the investors set out on one of the most ambitious development programs of the Depression Era. At the time, Pensacola Beach was only accessible by boat. The plan of the PBC was to simultaneously build a bridge over Pensacola Bay, a bridge over Santa Rosa Sound and the Casino. The project made it possible for locals and vacationers to drive to Santa Rosa Island for the first time in history. The two bridges were built at a cost of $2,225,000, and the Casino was an extra $150,000.

On June 13, 1931, the bridges and the Casino were officially opened on the same day. The dedication ceremonies began with a parade down Palafox Street, an official ribbon cutting at the start of the “Three-Mile” Bridge, and then moved on to the Casino for an all-day carnival. It was estimated that over 20,000 people attended the opening day festivities.

Although the bridges made it all possible, the Casino was the place to be for entertainment. The new facilities offered a ballroom, bathhouse, gift shop, boardwalk, fishing pier, boxing ring, tavern and lounge. Because the Casino was the first venue of its kind on Pensacola Beach, the city resources were not available. In the early years, there was neither power nor potable water, but the Casino made do by operating on generators and bringing in water in 5-gallon jugs.

The Casino remained one of Pensacola’s most popular attractions from the 1930s throughout World War II. Families spent the day beach-going while young couples spent the night drinking and dancing. Events such as boxing matches sponsored by the YMCA and the Miss Florida beauty pageant continued to bring business to the beach in droves.

The Casino went through several renovations throughout the years, but in the 1960s it fell into disrepair. In 1972, a program upgrading public facilities on the beach meant the end of the Casino. The building was demolished, but the name remains nearly 40 years later.

Do you have a local history question for The Public Record? Email it to thepublicrecord@inweekly.net & we’ll see what we can dig up.