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downtown fort myers history

This coming season, the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center celebrates its 10th anniversary! Over the last decade, SBDAC has contributed to the growth of Southwest Florida’s arts communities in various ways. Furthermore, the site where SBDAC now stands has a lengthy history all its own. Find out why the Davis Art Center is truly the heart of downtown Fort Myers’ history. Learn about the site’s legacy and SBDAC’s commitment to historical preservation and expanding the arts in SWFL.

A Rich Legacy

If you’re like most tourists and residents, you might not know much about downtown Fort Myers’ history. Thankfully, Gulfshore Life Magazine recently released a pretty comprehensive article detailing the city’s colorful history. For example, did you know the the original fort of Fort Myers was built where the Sidney & Berne stands today? In fact, during the Civil War, the fort was the site of a turning point battle where the Confederate army tried to seize the fort, which was a Union stronghold. From there, the site went through many different changes, from the development of the building’s original infrastructure as a part of FDR’s New Deal, to the adaptation of the building into a courthouse.

Breathing Life into Downtown Fort Myers

The 1990s were a hard time for downtown Fort Myers. Dilapidated buildings abounded, including what was once the old courthouse. Jim Griffith, the founder of Florida Arts, Inc., saw something unique in the old courthouse building, and sought to acquire a lease on it. With some hard work and fortitude, Griffith began work on the Sidney and Berne Davis Art Center, a nonprofit center that could bolster the city’s arts scene. With the nonprofit status of Florida Arts, Inc., Griffith was able to get a lease on the building and begin renovations. Of course, it’s no easy feat to restore a 32,000 square foot historic building. In fact, in the last ten years since the art center has opened, renovations have been made every year with the help of grants and donations.

A Decade in at the Davis

Over the last decade, the Sidney and Berne Davis Art Center has added to downtown Fort Myers’ history. SBDAC has kept its commitment to fostering the arts in Southwest Florida through arts education programs, concerts, art exhibitions, and special events. In addition, SBDAC helps preserve much of the building’s classic infrastructure, like the post office boxes on the front loggia and the original toilet and bench from the courthouse jail cell. The newest additions to SBDAC are the completed 2nd floor, which features a second gallery or hall space, and the brand new Six Fingers Studios. In the future, SBDAC has plans for a rooftop venue to host private parties, concerts, and more. To learn more about SBDAC’s historic site, read our history page and attend one of our many arts events.