Traveling over the country one sees public building, parks, and other structure bearing someone's personal name. And, even if fleetingly, you wonder who was this person and what did he or she accomplish for his community or country? Most of the time even in our own area, we don't really know about the origin of the names.
Well, the Community Center at 1500 Pass-a-Grille Way that bears the name of Warren Webster is certainly no exception. Sometimes even local history buffs don't know the "real story!"
Webster, an industrialist from New Jersey, arrived in the area in the early 1900's, vacationing with his family, enjoying the quiet beach, calm waters, boating and fishing but soon developing an eye to the future. In 1913, as he joined dozens of other early pioneers who landed on the white sands of Pass-a-Grille Beach, he purchased half of the Pass-a-Grille section of island from H. Walter Fuller.
Webster acquired the Pass-a-Grille Casino at 9th and Gulf Way, later known at the Pass-a-Grille Hotel. He built his home at 1301 Gulf Way after replatting more land purchased from Fuller and became a full-time resident in 1925.
Later, he also invested in the construction of the McAdoo Bridge which brought the first direct vehicle access to the Gulf islands. The old wooden planked bridge with its 25-cent toll quickly opened up the island to building growth and offered an easy travel for the visitors flocking to the beach areas.
While building cottages in Pass-a-Grille, Webster expanded his holdings through a partnership with Jacob Disston and Harry F. Nixon to buy the old Gulfport Street Car line for a total cost of $250,000.00. The group sold it within four months for the same price!
He continued to buy and sell property and eventually owned most of Pass-a-Grille Beach through the real estate transactions over the years. His love of the community, his faith in its future, motivated him to deed by Quit Claim, and anonymously, 18 blocks to the town of Pass-a-Grille. The deed has these provisions: To Provide Gulf Access to the public; To assure no structures could be erected on the land; No Commercial use of the land; and Nothing could be placed on the beach to obstruct the view from E. Gulf way properties.
He continued to work hard and eventually was a strong voice in getting all the beachfront declared public. One cannot deny the peaceful beach at Pass-a-Grille is what makes living here special to residents and visitors alike.
Webster and wife, Frances Margerite Siegrist had three children and their descendants included John Lucas, Jr. who stayed on in Pass-a-Grille where he and wife Nancy were active in the community, both politically and socially. Their son John S. Lucas, III, (Spencer!) upon his retirement as a Captain in the Charlotte, N.C. Fire Department, returned to his birthplace in 2000 and is carrying on his family's tradition of community involvement.
On May 5, 2014, the Friends of the Gulf Beaches Historical Museum with its President, John Spencer Lucas, III, sponsored a rededication of the Warren Webster Community Center named for the gentleman who loved the beach as much as we all do today. A framed photo included with his family history was presented and unveiled. His ceremony was part of the Museum's annual Cookout at the property. In its mission of preserving the islands heritage, the Museum and its members hope this rededication answered the many questions asked - "Who was Warren Webster?"
The community is indebted to this man who has given us the beautiful beachfront always to be protected for our use. Thank you, Mr. Warren Webster! And now you know "the rest of the story."