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CLHS Reunion, Restore Fort Myers Beach Arches fundraiser

By Staff | Sep 26, 2018

The 1924 arches allowed traffic to flow both on and off the island under a separate arch, with sidewalk arches on each side, allowing for safe pedestrian traffic as well. They remained for 55 years, until their removal in 1979 to make way for the present sky bridge from San Carlos Island to the barrier island of Fort Myers Beach. FILE PHOTO

Cypress Lake High School graduates – 1970-1979 – are invited to attend a get together this weekend at Bonita Bills Waterfront Cafe to help raise money and awareness for the organization, Restore Fort Myers Beach Arches, Inc.

The event will be held at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, at Bonita Bills Waterfront Cafe on San Carlos Island, 702 Fisherman’s Warf Drive. The get-together will include Gina Sabiston, who is the emcee and host, as well as a buffet meal, which will include such items as barbecue pork, meatballs, coleslaw, and fish fingers, for $17.

“Bonita Bills is literally where the arches were. The venue is a stone’s throw away from where the arches were, at the base of the old swing bridge. That location is instrumental in our selection of a venue,” Restore Fort Myers Beach Arches, Inc. President Steven Ray McDonald said. “Bonita Bills is a really nice place. It’s a local hangout, right there where the shrimp boats are on Matanzas Pass.”

The Cypress Lake High School reunion, which is open to all citizens, will have music by Peppermint Patty and Chucky from Kentucky, as well as a 50/50 raffle.

The 1970s graduates, McDonald said are being highlighted because they would remember the Arches.

The Fort Myers Beach Arches, built in 1924 by Developer Tom Phillips, remained until November 1979, when FDOT and Lee County provided a one- months notice that the arches were being taken down when the new bridge was installed.

McDonald said Phillips built the first bridge that went across Matanzas Pass in 1914. That bridge remained until 1926 when a hurricane devastated the area and created San Carlos Island. McDonald said Phillips went to Miami, purchased a swing bridge and installed it, charging 50 cents a piece to get across Matanzas Pass.

“He had this big huge archway there for housing after the hurricane. He gave up rights to his own property to build San Carlos Boulevard through those arches to the new swing bridge,” McDonald said of Phillips. “That swing bridge and arches were there for 55 years, over half a century.”

The Fort Myers Beach Jaycees, as well as others received approval from the Lee County Board of County Commissioners that they could disassemble the arches and reconstruct them in a county park. Unfortunately, that piece of information did not reach the subcontractor in time. McDonald said the subcontractor hit the arches with a wrecking ball not knowing the commissioners decision of saving the arches.

“Our organization is trying to complete that work. We have the remains of the original arches,” McDonald said, adding that the subcontractor saved the pieces knowing the historical significance. “Everybody had to drive through the arches to get to the beach until the late 1960s. That was the front door. The gateway. The iconic entranceway to Fort Myers Beach.”

With that said, Restore Fort Myers Beach Arches, Inc, is a group of 1,600 members strong trying to get the arches back on the beach – bigger, taller and utilizing some of the original material.

McDonald said the money raised during this get- together will be used to lift the remains of the arches, which are being stored in the subcontractor’s yard, in the air, so the University of Florida can do some 3D imaging.

“We will take those dimensions that we capture on each piece and integrate that into our engineering plan . . . integrate that old material with the new material,” McDonald said.

The organization has a petition, which can be viewed on its website, restorethearches.com.

“We have a petition online to petition the Lee County Board of Commissioners to submit our idea to FDOT. To put the arches back, taller, wider and bigger than they were before using the historic materials,” McDonald said. “The more people we can get to sign the better chance we have. There is no cost involved for anybody.”

He said they are competing with future San Carlos developers that want to put condos all over San Carlos Island.

“They would rather have a traffic light there than our history. Traffic light, or big front door to the beach that we had for over half a century?” McDonald asked.

For more information about the event, visit www.facebook.com/events/220219395238039/.