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Two Matlacha buildings obtain historic status

October 3, 2012
By MEGHAN McCOY ( , Pine Island Eagle

Two long-time structures in Matlacha were recently given historic status for the buildings' integrity and contribution to the area.

The First Baptist Church of Matlacha was recently given historic status due to the architecture integrity of the building and its association with Matlacha.

"It was designated as a historic resource," said Gloria Sajgo, principal planner with the Lee County Planning Division.

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The First Baptist Church of Matlacha was recently granted historic status. The church has been a part of the community since the early 1940s.

She said the preservation board found the building significant because it is of historic association with the development of Matlacha, due to it originally being located in Matlacha in the 1930s.

The first meeting was held before the preservation board in August to present the case of making the church a historic resource. Sajgo said the board then made the determination of directing it to a public hearing.

"It is a two-meeting process," she said.

First Baptist Church of Matlacha Pastor Mark Holland said when he came to the area 3 1/2 years ago, the church, although it is a beautiful, quaint building with character, was in a state of despair.

With signs of growth at the church, he wanted to make some enhancements to the church, which included work to the roof since it was rotting and infested with termites, a bathroom, better seating, a new septic system and an improved heating and air condition system. Holland said by eliminating the drop ceiling and going back to the vaulted ceiling, the church will be a little closer to the appearance it was before.

"Initially we thought we could do it on our own," Holland said of the improvements to the church.

Unfortunately, he said, they were required to have a contractor, along with many permits to do the work.

The historic status, Holland said, fortunately allowed them to do more to the building.

Holland said Rob Fowler Sr. with Fowler Construction has been helping them with the project.

"We are going to preserve as much of the old character as we can," he said of the renovations, which should be completed by the end of the year.

The original church - Pine Island Bridge Baptist Church - was built in the late 1930s or early 1940s, he said, and sat on Matlacha Pass in a vacant lot next to where Island Dcor and More stands now. He said people would come by boat, since it sat half on land and half on the water with a dock.

In 1962, First Baptist Church of Matlacha was moved to its current location.

Holland said the Baptist Church was the first one on the island. He said the church that now sits at 3310 S.W. Pine Island Road is not the original building, but rather a replica to the first one that was destroyed.

"The fact that it has made such an impact on this community," is why the historic status is important to Holland. "It is intertwined with the history."

The Olde Fish House Marina also received historic status.

Sajgo said you have two kinds of structures - non-contributing and contributing buildings. She said the Olde Fish House Marina was for some reason classified as a non-contributing historic building.

It was brought before the board, so the Olde Fish House Marina could be considered as a contributing historic building. A meeting was held in August to bring forth materials and a public hearing was held in September.

"The building should be contributing because of the association with the commercial fishing village in Matlacha that started in the 1930s," Sajgo said, adding that the building also contains much of its original architecture ability.

She said both of the projects were really nice.

"I think it's nice to see the historic resources in Matlacha preserved," Sajgo said.

Lisa Dence, operating manager of Olde Fish House Marina, said the preservation society had to inspect the property and prove that they were a contributing building, along with showing history of the building.

"It's awesome," she said of the status. "It's great for the fishing industry. This was a working fish house years ago still to this day we are a working fish house."

Dence said the Olde Fish House Marina has always been within the historic district and they are now considered a contributing building within the district.

She said the reason they wanted the Olde Fish House to be a contributing historic building is because they are looking to keep the appearance of the building the same.

"We love the old Florida style, love the artifacts that are around, that's years and years of history hanging on the wall," Dence said.

In addition, she said, the status also allows them to be grandfathered in on certain special exceptions, like parking spaces.

Some long-time residents remember the Olde Fish House Marina when it was a happening commercial fishing destination.

Cast Net Steve, a local well-known fisherman, said although he moved to the island in 1958, his memories of the Olde Fish House date back about 35 years ago. His said he used to work the dock at the Olde Fish House, as well as being a shrimper.

An average day at the Olde Fish House brought in about 10,000 pounds of shrimp, Cast Net Steve said. He said although oysters, blue crab and stone crab were brought to the fish house, the number one fish was mullet.

He said he found out that the Olde Fish House was a chicken processing plant before World War II before it became a fish house and marina.

The fish house included oyster-chucking windows, a conveyor belt, a pulley system and fish vats in the floor that could hold about 1,000 pounds of fish at a time.

Butch Gay also reminisced about the Olde Fish House in the early 1970s. He said he started commercial fishing out in this area between 1971 and 1972. He said it stayed a fish house until a little bit after the net ban took place in 1995.

"Nothing but commercial fishermen docked here," Gay said about when the fish house was busy.



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