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Founders Day Celebrates Fort Walton Beach History

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Photo courtesy of Arturo Studio.

By Samantha Lambert

 

It’s summertime in Camp Walton (now Fort Walton Beach), 1913. The sun is shining, a piano player is playing Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” on the wraparound porch, and many guests staying at the Gulfview Hotel are swimming in the sound behind the hotel.

 

Other guests are strolling on the lawn behind the hotel and enjoying the warm Florida weather. People come from all over the country by land and water to stay at the Gulfview Hotel. Often, the rooms are full and tents have to be pitched around the hotel for guests.

 

Originally built in 1906 as a hunting and fishing lodge, the building was converted to the Gulfview Hotel in 1913 and hosted guests there until 1986. That year, the Junior League of the Emerald Coast began raising funds to preserve and restore the building. Located at 12 Miracle Strip Parkway, the two-story structure was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1992.

 

Cissy Wyninegar—along with grandparents Theo and Molly (Gerlach) Staff and her aunt, uncle and sisters—owned and operated the hotel at various times over the years, then donated the hotel to the Junior League and deeded the land to First City Bank.

 

In December 2016, Tom and Nicole Rothrauff, the latter Wyninegar’s daughter, bought the building and site from First City Bank. In January of this year, the Fort Walton Beach City Council approved accepting the donation of the Gulfview Hotel from the Rothrauff and the Wyninegar families.

 

The city plans to move the Gulfview to a new location at the intersection of Highway 98 and Eglin Parkway. “We plan to convert the building into a visitor center that will continue to welcome visitors to Fort Walton Beach,” says Ted Corcoran, president and CEO of the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce.

 

On Sunday, June 25, Tom and Peggy Rice of the Magnolia Grill will host the Founders Day Fundraising Reception to save the historic Gulfview Hotel. “Peg and I were fortunate to have our rehearsal luncheon over 35 years ago on this property,” says Tom.

 

“Her great-grandfather, Dr. J.H. Beal, lived next door on what are now the vacant lots at the end of Beal Parkway. We spent a great deal of our lives at these sites and across Main Street at Peg’s dad’s Starkey Hotel Court. Those times are golden to us. We know what it takes to save old buildings and are so pleased to assist with this saving and reutilization of a part of the community’s history.”

 

At the Founders Day reception, the Rices will display treasured correspondence from the 1920s between Gulfview Hotel owner Theo Staff and Dr. Beal discussing the purchase and operational details of the electrification and water well use of their Camp Walton properties. “There will also be historical and rarely seen items from the eras of Camp Walton, Fort Walton and Fort Walton Beach on display,” says Tom.

 

Besides the Beal and Staff families, other early Fort Walton Beach families including the Gerlachs and Brookses will be celebrated at the event. There will also be a silent auction that will benefit the Bob Hope Air Force Enlisted Village in Shalimar.

 

The Founders Day Reception takes place from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Magnolia Grill, located at 157 Brooks Street in downtown Fort Walton Beach. For a minimum $25 donation toward helping relocate the Gulfview Hotel, guests will be treated to wine and food.

 

Tickets are available at the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce, the Magnolia Grill, and at the door. You can donate online at www.fwbchamber.org/gulfview.

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