Last but not least, at the southern end of Anna Maria Island is the city of Bradenton Beach. For those who live in Anna Maria or Holmes Beach, it often seems like the end of the earth when driving down during the high seasons. But this quaint little town has a vibe all its own that has a true, blue old Florida feel to it.
History of Bradenton Beach
When we think of the history of the island, the topic typically goes back to when the first settlers came by boat to the north end of the island in the City of Anna Maria. Bradenton Beach also has its own story with its own beginning.
The First Bridge to Anna Maria Island
Up until the 1920s, Bradenton Beach was called Cortez Beach. Prior to this, the focus had been on developing the city of Anna Maria and Holmes Beach. But there was a fairly long stretch of the island that was past Holmes Beach. People went there to enjoy the beaches.
In 1921, the Cortez Bridge was built to provide access to the mainland at Cortez Village, a fishing village just across the bay. The bridge stretched from what is now Bridge Street. It was an old wooden, one-lane bridge that vehicles would cross – one at a time. The residents who had begun to live in Bradenton Beach thought it was too loud because it made a big rickety sound as cars travelled over it and even shook a little. Be that as it may, the bridge was there until the 1950s when the current draw bridge was built a few blocks north.
Bradenton Beach Pavilion and Bathhouse
People loved spending the day at the beach and came to Anna Maria Island to do so. With the erection of the Cortez Bridge, it made it even easier to do so. The Bradenton Beach Pavilion and Bathhouse made it much better to spend time there.
Built in 1922, it was where people gathered when they drove over to Cortez Beach. It was a large pavilion with a dance hall and dining room flanked by his/her locker rooms. In each locker room, there were lockers so that people could change into swimsuits and store their belongings. The owners of the pavilion lived above the public areas in a luxury apartment – just think of the views they had! Unfortunately, the original structure burned not too long after construction was completed and rebuilt. And, yes, it burned too but not until 1929.
Bradenton Beach Businesses
When the original bridge was built, business came to the area and it became a bustling community. Bridge Street was the site of most of the businesses including grocery, gas station and more. Bradenton Beach got its name because the editor of the Bradenton Herald always called the area Bradenton Beach.
One of the more well-known businesses, was Todd’s Bar and Grill. It was built in the late 1940s. It changed owners and names over the years to become The Wreck, Silver Dollar Bar, and Key West Willies. Today, we know it as Island Time Bar and the Bridge Street Bistro.
Bradenton Beach also became home to more motels than the other two cities on the island. Two popular ones were the Cove Motel and the Gulf Park Motel. Both sustained heavy damage from hurricanes in 1950 and 1960, respectively.
The Anna Maria Island Bridge Program
Even though the first bridge to the mainland was built in the early 1920s, it was necessary to build a better bridge. During the 1950s, there was a “bridge program” on Anna Maria Island; three bridges were under construction including two leading straight to Bradenton Beach.
The current Cortez Bridge was built along with one linking Long Boat Key to Bradenton Beach – the Long Boat Pass Bridge. These bridges made Bradenton Beach much more reachable for people from the mainland to come out the island for the day. Both bridges began construction in the late 1950s and took several years to complete. Another little tidbit of history is that from the time the current Cortez Bridge was complete to 1970, people were charged 15-20¢ to cross the bridge to recoup the expense of construction.
Also, once the new bridge was built, the original Cortez bridge was used as a fishing pier – Bridge Street Pier. Over the years, it was repaired and finally rebuilt a year or so ago.
Historic Bridge Street
Without a doubt, Bridge Street was the epicenter of businesses. The original bridge brought traffic to Bradenton Beach at the end of the street – hence the name of the street. Once the new bridge was built the excitement and flurry of people to Bridge Street died down some. Over the years, business owners worked hard to successfully revitalize it. At the end of the street a restaurant and pier were built – the Historic Bridge Street Pier. The restaurant changed hands over the years but remains popular spot for tourists and locals to visit.
Throughout the Years
Over the years, tourism has grown in Bradenton Beach. Of the three cities, Bradenton Beach has done its best to keep the old Florida feel to the businesses. Bradenton Beach is a popular spot for vacationers and keeps its notoriety with tons of things to do and see.
Tons of quaint shops, a string of resorts and a long strip of beach line the road to the Long Boat Key Bridge. It is no wonder that people from near and far come to Bradenton Beach.