On Monday, May 2, 2022, the Fort Myers City Council approved renaming the existing “Park of Palms” to “Vivas Palm Park” in honor of Fort Myers’ pioneering Vivas family, who lived on the property from 1866 to 1959.
In 1936, the Vivas family deeded the riverfront portion of their land to the City for the creation of a public park, and the “Fort Myers Garden of Palms” was dedicated in 1955 by the Fort Myers Garden Club. Over time it became unofficially known as the “Park of Palms,” but through the recent efforts of Vivas descendant Jim Vivas Pridgen Jr. – the great-great-grandson of pioneers Joseph and Christiana Vivas – it will now officially be called “Vivas Palm Park,” and many much-needed improvements will soon be underway.
Jim and his wife Linda approached the team at Naples Botanical Garden with an idea to collaborate on a possible park improvement project, and with the added support of Fort Myers City Councilman Liston Bochette and local developer Rebekah Barney (Alzada Company), the first official meeting took place at the park in April.
Part of the plan was the name change.
“It’s time to make the name change and move on,” Bochette said at the May 2 council meeting when the agenda item came up for discussion. “Thanks to the family that are here tonight and to the developer helping fund this, [and] the Naples Botanical Garden who’s also chipping in to this at no cost to the City to make this one of the premiere parks in our entire community.”
Councilperson Bochette moved in favor of the name change and Councilperson Darla Bonk seconded, and after no further discussion, public comment or opposition, the motion carried in under a minute – and the Pridgens, seated in the audience, were overjoyed.
“We are so very grateful that our request to rename the Park of Palms in honor of the Vivas family was accepted, and we’re thankful for all the support we’ve received on this endeavor,” Jim and Linda Pridgen said. “Our joint goal is to enhance and preserve this property so that it can be eternally enjoyed! We look forward to all future collaborations with the City of Fort Myers, Naples Botanical Garden and the Alzada Company.”
The Alzada Company is the developer of The Irving Downtown, an eco-friendly rental community soon to be built on the adjoining lot south of the park at the corner of Lee and Bay Streets, land that was also part of the original tract settled by Joseph and Christiana Vivas, where they built their home and had nine children. For almost 100 years there was at least one Vivas living on the property, until the home was sold in 1959 and demolished soon after. The Alzada Company will be both funding and fundraising for the park improvements.
“It’s a beautiful park, and it means so much to so many,” said Rebekah Barney, owner and president of the Alzada Company. “This is an extraordinary opportunity to commemorate the Vivas family and to improve and protect this special place for generations to come, and we’re very fortunate to be partnering with such dedicated, knowledgeable people.”
Beyond consulting on the selection and care of the park’s plants, the Naples Botanical Garden team hopes to tell the Vivas family story through plant life; for example, by reintroducing a cannonball tree, a tropical flowering tree with oversized blossoms and cannonball-sized fruits that once famously grew on the Vivas property. And perhaps some bamboo, which Thomas Edison and his assistant Fred Ott harvested from the Vivas estate and used as filament in Edison’s ultimately successful light bulb experiments.
“I think it’s pretty special that we can use our expertise to help improve this park of palms in the City of Palms,” said Brian Galligan, Vice President of Horticulture for Naples Botanical Garden. “Anything we take on, we see as an extension of the Garden, and we’re looking forward to making this park an impressive landmark and palm collection that the family and residents are proud of.”
Vivas Palm Park is located at 2414 Edwards Drive on the corner of Lee Street and Edwards in the historic River District of Downtown Fort Myers, Fla. Stay up to date on the Vivas Palm Park improvement project by connecting with The Irving Downtown on Facebook. Learn more about the Naples Botanical Garden by visiting NaplesGarden.org.
The May 2 City Council meeting can be viewed online at https://cityftmyers.granicus.com/player/clip/257; jump to the Vivas Palm Park motion by clicking on Agenda Item 4.2.