John L. Tompkins
Mr. Padre Island
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In 1950, a pioneer developer named John L. Tompkins purchased the original 1470 acres which includes the entire town of South Padre Island and officially named it "Padre Beach". He promoted it as a thriving seaside community and began to sell property even though there was no causeway for vehicular access, and no roads except on the beach at low tide. His efforts brought development to the island in the early 60s.
The island in those days was accessed by ferry and was largely a fishing village. That changed in 1953 when the initial Queen Isabella Causeway was opened, and Padre Boulevard was constructed by Cameron County on land provided by Tompkins. He also installed all the bilateral streets and secondary parallel streets that run along the Gulf and the Laguna Madre, as well as all of the fresh water pipelines, most of which exist today. This was done at his sole expense with proceeds from the sale of the properties. In 1974 the current version of the Queen Isabella Causeway was opened. At two and a half miles long, it is the longest bridge in Texas.
Tompkins also constructed the first residence as an example for others. He called it "The Pink House", and situated it on the sand dunes overlooking the beach and the Gulf of Mexico. The foundation of his home was concrete slab over concrete supports drilled over 25 feet deep into the clay base of the island. This is the type of construction that underlies all/most of the hotels, commercial and residential construction today.
Original deed restrictions prohibited building structures on piers unless they are fully enclosed. Tompkins' reason for this was to dispel the notion that The Island was subject to frequent high water surges from storms and hurricanes that could wipe structures off the island. The first major hurricane to hit his development directly was in 1967 when the eye of Hurricane Beulah, a Category 5 storm, passed directly over Padre Beach. The resulting damage was relatively slight, and hotels and businesses were reopened just a few days later. This proof of survival stimulated confidence for future growth.
The earliest properties on the island include the Bahia Mar complex, the Tiki Resort, The Padre South Hotel, and a few other wood frame hotels and condos on the beachfront. The majority of the resort and condo complexes were built in the early to mid 80's when there was a surge in development. That great time of progress stopped suddenly when the peso devalued and the savings and loan scandal upset the Texas economy.
Now the growth on South Padre Island is occurring at a slower but still healty pace. As the North Island territory opens up, a new era of master planned communities and upscale development is anticipated.