GROWING UP IN COCOA BEACH

by Pete Godke

We came to Cocoa Beach in 1938 from Sebastian, it was the last move my parents made. Paul and Ann Godke, my brother, Dale and I moved into the Ocean Lodge Hotel to become the new operators. This small hotel was located at the east end of the current Minutemen Causeway, where Coconuts Restaurant currently operates. The structure that was the Ocean Lodge Hotel was previously known as The Beach Casino in the 1920′ s and 1930′ s. The guests that stayed at the Ocean Lodge Hotel were primarily wealthy northerners who came down to enjoy the warm climate.

In those years, prior to World War II, there were very few permanent residents in Cocoa Beach. Besides the few scattered homes up and down the beach, the Ocean Lodge Hotel was the main structure. Most of the private resident’s homes were vacant except during the winter months. There were eight to ten homes between First and Fourth Streets South occupied throughout the year. The style of homes during the 1930’s was Spanish Stucco. Some of these homes still stand, but have been remodeled. The construction of these few homes, was done during the mid to late 1920’s with the materials being barged over to the beach. The builders would stay throughout the week and return to the mainland by boat on the weekends.

The actual beach has also changed. During these early years, the beach was very wide and beach driving was allowed without any restrictions. For fun, there were car races on the beach, and occasionally used as a landing strip for the hotel guest’s airplanes. Swimming was safe, and shell collecting was a favorite. Over all, the beach was considered superior to Daytona Beach. Our family collected many shells throughout the years, some of which we still have today. It was often said that the very small population through the day, increased dramatically after dark. That is, if you included the swarms of mosquitoes that came out.

After World War II began, we occasionally spotted smoke on the horizon from the ships that had been torpedoed. The Department of the Navy constructed and opened a Navy Patrol Bomber Base called BananaRiver Naval Air Station (now Patrick Air Force Base). Since I am retired military, I occasionally go to Patrick AFB and still recognize some of the original buildings left over from the Naval Base. The war was very close in those years, and it was not uncommon to find debris on the beach from sunken ships. Besides military equipment and salvage from these ships, occasionally survivors would come ashore in lifeboats, and then came to the hotel for help. For several years, a partially sunken freighter lay on a sandbar off shore from where Holiday Inn is now. The Ocean Lodge Hotel was used for many purposes throughout the war. The authorities built a tower on top of the hotel and my father was assigned the position of Local Air Warden. He was to report all sighted aircraft and any other unusual activities. This tower was manned twenty-four hours a day by volunteers and the notification was made to somewhere on the mainland by a”crank” type of telephone. Even with the black paint on the windows of the buildings and automobile headlights, and limiting activity after dark, there was still a threat from enemy submarines off the east coast. After several saboteurs landed in St. Augustine, the Coast Guard took over the hotel and made it a Coast Guard Station. There were men with sentry dogs patrolling the beach and automobiles were subject to search upon entering and leaving the mainland.

With the end of the war, the hotel and Cocoa Beach returned to its previous peaceful environment. The Naval Air Station closed in 1948, for several years, until it was turned over to the Air Force as a Missile Development Base. Because of the new 520 Causeway, the beach area was now accessible to more people and the beach became a popular tourist destination. We traveled on the beach in our beach buggy, which was actually a Model T Ford. We would take guests from the hotel to watch the turtles lay their eggs at night. During the turtle-hatching season, we would have turtle races, in front of the hotel, to see which hatchling made it to the water first. We also took guests to a small island in the Banana River off north Cocoa Beach, which was heavily populated by native birds for picture taking. This was similar to Pelican Island. In south Cocoa Beach, we visited Indian Burial grounds. The times were very laid-back and not stressful.

In the 1930s and 1940s, one of the best fishing and duck hunting locations in Cocoa Beach was in the area around Minutemen Causeway. My favorite spot was on Sunset Island, which is now a bridged street off Minutemen Causeway. This happens to be where my wife and I bought our home and we have lived there for many years. Cocoa Beach has changed a lot since the early years.

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