Joseph H. Adams, Belle Isle pioneer and inventor, played key role in early island life

The Adams estate on the southeast end of Belle Isle.

Belle Isle Blog readers have unearthed the background of another major estate owner in the early days of Belle Isle, Joseph H. Adams.

New details on Adams, a millionaire from New York who came to Belle Isle in the 1920s, were provided by reader and postcard collector Larry Wiggins, who found Adams 1941 obituary in the New York Times, and Rosemary Ravinal, who tracked a 1933 story in the Sarasota Herald.

Adams owned the land adjacent to the J.C. Penney estate on the south side of Belle Isle Park, with the addresses 18 and 21 Belle Isle (J.C. Penney’s estate was No. 8 Belle Isle). The Adams property included the land area where Costa Brava (10 Island Ave.), Belle Towers (16 Island Ave.) and Belle Plaza (20 Island Ave.) were eventually built.

On the land was Adams’ sprawling home and adjacent structures that housed the Adams Foundation for Sun Ray Research.

Joseph H. Adams

So who was Joseph Adams? According to his New York Times obit, he was an author and inventor who developed something known as the “oil-cracking process,” a way of making larger volumes of gasoline from crude oil by applying continuous heat and pressure. In 1919 and 1920, he obtained patents for the process and machinery that were sold to the Texas Oil Company (which became Texaco) and Standard Oil. He later had a $1 million tax battle with the IRS over income from the patents.

Adams boathouse that housed Rosentiel School

Adams came to Florida in 1924, and became interested in the University of Miami, which gave him an honorary doctorate in 1928. He joined the UM board of trustees, and after his death, he willed part of his Belle Isle Property for a marine sciences program that became the Rosentiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. Rosentiel later moved, first to Coral Gables and then to its current campus on Virgina Key.

He was active in a variety of civic organizations, and helped lead a fight against gambling in Miami and Miami Beach.

When President-elect Herbert Hoover stayed at the J.C. Penney estate for four weeks starting on Jan. 22, 1929, some 30 staffers and journalists stayed at the adjacent Adams estate, thanks to an agreement between Penney and Adams.

Hoover stayed on Belle Isle before his inauguration (back then, presidential inaugurations were in March), and went fishing on Adams yacht, the Amitie.

Adams died in his home town of Brooklyn, NY, at age 74.


2 responses to “Joseph H. Adams, Belle Isle pioneer and inventor, played key role in early island life

  1. Fascinating?

  2. I just learned about Joseph H. Adams while having lunch with one of his granddaughters yesterday. She was born on the estate and has a wonderful photograph of it, here in her New Jersey residence, from when her family was living in one of the out-buildings during the Great Depression.

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