Mary Firestone Baars
|Mary Firestone Baars|
|Died||November 10, 1991|
|Occupation||Real estate developer|
|Spouse||Theo Baars, Sr.|
Early life & marriage
The niece of tire and rubber magnate Harvey Samuel Firestone, Mary Firestone was born in Omaha, Nebrasha, and raised in Akron, Ohio. While traveling to her uncle's Miami retreat in 1919, she visited her friend Ada Hilton-Green in Pensacola. On her first afternoon in the city, she saw a young man — Theo Baars — driving down Palafox "in a fine Locomobile." Baars courted Firestone, and the two were soon married.
In 1924, Theo began development of the Gulf Beach Hotel on Perdido Key and invested $470,000 of his own money into the initial construction, but was forced to abandon the project due to cost overruns and a bleak investment outlook. Throughout the Great Depression, despite owning thousands of acres of land in Escambia County, the Baarses never recovered financially from the hotel fiasco. Theo died shortly after a return to prosperity, on December 5, 1941.
While the Baars family fortune was made from selling and developing real estate, Mary Firestone and her family made numerous donations of property over the years. Among the land gifts and their recipients were:
- Pensacola Junior College (15 acres)
- Children's Home Society
- Junior Achievement
- Sacred Heart Hospital
- Washington High School
- Ronald McDonald House
- Baars Park
- Baars Field
- Naval Aviation Museum
- Boy Scouts of America Gulf Coast Council
In 1987 she donated $100,000 to the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation, to be used in the Phase III expansion of the museum, including the $1.25 million atrium in which four Blue Angels aircraft are suspended. She also made generous contributions to the Salvation Army.
Home & final years
Mary Firestone became known for her grand home overlooking Perdido Bay, expanded from a two-bedroom cottage built in (date needed). Featuring stained glass partitions designed by her builder, Arnold M. Robinson, ceiling-high mirrored walls and many gilded furnishings (including a toilet), it was a symbol of conspicuous opulence. Asked if she would allow the home to be turned into a museum after her death, she reprtedly replied, "I'm not planning on dying."
Honors & legacy
Mary Firestone was the first woman to receive an honorary doctor of humane letters degree from the University of West Florida.
- "Mary Firestone's golden years have lasted a lifetime." Pensacola Journal, July 1, 1982.
- "Pensacolian gives $100,000 to Navy museum." Pensacola News Journal, September 30, 1987.
- "Mary Firestone Baars: The Grand Duchess of Pensacola." Pensacola Woman Magazine, Vol. 3, No. 4.