Theo Baars, Sr.

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Theo Baars
Born November 28, 1876
Died December 5, 1941
Occupation Lumber, real estate
Religion Episcopalian
Spouse Mary Firestone Baars
Parents Henry and Mary Ellison Baars
Children Theo Baars, Jr., William Firestone Baars, Betty

Theo Dunwody Baars was a wealthy businessman who inherited his father's vast lumber and real estate interests. He is known for his early development of Perdido Key.

In the early twentieth century, Baars foresaw the appeal and value of real estate along the Gulf Coast. Leveraging his wealth from the Baars, Dunwody & Company timber business his father started, he acquired roughly 12,000 acres in southwest Escambia County, including about 2.5 miles of Gulf front property on Perdido Key. (Much of this land was later preserved as the Perdido Key State Park.)

In 1922 Theo reached a joint development agreement with the Escambia County Commission: if the county would fund the paving of a road connecting Warrington to Perdido Key, he would build a luxury resort on the barrier island that would attract tourists to the area. Work on the road (now known as Gulf Beach Highway), was completed in 1924 — years before Pensacola Beach was made accessible by road.

Over the next two years, Theo spent $470,000 from his own pocket on the foundations and framework of the 275-room Gulf Beach Hotel, which was planned to include a polo field, tennis courts, and a marina. However, in 1926 the Florida land boom came to a sudden end, and many of his investors were no longer willing to invest in the project. The resort was abandoned, but the skeletal framework remained on the beach for decades, until it was finally demolished in the mid-1990s to make way for the Beach Colony Resort.[1]

After his death in 1941, Theo's widow Mary Firestone and son Theo Jr. began selling their reserves of land.

The Theo Baars Bridge to Perdido Key is named for him. Baars also deeded 20 acres to Escambia County for the public Johnson Beach.


  1. "Perdido Key development on fast track with high-end efforts." Pensacola Business Journal, February 24, 2004.