A Seaside early adopter shares his experience in the town’s early years by Jessica Manafi
Seaside’s pastel-colored houses and front porches overlooking narrow, brick-paved streets began as preliminary drawings that hung in an exhibit at Villard House on Madison Avenue in New York City.
David Dowler, one of the first residents to become involved in the town, said he remembered seeing designers Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk’s drawings while living in the city and thought it an ideal place to build a beach house for his family’s next generation.
“We were just buying, knowing we loved that beach,” he says, “and then the ideas as they developed became very intriguing.”
Dowler, 67, has been traveling to the area since 1948, before Seaside was even an idea for Robert Davis, the town’s founder.
As one of The Seaside Institute’s initial directors, Dowler says the area wasn’t just considered a strip of white sand and clear water but more of an “experiment.”
“(The Seaside Institute directors) decided it was a social experiment, that we were vacationing and living in a place that had powerful ideas that seemed to have merit and that was demonstrated by the success of Seaside,” he says. “I think a majority of homeowners would not be able then, and perhaps now, to articulate the power of the ideas. But they lived into it, and they liked it and that’s why it worked.”
Dowler, who has worked as a portfolio manager for a privately held registered investment adviser in Fort Worth, Texas, for 29 years, is no longer with the Seaside Institute, but his wife, Marsha, continues to be one of the town’s prominent figures as president of artist residency program Escape to Create’s executive board.
From Perspicasity’s open-air bazaar to Newbill Collection by the Sea’s gallery of contemporary American art, part of Seaside’s leading attraction is the generous accumulation of art and culture available — areas the Dowlers avidly support.
In their free time, the Dowlers attend symphonies, visit museums and divulge themselves in literature and local seminars held through the Seaside Institute’s Academic Village — a project Dowler worked on.
“A job is (generally) to make a living,” he says. “The arts make the living worthwhile.”
However, Dowler says it’s ultimately the people who make the community standout from the rest of the other Gulf Coast towns. “Two-thirds (of Seaside’s homeowners) have owned a house here for 30 years or more, which is surprising for a beach community. You have to come to Seaside to realize it’s a real community.
“Walking everywhere, you talk to your neighbors, and it takes 45 minutes to get somewhere because you bump into so many people,” he continued. “Relationships are important.”