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Church resurrects site of restaurant

Tufts of weeds punch through the asphalt parking lot at the corner of 34th Street S and 24th Avenue. Half of a chair, covered with caterpillars, sits near a long-vacant parking space, and scraggly palms stand toward the center of the lot, guarding a field of dirt.

The site was cleared this month. While an eyesore now, the plot has a glorious history: The well-known Sand Dollar restaurant once sat there. Its future also is bright: Members of a nearby church have plans to build an assisted-living facility on the land.

The facility will serve elderly people who aren't sick enough to require nursing home care but who want to live in a complex where aides can help them dress, bathe or handle other daily routines.

"I'm very excited," said the Rev. Henry Lyons of Bethel Community Baptist Church, which is sponsoring the project.

Bethel Adult Care, a non-profit organization whose board members include some of Lyons' parishioners, will own Bethel Village, as the facility will be called. He said church members will volunteer there. The complex will be open to anyone.

"When we purchased these 4 acres that (the church is) sitting on 12 years ago, the Sand Dollar was a blighted area then," Lyons said. "Finally, after 12 years of patiently waiting, of looking at that sore spot, we have been able to lay hands on that land. It has been such a blessing to this church."

Project manager Martin Bakke of Clearwater-based Health Quest Housing said groundbreaking is possible within the next few months. The city loaned $300,000 for the land, and now the group is awaiting HUD-guaranteed loans to handle construction costs, he said. The total construction cost will be $4.9-million, he added.

The 60-unit, 84-bed assisted-living facility could be open by April 1998, Bakke said. The rest of the complex, which will include adult and child day care, could be open within three years, he said.

Bethel Adult Care will contract with professional managers to run the facility and must employ a licensed administrator and management company before it can open, Bakke said.

"It comes out of a long vision," Lyons said. "We just knew there was a tremendous need. We wanted the church to meet that need."

Lori Lawery was happy to hear the plans for Bethel Village. Her father, the late John V. Dahlberg Jr., ran the Sand Dollar. After it opened in 1962, it was hailed for its unique decor: a revolving bar, glass walls and indoor palm trees.

Lawery well remembers frequent trips to the restaurant when she and her sisters were little.

"We acted like we owned the place," she said. "The cook and the baker, they all knew us. We could run in the kitchen whenever we wanted and taste things."

Fried shrimp was her favorite. The Dahlbergs ate at the restaurant often, particularly on Sundays after church.

"It was a community place," Lawery said.

The Sand Dollar won a City Beautiful Commission award in 1965 and held events like a Clypeastroida (the scientific name for sand dollar) Contest. The finder of the biggest sand dollar would win a $100 savings bond, the 1969 contest promised.

The prize went to a Point Brittany couple who brought in a sand dollar measuring 6} inches in diameter. Dahlberg was so tickled with the response _ some 150 people brought in sand dollars _ that he sent out letters with $1 credit toward a meal.

In 1967, Dahlberg, who had been a Navy cook before he was a restaurateur, objected to a car wash that wanted to move in near his restaurant.

"We've spent a lot of money beautifying our property, and the area should be preserved for something of value," he said then.

The family sold the restaurant after his death. Although other owners tried to make a go of the Sand Dollar, efforts failed. It has been boarded up for years.

"It was so hard to look at it in the shape that it was in," Lawery said. "I remember it feeling very, very tropical. It probably seemed like a castle, but with palm trees. It's nice to kind of remember it as it was."

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