Frances Langford's Outrigger was a landmark of Florida's Treasure Coast, from the time it opened in 1961 until it closed in the late 1980s. It was the "hobby" of Hollywood star of radio, film, and television Frances Langford, who had a life-long love of all things Polynesian.
Langford and her first husband was Jon Hall, who had been raised in Tahiti, and was a matinee star of adventure films, many in tropical settings. The couple purchased 400 acres of land in Jensen Beach just before WWII, but the land did not get developed until after she had returned from the war. By then, she had spent years touring around the South Pacific performing in USO shows with Bob Hope. The couple split amicably in 1955, just as Langford was beginning to shape her vision for the land. She soon married Ralph Evinrude, of Evinrude motors, and it was with Evinrude that Langford's long-held vision became reality.
Langford reportedly aimed to model her Polynesian restaurant on the famous Don the Beachcomber
Don the Beachcomber
Bar & Restaurant
in Hollywood. She hired Hollywood set designer Ed Lawrence, who had also reportedly worked on some of the Don the Beachcomber restaurants. He designed a beautiful restaurant, full of Polynesian artifacts, tapa cloth, bamboo, thatch, and A-frames. Work began in 1959, and the restaurant opened in 1961. The restaurant sat on the shore of the Indian River, just inland from the Atlantic Ocean, and the development included a marina that was dredged alongside the restaurant. Lawrence remained as the restaurant's manager until his retirement in 1977, after which he remained on the payroll and continued to assist with the restaurant.
Langford leveraged her star power, and featured heavily in the branding and marketing of the restaurant. Langford was often there as hostess, sometimes performing for her guests. She attracted many famous figures to the restaurant, including Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Jackie Gleason, Burl Ives, Richard Nixon, Dwight Eisenhower, and the Prince of Tonga.
Langford had a large Polynesian-themed private structure built on her property nearby to entertain guests, and also house peacocks and swans, she called it The Hut. Her 110-foot yacht, The Chanticleer, was often moored in the marina and was a dramatic sight for visitors.
In the late 1980s, the restaurant was sold to new owners, who stripped out all of the theming and turned it into the Key West Restaurant, to capitalize on the then-current Jimmy Buffett craze. The locals were reportedly horrified. The building then stood empty for a few years, until becoming the Dolphin Bar and Shrimp House in the 1990s, which remains to this day. The Dolphin Bar was created with Lanford's blessing, and she was a regular through her later years. The building shape is unchanged, and some carved posts and beams from the Outrigger days can still be seen.
Frances Langford passed away in 2005, at 92. She is still fondly remembered in the area, especially for her philanthropic support of the area and environmental causes. An exhibit dedicated to Langford, including artifacts from the Outrigger, are on view at the nearby Elliott Museum.