An active preservationist for as long as she can remember, our vice president, Robin Reed, was drawn to the unique historical past St. Pete has to offer. Since moving to our city twenty years ago, Robin has served two terms on the St. Petersburg Preservation Commission, currently serves on the board of her neighborhood association, and was named as Preservationist of the Year in 2019. In addition to community-based preservation projects, Robin and her husband landmarked their own Mediterranean Revival Style home in 2010.
Upon moving to St. Pete, Robin was particularly impressed by the way Preserve The ‘Burg handled the challenges they were facing throughout St. Pete as the city was growing—which, at the time, were not all that different from the advocacy efforts Preserve The ‘Burg leads today. Advocating for the preservation of St. Pete’s past is incredibly important to Robin and she wants others to realize that saving and reusing historic spaces is an important aspect of what makes our city a special place to live.
Aside from managing and supporting our organization alongside Harry Heuman, our President, Robin is actively involved with Sunken Gardens, one of the few original roadside attractions left to experience in the state of Florida. As President of the Sunken Gardens Forever Foundation, Robin promotes preservation projects at the Gardens, and recently helped bring the iconic Sunken Garden flamingos back to their St. Pete home.
Robin’s vision for the future of Preserve The ‘Burg includes a diverse group of members and partners that can come together to protect the city we all know and love as it continues to grow. As preservationists, it’s important for us to understand and appreciate the architectural and cultural background of St. Pete in order to keep it alive and share it with generations to come.
Historic landmark designation plays a key role in ensuring the protection and preservation of historically significant buildings, landscapes and sites. It provides benefits to the community at large, recognizing the importance of the cultural heritage of a particular place. While you’ve probably heard of landmark designation, it’s important to understand that the process of receiving a designation is far from simple, and can happen at a number of different levels. Read on to learn about the key types of historic landmark designation, and the application processes and benefits for each.
Federal historic landmark designation falls to one of two designation organizations: the National Register of Historic Places (also known as the NR or National Register), and the National Historic Landmarks Program (NHL Program). While the two are similar, and both are operated by the National Parks Service, they carry slightly different goals. The NHL program aims to preserve properties and landmarks that are of specific significance to American history and culture, while the National Register includes properties and places of historic, archaeological, and architectural importance. In other words, the NHL program is more appropriate for public places tied to historic figures, events or periods of time, while the National Register can be used for buildings of architectural, artistic, or archaeological significance.
Landmark designation on the National Register is a far more common process than NHL designation. The National Register sets the following criteria for landmark designation:
“The quality of significance in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering, and culture is present in districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects that possess integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association, and:
that are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; or
that are associated with the lives of persons significant in our past; or
that embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or
that have yielded or may be likely to yield, information important in history or prehistory.”
National Register designation begins by applying at the state level for consideration. Once criteria are met, the State Historic Preservation Office then notifies any and all property owners impacted by the designation and opens the floor for public comment. Next, both the State and National boards will review the application in detail, a process that takes typically a minimum of 90 days. Finally, reviewed nominations are submitted by the state to the National Park Service in Washington, D.C. for final review and listing by the Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places. The National Park Service makes a listing decision within 45 days.
National Register designation doesn’t guarantee that the public will have access to a historic place. It’s also important to note that National Register designation doesn’t limit what an owner can do with a property or building—if it’s privately owned and hasn’t received any federal grants or tax breaks, a property may still be demolished or renovated as the owner sees fit unless it also has received specific designation and zoning at the local level.
In addition to assisting with National Register designation, the state of Florida’s Division of Historical Resources has a number of preservation programs and the authority to designate landmarks at the state level.
The primary landmark designation offered by the state is inclusion in the Historical Markers program, which provides official signage to historic sites and lists them in Florida’s database of historic places. You’ve probably seen these signs around town—they’re metal plaques that offer a short explanation of a site’s historic significance. To receive this designation, a number of documents are required, including a written explanation of the historic significance of the site, a map of the proposed marker location, and photos of the property. This type of landmark designation is primarily for tourism purposes and doesn’t offer any type of incentive or protection to a property.
The Division of Historical Resources does, however, administer a number of incentives for historic preservation, including the Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit and the Property Tax Exemption. While these exemptions are granted at the Federal level, the state is responsible for reviewing and approving applications. While national landmark designation isn’t explicitly required for these incentives, it certainly helps the application process go more smoothly.
The St. Petersburg Register of Historic Places is our city’s local designation program. Run by City staff, eligibility criteria very closely mirror the National Register’s criteria. “Local landmark designation,” as it’s commonly known, is at the core of Preserve the ‘Burg’s mission.
The process for local designation begins with an application through The City of St. Pete. This application includes criteria for review, a survey of any modifications that have been made to the property over the years, and a rigorous approval process.
There is a wide range of benefits for receiving local landmark designation:
Property owners become eligible for the Rehabilitation Ad Valorem Tax Exemption program. This program currently exempts up to 12.1 mils of certain property taxes for a ten-year period following qualifying improvements.
Buildings in the St. Petersburg Register may be eligible for adaptive reuse for suitable land-use types that would otherwise be prohibited. Essentially, zoning requirements are very different for appropriately designated historic properties compared to new construction.
Certain Florida Building Code Exemptions are allowed for buildings listed in the National Register of Historic Places or the St. Petersburg Register of Historic Places. Basically, renovations do not have to meet certain aspects of building code if they would negatively impact the building’s historic value.
Unlike listing in the National Register, local landmark designation provides protection from demolition and alterations that aren’t done in the interest of preserving historic value. Historic preservation staff conducts reviews of proposed changes to locally designated properties through the Certificates of Appropriateness process.
We’ve previously spoken about third-party landmark designation and its importance to the community. This is a specific type of local designation that isn’t filed by the property owner, but by a third-party, such as a neighborhood association, a preservation organization like Preserve the ‘Burg, or even the city itself. This type of designation follows a similar application process to local designation but is typically placed under particular scrutiny because of the potential resistance from the property owner.
Unlike owner-initiated applications, third-party designation requires additional meetings between the applicant, property owner, and City Council member in the district where the property is located and added notice requirements. Once these criteria are met, third-party designations require a supermajority for City Council approval—meaning all efforts need to be taken to ensure there’s overwhelming support for designation.
Historic landmark designation offers benefits to property owners, historians and scholars, and the community as a whole. However, ensuring that buildings are preserved through landmark designation is just one way that we can help keep St. Pete special! Learn more about our mission and our ongoing projects on our Advocacy page.
We’re excited to introduce our new Preserve The ‘Burg President, Harry Heuman. Harry has served as a Preserve the ‘Burg board member for some time, and he brings an exciting, forward-thinking vision to his new role as President. Harry hopes to bridge the gap between locals and the incredible past our city has to offer—and he has a bold vision that includes exciting ideas for future events, recognitions, and preservation projects in St. Pete.
Harry is no stranger to working in the community. His studies include a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology and Political Science from Illinois Wesleyan University, and a Master’s Degree in Urban Planning from Texas A&M University. As an active member of the Tampa Bay Area, Harry is actively involved with the Florida Holocaust Museum and St. Petersburg Sunrise Rotary Club. This experience, combined with his lifelong career in urban and regional planning, including 29 years at the Hillsborough County Growth Management Department, make him uniquely suited to help guide Preserve the ‘Burg in preserving St. Pete’s history while contributing to its economic and architectural future.
His vision involves everyone in the community, including residents, schools, local business owners, city officials, and like-minded organizations serving St. Pete’s ongoing historic preservation. “I believe we need to knit together the historical fabric we have here in conjunction and collaboration with other organizations,” Harry said when asked about his vision for Preserve The ‘Burg’s future. “When you’re building a house, you need a strong foundation. When you’re building a community, historic preservation provides that foundational stability for future growth.”
Harry prides himself on being a lifelong learner and working to understand people, cultures, and histories that shape our community. He recently shared with us that “Like John Lewis said, there’s ‘good trouble’ that makes a difference in a community. I believe there’s also ‘good different,’ and that we can only learn from the different.” As an avid traveler, Harry learned that the differences between people are what also keep us connected, and hopes to employ this into his daily work with Preserve The Burg.
Have you ever visited a restaurant or local attraction that boasts about their buildings’ historical relevance or original purpose? You probably visited a building that had undergone adaptive reuse. Adaptive reuse is the process of taking an old building or site and reusing it for a purpose other than it was designed: for example, an old shipping facility getting converted into a food hall, or a former rooming house becoming modern office space.
The adaptive reuse process allows a building to begin anew while still highlighting its original structure and aesthetic features. Rather than prioritizing new and updated construction, adaptive reuse keeps the history of our local community alive while giving new businesses space to thrive.
If you’re on the hunt for a new local space to help your business grow, consider using adaptive reuse on a historic building in your community. Although it may seem more intimidating to purchase a building that needs restoration, it provides you with an opportunity to bring the past to life. Rather than renting different locations over the lifetime of your business and depending on a landlord, invest your money into a building your business can depend on. Adaptive reuse grants you the opportunity to station yourself into a unique, one-of-a-kind space your clients and customers will be eager to visit.
Historic buildings also come with their own tax benefits, providing assistance to business owners who choose to restore and reinvent their very own vintage spaces. Tapping into the historic rehabilitation tax credit grants a direct reduction in taxes for buyers and can range between 10-20 percent based on the building's age and location. Issued by the IRS and National Park service, this tax incentive program ensures buyers receive support for extra rehabilitation costs, and buildings are protected to maintain their historical value and appeal. According to the IRS, a business owner is entitled to this tax incentive if a building receives historical certification or was built before 1936.
On a local level, the city of St.Petersburg specifically recognizes buildings of historical, architectural and cultural significance providing owners with a flexible variety of uses when restoring their buildings.
Adhering to strict zoning codes and city regulations can be difficult when working to restore a historic property. Developers are often faced with the potential demolition of their properties as dimensionally beneficial spaces, especially in residential areas, are few and far between. The good news is that many cities, like St. Petersburg, grant developers assistance when claiming a historical building for adaptive reuse. Working to protect the community’s history, city codes regarding historical renovations provide flexibility for proposed use, dimensional setbacks, design criteria and parking requirements in a way that significantly reduces the conflicts created by changing the use of an existing building.
Maintaining the historical bones of a building provides the local community with the opportunity to learn and engage with the city and its past. When a developer chooses to implement adaptive reuse over demolition, they are adding value to the community. As more historical buildings are saved and reused, locals and visitors from surrounding cities come together to explore and invest in the community, building the local economy and tourism. Rather than prioritizing quick fixes or modernized aesthetics, developers have the opportunity to redefine a building’s history and in turn, the community’s future.
As communities expand and evolve, locals gravitate toward the historical roots of their city to give back and feel connected. Adaptive reuse provides local communities with spaces of gathering that provide more than the average hang out spot. Deeply connected to the city’s past, locals enjoy travelling back in time and supporting the new-found uses of the historical buildings around them. Take Armature Works in Tampa and Station House and The Collective in Downtown St. Petersburg, for example. Two grand communal spaces reinvented to become integral parts of their communities. Aside from providing new jobs and local experiences, these historical buildings are proof that an old-frame can adapt and be reused, and ultimately, provide an opportunity for growth.
St. Petersburg, a city surrounded by water and known for its resort lifestyle, had no pools where African Americans could swim until 1954. That changed when Jennie Hall, an 85 year old white woman from Montana, stepped forward to help the African American community build a pool. With a rather startling and unannounced moment in front of St. Petersburg’s city council in June 1953, Jennie Hall proclaimed she would be donating $25,000 for a swimming pool to serve the African American community. To prove her seriousness, she wrote a check for $10,000 on the spot and promised an additional $15,000. The City Council, somewhat cowed and taken aback, agreed to match the gift with $35,000 of city funds.
Public swimming pools first became popular in America in the urban, working class neighborhoods of northern cities in the 1870s. The first pools were little more than public baths and were rigidly segregated by gender and class, but not by race. In the 1920’s these public bathing pools underwent a social and cultural transformation and gained immense middle-class popularity. Going to pools was considered as popular and all-American as going to the movies. African Americans, however, particularly in the South, were excluded from swimming with whites of any gender or class. This was the case in St. Petersburg. African Americans had no access to swimming pools and no access to beaches on the Gulf of Mexico. Swimming was only permitted in Tampa Bay at downtown’s South Mole beach.
Following World War II, and continuing into the early 1950’s, the issue of locating and constructing a pool for the African American community in St. Petersburg was endlessly debated. Lacking a consensus, the matter languished on the city’s priority list. During this period, use of the South Mole for swimming by African Americans was tacitly accepted and meager funds were directed towards its maintenance and staffing. By the 1950s, the City operated a small “learn to swim” program at South Mole and employed N. L. Brown as a lifeguard where he would supervise activities for several hundred swimmers.
The Supreme Court’s 1954 desegregation rulings did not end debate about use of public pool facilities in St. Petersburg. In August 1955, seven Black youths unsuccessfully attempted to desegregate downtown’s Spa Pool. While the segregation of St. Peterburg’s swimming pools and beaches was found unconstitutional in 1957, further attempts in the summer of 1958 to integrate downtown’s Spa Beach and Pool (since demolished) were stymied. Rather than allow Spa Beach Pool to be used by all residents, regardless of race, the City instead closed all of its pools and beaches, not opening them as intergraded facilities until January 1959.
Jennie Hall was born outside a small Missouri town on December 13, 1869. She attended college, funding her education like many women, by teaching as it was one of the few occupations available to educated women. Hall left teaching after her two brothers persuaded her to join them in the lumber business in Butte, Montana. After selling the business, Hall retired to St. Petersburg in 1921 at the age of 53. She remained in the city until passing away in 1955.
Like many retired middle class women, Hall was active with several civic and religious groups but her actions in front of the city council came as a surprise. Hall was not known as a wealthy woman. She told the newspaper that she did not have a great deal of money but that she lived frugally so as to be able to do things for others. Hall told the newspaper she was frustrated with the lack of progress on building a pool for “Negro children.” After funding the pool, Hall continued to give generously to the African American community.
In February of 1955, just prior to her death, the B’nai B’Brith awarded Jennie Hall the St. Petersburg Brotherhood Award because of her long history of efforts on behalf of St. Petersburg’s African American population. Hall was the first woman to win such an honor. Hall’s death was reported in the New York Times with an obituary titled, “Jennie Hall, Aided Negros in Florida."
Jennie Hall Pool opened on June 16, 1954. At the dedication, a bronze plaque honoring Jennie Hall was placed in the bathhouse where it can still be found. Entrance fees were initially set at fifteen cents for children under the age of fourteen, twenty cents for children under seventeen, and twenty-five cents for adults. The pool’s first manager and chief lifeguard was Ernest A. Fillyau who would be elected to city council for two terms in the 1990s.
From the outset, the African American community heavily used Jennie Hall Pool. The pool staff conducted free swimming lessons and inter and intra city swimming competitions for older children became common. By 1958 an estimated 10,000 children had learned to swim at the pool.
As part of a city “belt tightening” in 2010 in reaction to the great recession, Mayor Bill Foster recommended closing Jennie Hall Pool. In response, the Wildwood Neighborhood Association, led by Lillian Baker and Lisa Wheeler Bowman, who would be elected to city council in 2015, joined with Preserve the ‘Burg in successfully applying to have Jennie Hall Pool designated as a local landmark.
Preserving historic sites that stand as witness to our shameful Jim Crow past as well as testimony to the resiliency of our communities is how we tell our city’s full history. Jennie Hall Pool represents the tangible, living history of St Pete.
If you'd like to know more about Jennie Hall Pool, check out our Sense of Place video!
Watch on Youtube
By Jeff Schorr
Known as “The King of the Beats,” Jack Kerouac was one of history’s most influential American writers. His spontaneous, free-form writings, such as On the Road, spawned the hippie movement and continue to influence American culture—including music, art, and literature—to this day.
For well over a decade, preservationists have been trying to save the house where Kerouac spent the last few years of his life, right here in St. Petersburg’s Disston Heights neighborhood. A number of times, the community thought the house was lost and demolition was a real possibility.
Over 50 years after Kerouac’s death in St. Anthony's hospital, his heirs sold the house to Frank Viggiano, a local real estate investor specialized in flipping houses, and the efforts to preserve the house were assumed lost once again. As the community feared the worst, Viggiano completed much needed repairs while keeping the historic integrity of the house intact before reselling the home—including furnishings originally owned by the Kerouac estate as part of the listing.
Dr. Ken Burchenal, a former professor at The University of Texas-Austin with a PhD in American Literature says, "Whatever one thinks of his writing, no one disputes Kerouac's importance to the history of American culture." While in Austin, Ken's wife Gina was a leader in the Austin food and wine scene, owning a restaurant and catering company. She closed down the business and the couple moved back to the St. Petersburg area in 2017.
Recently, the Burchenals sold their family’s Odessa citrus grove. These days, most citrus groves across Florida are unable to make a profit selling citrus, and many landowners are selling to developers. Rather than selling to developers, the Burchenals instead struck a deal with Hillsborough County which will turn the 300-acre citrus grove into an environmental preserve.
Nobody knew that preserving this piece of land would, in turn, lead to the preservation of an historic property.
When Ken and Gina heard there was an open house for the Kerouac property, they decided to take a look the next day. They were intrigued by the history, and at the same time, pleasantly surprised at the high level and care of the renovations. Seventy-two hours after they first became aware of the house, they put in an offer that was quickly accepted. After the initial shock, they began meeting with people in the community who had been working on preserving Kerouac’s legacy.
Preserve the ’Burg stepped up to give them guidance and offer assistance.
For their immediate plans, the Burchenals have secured a fellow PhD (in English Literature) as a tenant - a professional writer who is not only sympathetic to the home's cultural significance, but will also act as a caretaker of the property and its legacy.
They will seek both local and National historic landmark status, while continuing to speak to local stakeholders such as Preserve the ’Burg and the Kerouac estate, to develop a sustainable plan to preserve the house for the public. As the Burchenals told The Tampa Bay Times, their ideas for use of the property include using it for literary events and as a writer's retreat. There are no plans to make the home a museum, as this doesn't fit into the landscape of the quiet Disston Heights neighborhood.
Ken stated, “the only real long-term goal is to make sure that the house remains intact for public use in perpetuity.”
As big money developers are rapidly changing the landscape of our city, it’s good to know that there are people out there like Ken and Gina who want to help keep St. Pete special.
And wouldn’t the Kerouac house make for a great Preserve the ’Burg porch party some day?
Today is Giving Tuesday—a national effort to raise funds and rally support for nonprofits around the country.
Today, I ask you to take a moment to close your eyes and imagine St Pete without the Vinoy. Without our waterfront parks. Without buildings like The Detroit Hotel on First Block or the Crislip Arcade on Central Avenue. For me, it’s impossible to imagine St. Pete without these places, and I imagine it’s difficult for you, too.
Places like these make St. Petersburg special, and they stand proudly in our city today thanks to the tireless efforts of a few individuals willing to commit their time, energy, and resources. These individuals proudly make up Preserve the ‘Burg and their expertise has helped shape our organization into the city’s authority on cultural and historic landscapes of importance.
We need your help to continue our efforts at a critical moment in our city’s history. With the development boom ongoing, our Advocacy mission is more important than ever. At the same time, our events and tours—the primary sources of our fundraising—have been dramatically impacted by COVID-19.
This Giving Tuesday, we’re asking for your support to continue our work to educate, advocate, and celebrate. Every donation, regardless of size, helps us further advance our mission and keep St. Pete special.
In addition to the many reasons to donate, there are tax benefits for charitable contributions. This year only, special tax benefits are available for charitable giving. You can deduct up to $300 in cash donations if you take the standard deduction, or up to 100% of your AGI if you itemize your deductions.
One of the biggest ways you can make a difference for Preserve the ‘Burg is by becoming a member, or renewing your existing membership for an additional year. Members get free access to walking tours, exclusive access to member only events, and special pricing on all PTB events—and your annual membership fee helps make a major difference in our efforts.
If you’re not able to donate at this time, you can still make a difference! Please share this letter with friends who may be able to donate. It’s also very easy to start a fundraiser on Facebook, who is generously matching up to $7 million in donations nationwide today. And, as always, we appreciate your voice on our many advocacy issues as we work with the City of St. Petersburg on our four cornerstone issues.
You can find information on Preserve the ‘Burg’s important advocacy issues on our web site at preservetheburg.org. As always, I appreciate your support and look forward to continuing to preserve St. Pete’s history while shaping our future.
I am always amazed at what people can do if they work together. I am asking you to join us and become part of the movement that is keeping St Petersburg special.
President, Preserve The ‘Burg
by Peyton Lee Jones, Ph.D.
Bungalow courts are characterized by their unique design - two parallel rows of five or six cottages, facing inward, separated by a wide, hexagon-brick path or communal “court”. They recall an earlier era of housing shortages, when episodic influxes of seasonal and permanent residents strained the available housing stock, and property owners and builders got creative with their spaces. It recalls a time when people valued affordable, multi-family dwellings that promoted neighborliness and community in a proto-suburban setting.
The 'Burg's bungalow courts are threatened by a downtown beset with new development (click here to read about how PTB helped to save a bungalow on Moffett Court). The remaining courts, seemingly tucked away and commonly only recognized by the lucky few, carry note-worthy stories like Lang Court and Al Lang and Rhoda Court and Rhoda Vogel.
Home builders in Pasadena, California, inspired by a variety of residential architectural styles and neighborhood designs, from the Spanish patio villas to the vacation cabin in the woods, pioneered the “bungalow court” in 1909. The style gained popularity with buyers and renters who could not afford a detached single-family home (or, as in St. Pete, winter guests who didn’t want the upkeep). The central court, whether a garden or patio or pathway, promoted a sense of community and shared responsibility while maintaining the spirit of American individualism. Click here to learn more about the history of Pasadena's bungalow courts.
In St. Petersburg, the bungalows of Lang and Rhoda Courts are more than old buildings that tell a story—they’re iconic features of the city’s built-environment, and, combined with the city’s natural endowment, are an essential part of the city’s sense of place.
Lang Court residents, along with Preserve the 'Burg, secured local historic district designation for their bungalow court in 2014 (click here to read the landmark application). Today, Lang Court, fronting 4th Ave. N. just east of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. St., still retains the feel of bygone St. Petersburg.
On the southside of downtown, the bungalows within Rhoda Court lack a landmark designation. Preserve the 'Burg is exploring ways to help ensure Rhoda Court, fronting 6th St. and just south of 3rd Ave. S., will also be preserved. When you walk through the court it evokes feelings: nostalgia for an earlier time, but also a sense of place in the here and now—the there, there, as when somewhere says show me St. Petersburg, you can point and say there.
Some Fun Facts About Baseball in the 'Burg
Information compiled by PTB volunteer, Lou Kneeshaw
Spring Training History
St. Petersburg had a pivotal role in introducing spring training to Major League baseball. The movement to have a team here was launched in the summer of 1913. A local group calling itself the St. Petersburg Major League and Amusement Company with a capitalization of $50,000 signed a spring training contract with the St. Louis Browns to begin playing in St. Petersburg in 1914. A site for the baseball park at the head of Coffee Pot Bayou was leased from Snell & Hamlett for three years. The Browns arrived on February 16, 1914, and on February 27 the first spring training baseball game between two major league teams was played in St. Petersburg. Today, there are 15 of the 30 Major League teams that hold their spring training in Florida, known as the Grapefruit League. The remaining 15 teams hold their spring training in Arizona, known as the Cactus League.
Coffee Pot Park
The original name of the spring training field in St. Petersburg was Coffee Pot Park (Also known as Sunshine Park). The park was named for nearby Coffee Pot Bayou. In the early years, a General Admission ticket was $.25 and a Grandstand ticket was $.50. There is some debate about where exactly the park was located, but it was probably First Street North and 22nd Ave.
The First Spring Training Game
About 4,000 fans attended the first game between the St. Louis Browns and the Chicago Cubs on February 27, 1914. The Cubs won 3 to 2 and spring training baseball was born! The Cubs traveled to St. Petersburg by boat across the bay from their spring home in Tampa. It was the first and only year the Browns trained in St. Petersburg. The receipts during the first season amounted to approximately $10,500 while the expenses totaled $11,500. Through the efforts of Al Lang, the Philadelphia Phillies were brought to St. Petersburg for spring training in 1915. The Phillies had such a good spring training that when they traveled north for the regular season, the Phillies won 14 of their first 15 games and eventually won the National League pennant and went on to play in the World Series.
Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and the Flori-de-Leon
TheNew York Yankees first came to St. Petersburg to establish their spring training home in 1925 and played at Waterfront Park. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were extremely popular as the Yankees won 11 pennants between 1921 -1939, which spanned the playing careers of both players. “The city was seized by ‘Ruthamania,” wrote Will Michaels in The Making of St. Petersburg. Ruth and Gehrig spent spring training living in penthouse units of the Flori-de-Leon apartment building located on 4th Ave N. As the team's star player, Ruth enjoyed bay views from the apartment's Spanish-style rooftop terrace and relaxed evenings beside a fireplace bracketed by carved wood pillars. Interestingly, Babe Ruth’s apartment sold in 2009 to the daughter and son-in-law of Ruth’s maid.
Kids and Kubs - The Three Quarter Century Softball Club
Founded in 1930, the St. Petersburg Kids and Kubs Softball Club limits its membership to players of 75 years of age and older. The Kids and Kubs divide their members into four teams and play each other at North Shore Field on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and some Saturdays beginning at 10:00 AM. The regular season runs from November 1st to April 1st. In the picture above, the upright portion supporting the bench seat contains four sealed containers of documents, pictures and electronic data in the form of a time-capsule. The monument was placed during the 75th year of the club’s existence (2005) and it is expected that the capsule will be opened at a ceremony in the year 2030 during the 100th anniversary of the club. https://kidsandkubs.webs.com
The Don CeSar Hotel
During World War II, St. Petersburg served as a basic training center. Hotels and cafeterias were taken over by the US military. In 1942, the U.S. Army purchased the Don CeSar hotel to be used as a hospital, then a convalescent center for airmen returning from their WWII tour. A stomach ailment sidelined Joe DiMaggio and in September 1945, he was transferred to the Army Air Forces’ Don CeSar Convalescent Hospital in St Petersburg, suffering from stomach ulcers. Nine years later, DiMaggio returned to the Don CeSar for his honeymoon with Marilyn Monroe. At the end of WWII, the site was recommissioned, serving as a Veterans Administration Headquarters - and gradually fell into disrepair - until it was vacated by the U.S. government in 1969. In 1971, with the threat of the wrecking ball looming, a group of concerned citizens led by June Hurley-Young formed the "Save the Don" Committee, vowing to help forge a path to restoration for the once-grand hotel. Thanks to the Committee, the Don CeSar reopened in 1973 as a full-service resort and in 1974 the Don CeSar was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Al Lang Stadium
A 1955 movie starring Jimmy Stewart and June Allyson was filmed at Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg. The movie was Strategic Air Command. Jimmy Stewart portrayed a third baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals who is recalled for active duty after serving as a B-29 bomber pilot in World War II. Hundreds of local St. Pete residents filled the stands at Al Lang Field as extras for a scene in which Stewart's character was playing third base when a B-29 flew over. Interesting facts: In real life, Jimmy Stewart was a colonel in the US Air Force Reserve, a higher rank than his movie character (Lieutenant Colonel) and during WWII Stewart earned a Distinguished Service Cross for 20 flights in combat. The last spring training baseball game played at Al Lang Stadium was on March 28, 2008.
Drs. Ralph Wimbish and Robert Swain - Desegregation of Spring Training Housing
Prior to 1961, Drs. Ralph Wimbish and Robert Swain would secure housing for non-white baseball players during spring training in St. Petersburg. But in January 1961, St. Petersburg became a focal point in the battle to end discrimination in the lodging of African American players. Jackie Robinson broke the Major League’s color barrier in 1947 but African-American players experienced segregation in the south, particularly in housing of training sites throughout Florida. African-American players would stay in homes rather than in hotels with the white players. Doctors Ralph Wimbish and Robert Swain were civil rights leaders who believed that the time had come for all hotels in St. Petersburg and in Florida to desegregate, urging team owners to provide their support in order to stop the ongoing housing discrimination against their teams' African-American players. By 1964, all major league teams in Florida had desegregated their living arrangements. Dr. Swain is pictured above left, and Dr. Wimbish, above right.
The original name of Tropicana Field, commonly known as the Trop, was the Florida Suncoast Dome, a $110 million multi-purpose facility constructed by the Bay Plaza Companies. The stadium was named in May 1987 based on a “Name-the-stadium” contest and opened March 3, 1990. It was built to attract a Major League baseball team. Initially, St. Petersburg attempted to lure the Chicago White Sox to the city in the event that Chicago would not build the White Sox a new stadium. Tropicana obtained the naming rights to the domed stadium in 1996. The Tampa Bay Rays’ first season was in 1998 and their first regular season game took place on March 31, 1998, when the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (later renamed the Rays) faced the Detroit Tigers, losing 11-6. The most recognizable exterior feature of Tropicana Field is the slanted roof. It was designed at an angle to reduce the interior volume in order to reduce cooling costs, and to better protect the stadium from hurricanes. The first World Series game at Tropicana Field was played on October 22, 2008 between the Rays and the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies won the first game 3-2 and went on to win the series four games to one.
St. Petersburg Museum of History
The museum was founded in 1920 as the St. Petersburg Memorial Historical Society. The
city of St. Petersburg granted the organization use of an old aquarium building in 1922 where it is still located at 335 Second Avenue North East. The museum is the oldest in Pinellas County and has a significant collection of over 4,800 autographed baseballs. Dennis Schrader donated his baseball collection to the museum. He started collecting when he was a 9-year old in 1956, at St. Pete’s Al Lang Field, where the Yankees were playing a spring training game. Autographs include Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, Cy Young, Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams. http://www.stpetemuseumofhistory.org
In 1908 real estate agent Noel Mitchell placed a couple of benches in front of his office on Central Avenue on which customers could relax after making the long trek to the corner of 4th Street. The benches became popular, so other businesses soon followed suit, and in 1917 a city ordinance mandated that all the benches be painted the same shade of hunter green. They quickly became a symbol of hospitality throughout the nation - splashed on postcards and magazines that promoted the good life in the Sunshine City.
But that hospitality only went so far.
As white residents enjoyed relaxing and socializing on St. Petersburg’s famous green benches, the city’s black population labored under the suffocating restrictions of the Jim Crow south. In St. Petersburg, Jim Crow laws were carefully fashioned to solve a peculiar dilemma – how do you exploit black labor to support your growing tourist community, while simultaneously excluding them from society as an inferior race? The solution, as historian Raymond Arsenault elegantly writes “was a comprehensive system of Jim Crow laws superimposed on a sanctified code of racial etiquette. Under the Jim Crow regime, blacks were only admitted to the white world at prescribed times for prescribed reasons.”
These admittances did not extend to the city’s famous green benches, a national symbol of hospitality for whites, but a glaring symbol of the inequity of the Sunshine City: as an accepted custom, blacks were not to sit on the green benches unless they were caring for white children. Nor could blacks enjoy the recreational opportunities offered at the city’s celebrated Pier, where blacks were not welcomed unless they were working.
Even the city’s swimming area’s were strictly segregated. For years, while whites enjoyed swimming off the Railroad Pier (where Demens Landing is today), blacks were banished from this refreshing respite. Only later, when the focus of recreation moved to the municipal pier, and the area around the railroad pier had become a veritable dump of industrial waste, were blacks allowed to swim at the area, which became known as the South Mole. Even this proved unseemly to many whites, who argued that blacks swimming at the waterfront could damage the city’s image to tourists.
In 1955 black citizens, led by Dr. Fred Alsup, sued for desegregation of Spa Beach at the foot of the Million Dollar Pier. Rather than concede to integrated swimming facilities, the city opted instead to close Spa Beach altogether. Not until 1959 was the pool and beach at the foot of the Pier opened on a truly integrated basis. The green benches were never similarly liberated, having been removed by the city in the late sixties in an effort to make the city appear more youthful.
The green benches represent much more than meets the eye, and it is important that we recognize and share all of the stories these benches can tell.
To read more on some of the topics mentioned here:
Desegregation of Spa Beach
Stay Out, The Water’s Fine: Desegregating Municipal Swimming egating Municipal Swimming Facilities In St. Petersburg, Florida Darryl Paulson University of South Florida https://scholarcommons.usf.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1101&context=tampabayhistory
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