The Issue: The Earl Gresh Wood Parade (The Melting Pot)
Neighborhood: 4th Street Tourist Corridor
City Council Member: Darden Rice email@example.com
Action You Can Take Now: Send a message to City Council by clicking here.
Few may realize that the building near the corner of 4th Street and 22nd Avenue North, familiar to many as the Melting Pot Restaurant, was a popular roadside attraction after World War II, through the 1950's. That was a time when visitors still primarily drove to Florida but before traffic flocked to U.S. 19 (34th St.) after the construction of the Skyway Bridge and, in later decades, I-275. As the primary tourist route into downtown, 4th Street was lined with roadside tourist motels like the recently demolished Holiday Motel and popular attractions like Sunken Gardens and Earl Gresh's Wood Parade.
The "Wood Parade" was located in the building that would become, in the late 1980's, the Melting Pot Restaurant. Earl Gresh built the building in the early 1930's to look like an English cottage. The Earl Gresh Wood Parade Museum Brochure describes it as follows,
The Wood Parade would become a home for Earl Gresh's work, which included wooden fishing lures and tackles boxes as well as wooden purses and bracelets. The center of his museum contained the cross-section of a 2,270 year old tidewater red cypress tree stump. The museum featured carvings from all over the world that at first glance would appear to be paintings but were works of art made entirely of wood pieces and without paints or stains to color the wood. People traveled from all over to see his most famous series which contained 16 works illustrating the life of Christ. Gresh said of the series, "I'll be gone, you'll be gone, but they'll still be there". He was right, the series can still be seen at the Memorial Park Mausoleum at 49th Street and 54th Avenue N.
The construction of the Sunshine Skyway bridge moved traffic away from the 4th Street corridor which meant fewer and fewer tourists visiting the roadside attractions along its path. The Wood Parade closed in 1959. It has since been the home of various restaurants, most notably, Rollande et Pierre from 1959-1985 and more recently, the Melting Pot. With the recent closing of the Melting Pot, the building's fate is up in the air.
To learn more about Earl Gresh and his "Wood Parade" please see this article from St. Pete Catalyst: Vintage St. Pete: Earl Gresh and The Wood Parade.
1940: The Earl Gresh "Wood Parade" opens. The workshop, gift shop, and museum becomes a major St. Petersburg attraction.
1959: The Wood Parade is closed due to a lack of tourists visiting after construction of the Sunshine Skyway bridge offered alternate and quicker traffic routes.
1959: The Rollande et Pierre French restaurant moves into the building until 1985 followed by a few other restaurants for short periods of time.
1988: The Melting Pot restaurant moves into the building.
2020: The Melting Pot announces it is closing, and the building is listed for sale.
Because the Melting Pot has closed permanently and the property has been put up for sale, the historic building's future is uncertain. Demolition is a possibility as property along busy 4th Street has increased in value.
A preservation-minded buyer could purchase the property, apply for local historic landmark designation, and take advantage of tax incentives on renovation and restoration of the building while still potentially redeveloping the parking lot portions of the site. The charm of this building has attracted visitors for more than 80 years and is sure to continue to do so if renovated and reused.
WHAT PRESERVE THE ‘BURG IS DOING
Preserve the 'Burg encourages the City to evaluate the property and the role it has played in contributing to St. Petersburg's unique sense of place. The City should be actively engaged in discussing options for recognizing the property's historic significance, including potential landmark designation, as well as considering other options to encourage the building's reuse. The city's Community Planning and Preservation Commission is the place that discussion should commence. Preserve the 'Burg will remind the City that the onus for protecting the city's historic resources falls to them. Additionally, Preserve the 'Burg is: