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St. Petersburg still retains much of the resort-town flavor its founders so
cherished, a community of pelicans, porpoises, endless sunshine and
In 1875, General John Williams came down from Detroit and bought 2,500 acres
of land on Tampa Bay. He envisioned a grand city with graceful parks and
broad streets, the trademark of today’s St. Petersburg. The city’s first
hotel was named after his birthplace, Detroit.
The year 1914 brought two firsts to St. Petersburg. The rich history of
spring training and Florida’s love affair with baseball began that year when
the city’s former mayor, Al Lang, convinced Branch Rickey to move his St.
Louis Browns to the Sunshine City for spring training.
In the 1920s, the state’s first big growth boom brought an invasion of
tourists who arrived by auto, railroad, and yacht. In 1924, the Gandy Bridge
opened – cutting travel time to Tampa by more than half and positioning St.
Petersburg to become Pinellas County’s largest city.
The boom years in the 1920s brought notable architecture to St. Petersburg.
The city’s architecture reflected a Mediterranean Revival motif, fostered in
large part by Perry Snell, who created a 275-acre subdivision, Snell Isle.
St. Petersburg’s Mediterranean Revival makeover is evident in several
buildings including The Vinoy Hotel, the Jungle Country Club Hotel, the
Princess Martha, and the Snell Arcade, and can be seen in the Spanish
castles and homes along Coffee Pot Bayou and in the Jungle Prada
Through the 1920s, St. Petersburg continued to have strong tourist years.
During the Depression, the real estate boom crashed. St. Petersburg
recovered, though, with large Public Works Administration projects in the
1930s, which helped the city begin its economic recovery with $10 million in
new investment. St. Petersburg’s City Hall was built with New Deal federal
funds in 1939.
During the 1940s, the city witnessed large growth. It was home to the U.S.
Coast Guard Station on Bayboro Harbor as a training base for World War II
troops. Nightly anti-submarine air patrols were made over the Gulf of
Mexico, and the War Department later selected St. Petersburg as a major
technical services training center for the Army Air Corps. More than 100,000
trainees filled every hotel in the city swelling the population and creating
a housing shortage as their families looked for a place to live. Post war,
many of the military men stationed here returned to live with their families
or visit as tourists.
The 1950s are notable for the advent of air conditioning, which brought a considerable amount of housing for retirees. Central Plaza and Tyrone Gardens Shopping Center began to draw commerce from the downtown core. The population peaked beyond 200,000 and streetcar tracks were removed to make way for a society of automobiles.
New development in the 1960s included the municipal marina, the main
library, the Bayfront Center, and the Museum of Fine Arts.
the 1970s, St. Petersburg looked to the future by developing reclaimed
water, recycled wastewater used for irrigation. It developed the largest
reclaimed water system in the United States. Today, St. Petersburg continues
to lead the region in conserving precious water resources. The ‘70s also saw
the beginning of St. Petersburg’s quest for a Major League Baseball
franchise, realized 20 years later with the arrival of the Tampa Bay Devil
Rays in 1998 to their permanent home at downtown’s Tropicana Field.
As St. Petersburg enters its second golden age, and steps boldly into the
21st century, the downtown core continues its revitalization with projects
that include retail shops, restaurants, and movie theaters. More than 900
events bring over 10 million people each year to the sunshine city to
experience yacht races, triathlons, baseball, basketball, cycling, cultural
exhibits, and music. The city easily attracts tourists with its cultural
district that includes seven museums in the downtown district. A state
university, 10 marine institutes and more than two dozen galleries, and the
All Children’s Research Center attest to the city’s commitment to education
and health care. Historic neighborhoods continue to be restored, as
residents invest in their communities with a great source of pride.
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