St. Petersburg: A City Worth Saving

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Preserving and honoring  the city’s past is the mission of one organization and many individuals who call the Sunshine City home

 BY PETER BELMONT

Central Avenue in downtown St. Petersburg was thriving in 1940./Photo courtesy St. Petersburg Museum of History

St. Petersburg is special. It’s easy to see why as you explore one of the city’s many historic neighborhoods, have a beer in one of the city’s new breweries housed in historic buildings, or while traveling down the “Deuces” along 22nd Street South. The common thread to the various places that make the city special is the past, after all, historic buildings supply the city’s character. 

Trying to make sure the  past  remains a part of the city’s future is very much part of the mission of Preserve the ‘Burg (PTB). The group, formerly known as St. Petersburg Preservation, took on a new name this year derived from what had long been its popular motto. The name change was announced at the group’s 40th anniversary celebration on January 30,  tied to a vibrant rebrand developed by the creative team at Pyper Young, a St. Petersburg-based marketing and creative firm.

“The name modernizes this historically grassroots organization with a vital call to action for it to be the authority on preservation for the City,” said Kelly Pyper, President of Pyper Young.

“New people are moving here every day because of the city’s character, and our goal is to preserve that sense of place, working with government officials, planners, real estate professionals, and residents,” added Emily Elwyn, President of Preserve the ‘Burg.

At its 40th anniversary celebration, Preserve the ‘Burg highlighted a number of its efforts over the years that have contributed to keeping St. Petersburg special.  In 1979, the group joined with Frances Pruitt to stop the demolition of the 1901 Veillard home by having it moved three blocks to the corner of 3rd Street and 4th Avenue North. The Veillard still stands out today, offering a unique architectural statement that combines elements of the chalet-like bungalow style with those of the picturesque Queen Anne.

Today the 600 block of Central Avenue is a favorite for locals who visit the unique shops and restaurants./Photo from Preserve the Burg

Looking today at the hip and active 600 block of Central Avenue, it’s hard to imagine that the block was nearly demolished in 2008, when a plan for a high-rise condo for the block had been hatched and a demolition permit issued. Stopping demolition from proceeding – tied to working with the block’s then new owner and the City to encourage artists to open studios in the block’s Crislip Arcade – was another  accomplishment of  Preserve the ‘Burg.

The group has grown from a handful of citizens concerned in 1977 about the demolition of a 1913 bank building downtown (it was demolished) into an organization with more than 1,000 members and a full-time executive director, Allison Stribling.

“I am excited about the work we do advocating for, educating about and celebrating what keeps St. Petersburg special,” Allison said. “Preserve the ‘Burg is the voice of preservation at city hall. We offer walking and bicycling tours highlighting the best of downtown’s architecture and the city’s historic neighborhoods. And on Thursday nights in May and October, we present Movies in the Park, one of our   signature events on the downtown waterfront.”

So how can St. Petersburg citizens help the effort? The best way is to join the organization. Details on how to join and on all the group’s activities  can be found at  www.preservetheburg.org.

Peter Belmont is founder and vice-president of Preserve of ‘Burg.

 

MAKING HISTORY

The City of St. Petersburg has designated as individual landmarks just over 100 buildings and sites. The first buildings designated in 1986 were the Open Air Post Office and the Vinoy Hotel. There  are  22 buildings and sites listed individually on the National Register of Historic Places.

St. Pete’s 5 National Register Districts are:

Downtown

Old Northeast

Kenwood

Round Lake

Roser Park