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ST PETERSBURG FLORIDA: JEWEL IN THE MUCK OF ‘VACATION LAND’

ST petersburg florida- St Pete Beach

powdery white sand and sweeping views at St Pete Beach

Gorgeous white sands of St Pete Beach

ST PETERSBURG FLORIDA: JEWEL IN THE MUCK OF ‘VACATION LAND’

Amidst the vast sprawl of Florida ‘Vacation Land’ with its unending miles of hotel-backed beaches jammed with vacationers, gaudy amusement parks, and assorted tinsely tourist attractions, stands a charming city with much more depth. St. Petersburg, Florida is bursting with art, culture, historic buildings and neighborhoods, markets and some quirky unique past times.

st petersburg florida- Don Cesare Resort- St Pete Beach

Don Cesare Resort at St Pete Beach

Don Cesare Hotel at St Pete Beach

 

I must admit it wasn’t always this way for St Pete, as I discovered during the St Petersburg Preservation Society’s weekly Saturday Walking Tours. St Pete was actually founded in the late 1800s as THE original Florida ‘Vacation Land’. Conceived and promoted by 3 key Florida land owners, St Pete was dubbed ‘Health City’ and a railroad installed to ship people in.

Their scheme worked. The land developers quickly built heaps of hotels, cafeterias, movie theaters and churches to accommodate the masses of Americans flocking to St Pete’s sun, sea and warmth.

Over the decades more and more elderly people made their way to St Pete’s wonderfully warm, healthy environment. So many that in the 1970s St Pete became the brunt of various national jokes. It was referred to as the city of  “the newlyweds and nearly deads” and the place “where retired people go to visit their parents.”

Oh, dear, not good for commerce! During the following 2 decades, St Pete became pretty much a ghost town.

St petersburg florida- Stetson School of Law

Stetson School of Law

Stetson School of Law, originally Ragayt Hotel, St Petersburg

 

To remedy this and revitalize the city, various developers and city officials undertook the task of changing the city image, mostly by tearing down old buildings and replacing them with modern ones.

 

That scheme eventually worked too. And today, voila! St Petersburg has emerged as a completely revitalized modern city, simultaneously attracting a completely different breed of tourist and becoming an invigorating place to live. In fact, the city has gained a new image as “The City of the Arts.”

 

St Petersburg Florida- Dazzio School of Art and gallery

Dazzio School of Art and gallery

Dazzio School of Art and gallery

 

In recent years, among other things, St Pete has been dubbed America’s #1 mid-sized-city ‘Top Art Destination 2010′. It is home to several world-class museums including the important Dali Museum and Chihuly Glass Collection.

It offers the largest produce market in the US southeast, every Saturday. It has many important registered historic buildings, neighborhoods and districts.

It’s home to the world’s largest shuffleboard club. Has the country’s only lawn bowling bowl testing center.  Has one of only two post offices in the States delivering mail by bicycle. And offers other quirky charms. Let’s take a look at some of them:

st petersburg-florida

st petersburg-florida

shop signs at St Pete art district

 

AMERICA’S #1 MID-SIZED CITY FOR THE ARTS

 

For several years running St Pete has been listed among the Top 25 Arts Destinations of mid-sized cities in the USA by American Style Magazine. In 2010 St Pete took 1st place! In 2011 the city’s hoping for a repeat. This designation is a result of St Pete’s amazing diversity of arts.

 

St. Petersburg- Florida- Craftsman House
Ceramics at Craftsman House

In addition to boasting 4 world class museums, St Pete has a burgeoning and diverse local arts community. Several blocks of Central Avenue in downtown St Pete are filled with painting galleries, craft shops, ceramic shops and even an art school.

Further out along Central Avenue are 2 more blocks of art galleries, antique shops and boutique cafes.

 

Several art organizations work actively to promote galleries, arts and artists including The Downtown Arts Association, Florida Craftsmen Inc, The Morean Arts’ Center, The Dazzio Art Experience and the Craftsman House.
Every second Saturday evening is ‘Gallery Walk’ when downtown art shops stay open late to receive packs of art lovers browsing the neighborhood.
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St Petersburg Florida- Saturday Morning Market
Saturday Morning Market, downtown St Pete

SATURDAY MORNING MARKETS SaturdayMorningMarkets.com

 

St Pete’s Saturday morning market, right along the waterfront in downtown St Pete, gets bustling early with organic vegetable stalls, homemade pastry and coffee shops, tropical plant nurseries and an array of artists’ stalls and ethnic clothing.

 

As the market gets underway, dozens of ethnic food and homemade gourmet food stalls open. People start flooding in. Round about 11 am a band begins playing in the middle of the market to entertain the guests. It’s a lively, festive, cultural experience.

 

St Petersburg- florida- Saturday Morning Market
Band and enthusiastic dancer at St Pete Saturday Morning Market

St Pete’s market is unique in the US on many counts.

It’s the largest market in the southeast. It’s the only market with a seating area and a band in the middle of the market.

It’s the only city market run privately instead of municipally. It has the largest selection of ethnic foods and largest variety of arts n crafts. Most of all, it’s a fun venue with a sense of community among both vendors and visitors. Not bad St Pete!

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St Petersburg- Florida- ALBERT WHITTED AIRPORT

 

ALBERT WHITTED AIRPORT: Albert Witted Airport

 

Whoever heard of an airport IN DOWNTOWN? Well, ST Pete has one! It’s the Albert Whitted Airport. The runway sits right on the Tampa Bay waterfront. The small city-owned and operated airport shares its waterside home with the Dali Museum and the St Pete municipal marina.

 

St Petersburg- florida- Albert Witted Airport
planes at Albert Witted Airport, St Pete

 

Every day small privately owned, company and commercial planes fly in and out of St Pete. Private plane owners come both for business and pleasure, from all over Florida and the US.

 

Think how convenient it’d be to fly into a city then simply walk 10 minutes to a nearby hotel. Splendid!

Besides use for private planes, the airport offers flight instruction, plane storage and parking, fueling, and other flight services. Several important life-saving organizations also use the airport.

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Dali Museum- St Petersburg- Florida- USA
The Dali, St Petersburg

DALI MUSEUM TheDali

 

The new Dali Museum opened it’s doors on Jan 11, 2011, with a creative big-bang opening ceremony.

 

Prior to its new location on St Pete’s waterfront, the Dali Museum had already been in St Pete since 1979, located just 3 blocks away. The new museum’s fabulous architecture adds extra dazzle to Dali’s amazing paintings.

 

Dali Museum- St Petersburg- Florida- USA
art store at Dali Museum

 

Owning nearly 2000 Dali’s works, ranging from 1913 to 1970, it’s the largest retrospective collection of a single artist in the world! The history of the Dali Museum, particularly the details on how a museum of Dali ended up in St Pete is quite fascinating.

 

According to the museum’s guest surveys nearly 50% of all guests visit St Pete primarily to visit this astounding collection of Salvador Dali’s works. For more info read about my recent visit to the Dali.

 

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Dale Chihuly Float Boat
Dale Chihuly Float Boat, 2010 3 x 4½ x 12’
Chihuly Collection presented by Morean Arts Center St. Petersburg, FL
Photo by Terry Rishel

 

CHIHULY GLASS COLLECTION Chihuly Collection

 

The Chihuly Collection, presented by the Morean Arts’ Center, opened in July, 2010. Inside are 16 astounding installations by Dale Chihuly of Washington state. Mr Chihuly is credited as completely transforming the glass arts, even so far as to have influenced the world of art in general. His glass installations are found internationally in 4 countries as well as all over the USA.

 

I recently visited the Chihuly Collection in St Pete and was simply blown away. To learn more about what you’ll experiencet here, read my take on the Collection, complete with professional photos of the Chihuly installations from the Collection’s press kit.

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St Petersburg florida- Shuffleboard Club
St Petersburg Shuffleboard Club

 

SHUFFLEBOARD CAPITAL OF THE WORLDSt Pete Shuffle

 

Ever heard of shuffleboard? It’s a little-known outdoor leisure game along the lines of croquet, lawn bowling and bowling. And St Pete is the Shuffleboard capital of the world!

Shuffleboard is played on a long narrow shuffleboard court by 2 or 4 players who slide hockey-puck-like discs down the court aiming to land in the scoring area at the far end of the court. The objective is to earn 75 points before your opponent.

Shuffleboard requires both skill and strategy. Players must learn the proper pushing strength and aim to place their pucks on the point zones or knock out their opponents’ pucks.

 

St Petersburg Shuffleboard Club
St Petersburg courts on Friday evening

 

Since 1923 The St Petersburg Shuffleboard Club has held the honorary title of Largest Shuffleboard Club in the USA, for what it’s worth. That turns out to be more than I’d expected.I’d always guessed shuffleboard to be an odd American pastime, so I was surprised to learn that the game is popular in Canada, UK, and Europe, especially Germany. It originated as a ship game on British Naval ships. The land-based version was invented right here at the St Pete Club.

Friday evenings courts are open to the public. 100-150 people regularly play each Friday night.

If you’re North American, British or European and shuffleboard sounds like the game for you, check out St Pete Club’s website or shuffleboard clubs in your area. Who knows, you might get hooked.

 

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St Petersburg Florida- Lawn Bowling Club
St Pete Lawn Bowling Club

 

If shuffleboard doesn’t catch your attention, how about lawn bowling? Another long-term St Pete pastime, it got rolling in 1916 by an American and two Canadians. Currently the St Pete Lawn Bowling Club includes members from the US, Canada, Scotland and Germany.

Lawn bowling is also played on outdoor courts, but with ‘bowls’ instead of pucks. They’re not ‘balls’ I was informed because they’re not round but rather shaped like flattened balls with one side weighted. The weighting causes the bowls to curve when they’re rolled, making the players’ aim more difficult.

In lawn bowling, players roll the bowls in a curved arch down the court trying to get as close to a white marker as possible. As in shuffleboard, part of the strategy entails knocking opponents bowls out of the way. Teams play 12 rounds, or ‘ends’ as they’re called, and tally up total points from all 12 segments to find the winners.

 

St Pete Lawn Bowling Club
Club members playing lawn bowling

 

The St Pete Lawn Bowling Club holds two distinctive honors. The main building is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places along with the likes of the Statue of Liberty.Secondly, this club is the only place in the US  to test and re-spin lawn bowls. Whats more, the making, balancing and testing of lawn bowls was invented here in 1938-1940 with the help of a hired professional billiards manufacturer.

Nowadays, those skills are left to Austin Sevener, which apparently makes him the only lawn bowl refurbish-er and tester in the USA! If you visit St Pete, stop by M-W-F mornings to play some ends of lawn bowling with the very friendly, welcoming club members.

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St Petersburg open-air post office
St Petersburg open-air post office

 

OPEN-AIR POST OFFICE AND CYCLING POSTAL DELIVERY St Pete. org

 

St Pete’s post office is listed on the National Registry of Historic Buildings. Built in 1916 to imitate the architecture of a hospital in Italy, the beautiful building showcases many intricate details no longer found on government buildings, including curved archways, American eagle carvings, and rows of brass postal boxes.This post office is unique on two other counts as well:

 

1. It’s America’s first open-air post office, open-air meaning the post boxes are located outside. Box owners can access their mail any time of day or night. Handy!

 

St Petersburg Florida- cycling postmen
Johan, one of St Pete’s cycling postmen

 

2. St Pete postmen deliver mail by bicycle! Only one other place in the US, in Arizona, has bicycle mail delivery.St Pete has 15 bicycle delivery routes. Postmen arrive at 7:30am, sort mail for about 2 hours, then set out on their 6-hour pedal around the city. Since they can’t possibly carry all the mail for the entire day at once, the post office has set up ‘relay boxes’ around the city where postmen stop to pick up their next batch of mail. Pretty cool!

 

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St. Petersburg- Florida- House in North Shores District
House in North Shores District, now a B n B

 

HISTORIC HOUSES DISTRICTSSt Pete Preservation

 

St Pete is full of beautiful historic churches, houses, hotels, arcades and other buildings. In addition, it even boasts entire historic districts full of old early-20th century homes. The two most acknowledged and famous neighborhoods are the North Shore District and the Kenwood District.

 

The North Shore neighborhood is full of large, often landscaped homes that were originally situated  right on the beachfront. The beach has since been moved 2 blocks away, thanks to land reclamation, but the grand houses still remain.

 

Kenwood holds the largest collection of ‘bungalow’ style houses in the USA. ‘Bungalow’ houses come in many different styles including Mediterranean, ‘airplane’, and Craftsman.

What distinguishes them, among other things, are their front porches with columns, wide overhanging roofs, and often a set-back upper story. The neighborhood also boasts brick streets, granite curbs and hexagonal sidewalks. This area was St Pete’s original full-time residential neighborhood (as opposed to tourists and part-time residents)

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Nowadays Kenwood is a community-connected neighborhood with active members who work to preserve its charm and authenticity.

As you can see, St Petersburg, Florida is a flourishing city full of interesting, unique and quirky charms. I hope you’ll get to visit one day to enjoy the arts, history and, of course, the sun, sand and sea that still remain in ‘Sunshine Capital of the USA’.

reporting from the road, cheers, Lash

 

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