St. Petersburg still retains much of the resort-town flavor its founders so cherished, a community of pelicans, porpoises, endless sunshine and sailboats.
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.
Thirteen years later, Peter Demens, a noble Russian aristocrat, brought the Orange Belt Railway to St. Petersburg. On June 8, 1888, the first train arrived, carrying empty freight cars and one passenger, a shoe salesman from Savannah. Built one rail at a time, with unpaid laborers and creditors threatening to lynch Demens all the way, the railroad finally chugged to St. Petersburg. Demens named the city after his birthplace, St. Petersburg, Russia.
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.
Also that year, Tony Jannus flew his Benoist airplane across Tampa Bay in 23 minutes, skimming across the water at a height of 50 feet. The event is commonly hailed as the birth of commercial aviation.
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 neighborhood.
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.
In 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.
Here, young and old, tradition and innovation come together to create a vibrant sense of community.