Sunday, April 22, 2018
Human Interest

Excerpt: Promoting Florida sunshine, stealthily

St. Petersburg has long claimed the distinction of having hired in 1918 the first municipal public relations director in the country. His name was John Lodwick and he had a natural salesman's grasp of how to entice Northerners like himself to a mostly undeveloped point of land on the Gulf of Mexico. Sunshine. His preferred technique was photos of women in bathing suits. He and then-Mayor Frank Pulver stoked interest by cleverly devising a fake group called the St. Petersburg Purity League, whose mission was to combat the tide of "nearly nude nubile women parading on the sandy playgrounds in their newfangled one-piece suits," writes historian Nevin D. Sitler in his new book Warm Wishes From Sunny St. Pete: The Success Story of Promoting the Sunshine City (the History Press). The marketing strategy worked so well that soon thousands of visitors were flocking to St. Pete and shedding their own clothes.

"In 1922, St. Petersburg physician E.J. Melville published the first of several articles on the benefits of Florida weather, claiming it could cure everything from asthma to rickets. His essay, 'The Curative Value of Florida Sunshine,' published in the International Journal of Surgery, promotes heliotherapy, a fancy term for nude sunbathing: 'All that is required is that the patient spend most of the day lying naked in the sun with the eyes shaded from the glare." The medical journal article was subsequently quoted in a dozen or so national publications. ...

"Solaria popularity prospered for about two decades. The City of St. Petersburg built and operated the Municipal Solarium, which opened on Feb. 1, 1930, and was equipped with private stalls, wooden-slat chaise lounges and towel service. Facilities for men and women were separated by a 15-foot-high wall. ... In addition to the city-owned center, the Princess Martha and Vinoy were among several hotels to promote and offer rooftop sunbathing to their guests. Some entrepreneurs sold sunshine by the hour, complete with nurse and maid services, packaged in unique turntable booths like those at the St. Petersburg Solaria."

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