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The Sun sets on Myrtle Avenue

CLEARWATER

For days, a yellow mechanical dinosaur with sharp metal teeth has been eating the Sun.

Mouthful by mouthful and memory by memory, the old Clearwater Sun newspaper building has been chewed into a dusty pile of rubble.

Sports — gone.

The newsroom — gone.

Executive offices — gone.

On Monday, veteran St. Petersburg Times photographer Jim Damaske, who started his career at the Sun more than two decades ago, watched the structure slowly disappear from behind a chain-link fence.

"They got photo,'' he said.

There should be a ceremony to mark the occasion, he said. The place where much of this city's history was written was turning into rubble, and no one seemed to care.

"We should have a so-long party,'' he said. "The Tick Tock's closed. We could have gone there.''

The Tick Tock was the nearby lounge where the reporters, photographers and editors used to go after deadline — and sometimes, legend has it, before deadline — to escape the stress of covering a fast-growing city.

The Sun was started in 1914 and moved to its quarters on Myrtle Avenue in the 1950s, according to Carol Warren, director of commercial services for Colliers Arnold, which is handling the sale of the 1.6-acre property. A parcel on Pierce Street is included in the deal.

The exterior walls of the 31,000-square-foot building are scheduled to be knocked down Saturday. Part of Myrtle Avenue will be closed for that phase of the job.

No price has been yet been set for the property, which has been owned by the Hearst Corp. since the mid 1980s.

Warren said she anticipates condos or mixed-use buildings could be built on the site.

"Great, more condos,'' said former Clearwater Mayor Rita Garvey.

Garvey liked the Clearwater Sun and misses it. It would land on her driveway with a plop every afternoon about 4 p.m., and she would rush to read it.

"It covered local news, which is a rarity today,'' she said, adding the Sun created a sense of community. "The beauty of the Sun was you got the latest news.''

The paper ceased publication in 1990 after a 76-year run.

"The Sun's death knell began ringing when it went from a p.m. to an a.m. competing with one of the nation's best newspapers,'' said Wayne Shelor, who spent a decade at the paper as a reporter, columnist and city editor. "It was a very good paper with a talented editorial staff. You could come and go 24 hours a day unchallenged, no security guards. I remember walking in the door at 4 a.m.''

Writers and editors had to arrive early, many times at 5:30 or 6 a.m., according to Ron Stuart, former editor of the Sun. Stories had to be in by about noon so subscribers could enjoy their papers by the afternoon.

Stuart said he is surprised it took 18 years to demolish the vacant building, which had severe water damage from years of summer storms.

Stuart said he "had a very good time there,'' but sadly some of his staff's best work was borne from tragedy. The rainy morning in May 1980, when part of the Sunshine Skyway fell, the paper put out an extra edition.

One of his best memories was winning six Florida Society of Newspaper Editors awards, "more than any other paper in the state,'' he said.

Another former Sun editor, Terry Plumb, agreed that the aging structure itself didn't mean much to him.

"The people make a newspaper, not the building,'' he said.

Plumb worked at the Sun from 1973 to 1978 starting as a projects writer.

His fondest memory is when the newspaper broke the story of Scientology buying the Fort Harrison Hotel before the St. Petersburg Times. The Sun reported on the arrival of the church aggressively, and a Scientology operative got a job in the Sun's newsroom, filing numerous reports to the church on the newspaper's reporting.

Janice Hall, a Tampa Tribune copy editor who started writing obits at the Sun in 1969, didn't realize the structure was being demolished until a reporter called her last week. She said she loved her years at the Sun, whose scrappy personality remained even after circulation dropped below 50,000, then 25,000, then 15,000.

"We were the little guy trying to compete with the Times and the Trib,'' she said.

But she admitted the building was "pretty dingy in the last five years,'' she said.

The caretaker of that empty, dingy building was 71-year-old Bill Barton.

Like Damaske, he recently stood behind the chain-link fence and watched the monster with the pointed teeth eat the Sun.

"It's an awful long time coming,'' he said.

Barton worked as a pressman for the newspaper for 38 years. After it closed, he looked after it, sold off the computers and furniture. He sold the presses to the San Juan Star.

"I feel sadness,'' he said. "I've seen a lot of people come and go. It's just going to be a concrete slab.''

Eileen Schulte can be reached at schulte@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4153.

Share your memories

Do you have a favorite memory of the old Clearwater Sun? E-mail a note with your recollection, your name and where you live to north

pin@sptimes.com. Or mail it to Clearwater Sun memories, c/o The Times, 710 Court St., Clearwater, FL 33756. We'll publish the best responses soon.

The Sun sets on Myrtle Avenue 05/19/08 [Last modified: Sunday, May 25, 2008 9:45am]
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