TARPON SPRINGS — Sponge divers, spanakopita and the annual Epiphany celebration have long added to Tampa Bay's charm, but now the historic Greektown district is getting federal recognition.
The National Park Service has listed the district on its National Register of Historic Places as a traditional cultural property, which is a first for Florida.
"The Tarpon Springs community has functioned as a center of commerce and trade for early Greek immigrants since the 1900s," Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner said in a news release Wednesday.
The 140-acre area, first populated by Greek immigrants in 1905, is home to hundreds of residential and commercial buildings and about a dozen sponge boats.
At the center of culture and religion is St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral, where roughly 800 families belong. Father Anastasios Gounaris may be new to running the church, but he's well aware of the district's reputation.
"Pretty much every Greek Orthodox Christian in America knows the significance of the Tarpon community," he said. "If anything, from the point of view of our community, (the recognition) is probably overdue."
Mayor David Archie said he was elated when he heard the news.
"We're in the forefront of the Greek-American tradition," he said.
Tina Bucuvalas, the city's arts and historical resources curator, spearheaded the long application process. She said the designation will offer tax incentives to district residents who want to renovate their buildings in line with traditional Greek culture.
Bucuvalas also thinks it will foster a continued appreciation of the area's traditions.
"People sometimes come to Tarpon Springs and they just see the commercial, touristic storefronts without understanding that there is a very profound and ongoing traditional cultural expression taking place here," she said.
Contact Julie Kliegman at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4159. Follow @jmkliegman.