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Pass-a-Grille marks 100th birthday

PASS-A-GRILLE — Monday marks the 100th anniversary of the incorporation of this quaint beach community.

When the fishing village was incorporated, there were 22 people, 10 chickens and four dogs living there.

"The town had been around since 1840, but no one ever got around to doing anything about filing the proper paperwork (until June 5, 1911)," said Frank Hurley Jr., a local Realtor and historian.

"I find it interesting that it was incorporated as a town the year before Pinellas County (was established). Back then, this was still considered Hillsborough County."

To celebrate the milestone, the Gulf Beaches Historical Museum is working on a new exhibit.

"The new exhibit should be open by mid June and will remain up for the rest of the year," said Sally Yoder, collections coordinator for the museum. "There's tons of things in the museum and many of the items have never been put out."

In the meantime, a committee is planning events throughout the year to mark the milestone.

Organizers had planned to have a scavenger hunt today and put out a call for teams to enter to win a host of prizes. But after only two teams signed up, the event was postponed until October.

"On Monday night, we're going to have a bell ringing at the Paradise Grille at sunset," said City Commissioner Bev Garnett.

"It's not quite what we wanted, but we just don't have enough people here in town (during the summer) and it wasn't really publicized to get the word out."

Other annual events that will be incorporating the 100th anniversary:

• Fourth of July: Children's bike parade on Eighth Avenue.

• Oct. 22: Scavenger hunt and tribute dinner.

• November: Annual Fish Broil near the shuffleboard courts between Ninth and 10th avenues.

Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Sandra J. Gadsden can be reached at sgadsden@sptimes.com or at (727) 893-8874.

Pass-a-Grille time line

The islands now known as the Pinellas Gulf beaches include, south to north, Long Key, Treasure Island, Sand Key, Clearwater Beach, Caladesi Island and Honeymoon Island. Long Key is now covered by the city of St. Pete Beach, but it once held four towns, Pass-a-Grille Beach, Don Ce-Sar Place, Belle Vista Beach and St. Petersburg Beach, and several unincorporated enclaves.

1528: The area is first visited by Europeans when Spanish explorer Pánfilo de Narváez anchors off Pass-a-Grille pass. In the decades that follow, the area is largely left to the natives.

1848: A hurricane sweeps along the coast. Gulf waters are an estimated 14 feet above normal, flooding the beaches and Pinellas peninsula and rearranging coastlines and passes.

1886: Zephaniah Phillips becomes Long Key's first permanent white resident.

Late 1800s: The little community acquires the name Pass-a-Grille, which is also the name of the pass at the southern end of Long Key. It is thought that Pass-a-Grille derived its name from the French Passe aux Grilleurs, "passageway of the grillers." An 1841 map allegedly labeled the pass at the southern tip of Long Key after the Cajun fishermen (or, alternatively, smugglers, pirates or spongers) who came ashore there to smoke, dry or cook their catch.

1901: By the turn of the century, Pass-a-Grille has its first hotel and ferry service from what is now Gulfport. Residents are few. Most people come for swimming and fishing.

1905: George Henri Lizotte becomes the first postmaster, with the post office in the lobby of his Bonhomie Hotel.

1910: Residents hold a gathering around a Christmas tree in the schoolhouse, the beginnings of Pass-a-Grille Community Church.

1911: Pass-a-Grille is incorporated as a city, with J.J. Duffy as mayor.

1918: A bridge is built from the area to the mainland, making Long Key more accessible.

1921: On Oct. 25, a hurricane barrels ashore near Clearwater, bringing a 10-foot storm surge. Pass-a-Grille is cut off from the mainland. Damage is substantial, but the death toll small.

1922: Ed Jewett Jr. becomes mayor. He is credited with lining the island's streets with Washingtonian palms and Australian pines. In May, fire destroys two landmark hotels famous for 50-cent Sunday dinners that brought mainlanders to the island. On Sept. 28, the majestic Pass-a-Grille Hotel and Casino burns to the ground.

1928: The Don CeSar, a tall, pink hotel that could be seen for miles, opens. It would become a military convalescent hospital in 1943, then a Veterans Administration office building. It closed in 1968 and stood vacant until it was redeveloped and reopened as a hotel in 1973.

1929: The town name becomes Pass-a-Grille Beach.

1940s: When World War II breaks out, the southern end of Pass-a-Grille is fenced off as a military compound for the Coast Artillery.

1950s: With the population booming, Pass-a-Grille's 1926 Sunshine School — where outdoor classes and bathing suits are popular — is no longer adequate. Gulf Beaches Elementary opens and quickly absorbs most of the students. The Sunshine School closed in 1975, and Gulf Beaches closed in 2009.

1957: The towns on Long Key, including Pass-a-Grille Beach, are incorporated into the city of St. Petersburg Beach (today St. Pete Beach).

1962: A hard freeze kills off much of the city's vegetation, including the famed Australian pines.

1967: Construction of the Pinellas Bayway makes southern Long Key even more accessible.

1985: After a dramatic rise in property taxes, some residents campaign to secede from St. Pete Beach.

1989: A section of Pass-a-Grille is declared a National Historic District.

Compiled by Times researcher Natalie Watson from "Surf, Sand, and Post Card Sunsets: A History of Pass-a-Grille and the Gulf Beaches" by Frank T. Hurley Jr.; the Gulf Beaches Historical Museum website; and Times files.

Pass-a-Grille marks 100th birthday 06/04/11 [Last modified: Saturday, June 4, 2011 5:31am]
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