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St. Petersburg celebrates waterfront parks with festivities Saturday

Visitors to North Shore Park in St. Petersburg fish and gaze at the sunset Monday from the waterside lined with palm trees.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Visitors to North Shore Park in St. Petersburg fish and gaze at the sunset Monday from the waterside lined with palm trees.

ST. PETERSBURG — There will be dancing in the parks Saturday, not to mention kite flying, fire eating, volleyball and a myriad of fun happenings, all of which will be topped with birthday cake.

St. Petersburg is celebrating the 100th birthday of its waterfront parks, an approximately 23-block expanse stretching from Albert Whitted Airport north to Coffee Pot Bayou.

Organizers of the free festivities laud the foresight of men like St. Petersburg Times editor William Straub, developer C. Perry Snell and other movers and shakers of the day who pushed to preserve the swath of waterfront property for public use.

Their legacy of water-lapping parks has made St. Petersburg the place it is today, said Will Michaels, former director of the St. Petersburg Museum of History.

"They add to the ambiance of the city, and they are important economically,'' said Peter Belmont, vice president of St. Petersburg Preservation and chairman of the waterfront parks centennial steering committee.

Michaels called the creation of the parkland "one of the best decisions that has ever been made by our city leaders.''

It was a hard-won victory. Some residents had other ideas. They wanted to expand the commercial port facility for fishing and processing and to build and expand the railroad, said Michaels, former president of St. Petersburg Preservation.

Straub, though, wanted to preserve the natural beauty of the waterfront, said historian Ray Arsenault, writing in his book, St. Petersburg and the Florida Dream.

"Like many progressive reformers, he considered public parks as a prerequisite for community order and well-being,'' Arsenault wrote.

The parks eventually were cobbled together from land purchased by private citizens and the Board of Trade on behalf of the city.

"There were no funds, and public-spirited citizens came to the rescue with their personal credit — as was often done in those early days when the city needed something it could not at that time pay for," Straub said in his 1929 book History of Pinellas County, Florida.

The first waterfront deeds were signed over to the city in January 1909, and the parks were officially dedicated in 1910. It had taken several years of effort, led by people whose names would become part of St. Petersburg's history: Straub, Snell, Roy. S. Hanna, A.F. Bartlett and A.T. Blocker.

"Although later generations would hail the public waterfront as a masterpiece of urban planning, many of Straub's contemporaries were not pleased by the triumph of his naturalist crusade,'' wrote Arsenault.

"Not everyone preferred pelicans and palms to stevedores and packing crates. Many taxpayers were angered by the city council's willingness to spend their money on greenery and scenic walks.''

Still, said Michaels, Straub believed in building consensus and worked with groups to make the project happen. He saw opportunity when C.A. Harvey wanted to create a new development in what is now the Old Southeast neighborhood by using fill from what is now Bayboro Harbor. It was a good way to keep the downtown area for parkland and public cultural facilities, while creating the commercial area that others wanted, Michaels said.

Other controversies would later arise. In the 1930s, black residents unsuccessfully fought their exclusion from most of the downtown waterfront. In 1955, six African-American leaders sued to end segregation at the city's downtown swimming spots. The Supreme Court ruled in their favor two years later.

The yearlong Waterfront Parks Centennial celebration, which began on New Year's Eve, has featured a round of festivals, lectures, movies, tours and entertainment.

Michaels is afraid that the parks might be taken for granted.

"We don't look beyond the nice green areas and the benches and the yacht basins to appreciate how the dedication of the downtown parks has impacted our city,'' he said.

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2283.

>> If You Go

The waterfront parks

Albert Whitted Park,
107 Eighth Ave. SE

Al Lang Field, First Avenue S
and First Street

Pioneer Park, Central Avenue
and Beach Drive

Demens Landing Park,
Bayshore Drive and Second Avenue S

South Straub Park,
198 Bayshore Drive NE

North Straub Park,
400 Bayshore Drive NE

Vinoy Park, 701 Bayshore Drive NE

North Shore Park,
901 North Shore Drive NE

Elva Rouse Park, North Shore Drive and 10th Avenue NE

Gizella Kopsick Palm Arboretum, 901 North Shore Drive NE

Flora Wylie Park, 13th Avenue
and North Shore Drive NE

Spa Beach, 615 Second Ave. NE

Party in the parks

Centennial Celebration, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. Music and performances on eight stages, including salsa, rock, polka, folk, barbershop and opera. An Air Force flyover is planned. Highlights include:

St. Petersburg Saturday Morning Market, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Progress Energy Park; vintage baseball game in the afternoon.

Volleyball games at North Shore Park, tennis lessons for kids 10 and under. North Straub Park will feature performers including the Urban Gypsies and the Mojo Barbershop Quartet. American Stage School Tour will perform Henry and Ramona from 10 to 11 a.m., and the St. Petersburg Opera will perform arias from 4:45 to 5:15 p.m.

A dedication ceremony for the
commemorative sundial designed
by sculptor Eric Higgs will take place
at 10 a.m. at Vista Point.

Go to stpeteparks100.org for details.

St. Petersburg International Folk Festival Society's annual folk fair
will take place at Vinoy Park. Food, dancing, music and fashions from countries around the world. Go to spiffs.org.

The Pier Aquarium will hold a free marine discovery fun day at Spa Beach from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Also story time with the Pinellas Reading Council,
sing-along with Shana Banana
and visits with the MOSI's Marine Gang. There will be a kite festival and other activities. Go to pieraquarium.org/spabeachsplash.

St. Petersburg celebrates waterfront parks with festivities Saturday 11/02/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 3, 2010 5:13pm]
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