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Photographic proof?

TAMPA

Two photographs snapped in the 1940s have become a focal point of a dispute over whether a bar near the University of Tampa can continue pouring cocktails.

An attorney for the owner of the Retreat says a photo taken in January 1946 proves the location sold liquor in 1945.

Under an obscure city ordinance, that would mean the watering hole could sell hard alcohol even 63 years later.

But a university official who wants the Retreat to stop selling liquor argues that it makes student drinking problems worse.

And he says the picture shows a different bar.

"I believe that it's of the Paddock bar, and not the Retreat bar," says Bob Ruday, UT's dean of students.

And he points to a remarkably similar photo of the Paddock back in 1949 as proof.

The Tampa City Council is scheduled to consider the liquor sales on Thursday.

Both old pictures are part of the Burgert Brothers collection at the Hillsborough County Public Library.

The Burgert Brothers were local commercial photographers whose work vividly captured Tampa life between the 1890s and the 1960s.

Not only is there a dispute about which bar the rival photographs show, but the Burgert Brothers and library records also don't agree.

The library labeled the 1946 photo, the one the bar is relying upon, as a picture of the Retreat.

But the Burgert Bros. ledger, also stored at the library, says the bar in that picture is the Paddock.

"There is a discrepancy," said David Parsons, a librarian who oversees the collection. But he couldn't say why the ledger and library's bibliographic data differ.

"I don't know what basis that change was made on," he said.

Parsons said his predecessor made some changes to the data in 2007, but it's not clear what the changes were.

The array of liquor bottles seen behind the bar in the photo of the Retreat serves to document what they were selling back then. And that has legal significance today.

An ordinance enacted in 1945 when Tampa adopted its own wet-zoning rules allows any continuously operating business that had a state alcohol sales license at that time to keep selling the same types of drinks.

Attorney Mark Bentley has said he doesn't have the original Florida liquor license because the records have been purged. But he does have the library's photograph and sworn testimony from customers, now in their 80s, who remember drinking at the Retreat.

That was enough for a city zoning administrator, who in March 2008 allowed the bar to add liquor to its beer-and-wine offerings.

UT appealed the decision to the city's Variance Review Board, which in December upheld the administrator's decision.

Then this year, as the university prepared to take its appeal to the City Council, the school's attorneys raised questions about the old photo.

"Once City Council sees that the photo that was used largely to make the determination, when they find out it is not really of the Retreat bar but it is of the Paddock bar, they will remand this back," Ruday said. "That's my personal feeling."

As proof that the library may have mislabeled the photograph, he notes the similarities between the picture of the Retreat and another one taken in 1949 and labeled the Paddock, including the mirrors behind the bars and light fixtures.

The photo dispute, though, won't be part of the Council's discussion this week, said chief assistant city attorney Sal Territo. That's because they're having an appeal hearing. That means no new evidence can be entered into the record, he said.

"They should not be talking about the merits of the case," Territo said. "They should only be talking about whether the Variance Review Board followed the proper procedures."

Options for the Council are to sustain the board's ruling, overrule it or send it back for the board to consider again.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Photographic proof? 06/02/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 3, 2009 10:57am]

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