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Historic club may fall for town house project

It was St. Petersburg's first nightclub. On the shores of Boca Ciega Bay, it was easily accessible to rum runners, and it boasted an exotic dancer who performed in a tiger skin. The streetcar line ended at its door, so those who didn't arrive by Pierce Arrows or Packard touring cars had other transportation.

Now the Jungle Prado apartments, once called the Gangplank, may be torn down for town house apartments.

The Prado apartments, also called the Prada, and the restaurant attached to them, at 1700 Park St. N, were built in 1924 by developer and historian Walter Fuller. Paul Skipper and Joseph Klingel, co-owners of K-S Investments, have owned the property for about seven years, Skipper says.

During that time, the restaurant, which they plan to leave intact, has had several owners, and some of the 23 apartments have been rented. the restaurant is closed.

Now they'd like to build 25 town house apartments, converting two offices in the complex. Because the property is waterfront, the two-story condos would have to be built one story above the ground to comply with floodplain requirements.

The request to tear down the buildings will come before the Board of Adjustment on March 18.

But the tearing down of the buildings and the construction of the condos is not the only concern of local preservationists.

At issue is that the apartments were built on an American Indian burial mound; therefore, preservationists say, further development may be against the law.

"The concrete foundation slab of the Prado has 200-plus native skeletons embedded in or under it, " says Howard Hansen, president of St. Petersburg Preservation Inc.

Skipper says he and Klingel are St. Petersburg natives. "We're sensitive to these issues," Skipper says. "We're not trying to increase density _ just put up better-quality buildings.

"I hear people are concerned about this. If they are so concerned, you'd think they'd talk to us. Nobody has talked to us about it at all."

"One of our thoughts," Skipper says, "was to try to do constructions without disturbing anything that is there. We don't think we need any pilings."

The property has been designated a Category 2 site, according to Steve Wolochowicz of the Board of Adjustment. "This means that there are thought to be artifacts on the site," Wolochowicz says. "In this case, the Environmental Development Commission would recommend there be an architect on site during demolition and construction."

If there was actual proof of artifacts on the site, that would raise the property to Category 1. "Then there would be a requirement that someone be actually present on the site and could recommend protection accordingly."

Should there be definite evidence of human remains beneath the apartments, and should pilings or other underground construction be necessary, "It would be enough to bring Chapter 872 into play," says state archaeologist Jim Miller. "This makes it illegal to willfully and knowingly disturb human remains."

Doris Anderson, who has a counseling service in one of the larger offices at the Prado, says Klingel and Skipper have "kept the buildings to a minimum standard, but they haven't put a lot of money into them."

She lives nearby with her husband, Eric Anderson, and father-in-law, Howard Anderson, and is well acquainted with the historical significance of the Prado.

As for their being torn down, "I don't really like the idea," Mrs. Anderson says. "I feel it's very special and has a special history of being a sacred place to Native Americans. There is a fair amount of access to it now. But if there were apartments, that would go by the wayside."