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Cool and breezy, arcades preceded air conditioning

Not many breezeways get their walls lined with $50,000 worth of Mediterranean mosaic tile and their recesses decorated with elegant columns topped by statues of half-naked women.

But pretty wasn't enough. People didn't use the Snell Arcade, and that made it less than a success.

The Snell Arcade is one of 10 walk-throughs built during St. Petersburg's boom years from 1919 to 1926. The arcades offered shade from the sun and shelter from the rain.

They also provided shortcuts through downtown. Some connected an avenue to an alley. Others angled through a block.

The Taylor Arcade was L-shaped, connecting First Avenue N and Fifth Street. Jack Taylor, who built it, also built and presided over the boom era Rolyat (Taylor spelled backward) Hotel in Gulfport. The Stetson University College of Law occupies the premises today.

The Florida Arcade, west of the Snell between Fourth and Fifth streets, was the longest: Central Avenue to First Avenue N.

Shops lined the arcades, like stores line the walkways of modern malls. In 1933, the Florida Arcade hosted a jeweler, a cigar store, a men's clothing store, an optometrist, a barber shop, a soda fountain and a corset shop.

Unlike the others, the Snell Arcade didn't function well as a shortcut. Built parallel to Fourth Street at Central Avenue, it was just as easy to walk along Fourth Street.

Although it wasn't as successful as the other arcades, the Snell at 405 Central Ave. is one of three arcades left in downtown St. Petersburg.

Restored and reopened in the early 1980s, the Snell Arcade is on the National Register of Historic Places and is designated a local landmark. The Crislip and Parley-Stone arcades are on the north side of Central Avenue between Sixth and Seventh streets.

Built by boom-era developer C. Perry Snell in 1926, the Snell continued the former druggist's romance with Mediterranean Revival architecture. He also developed the Granada subdivision with its "Stonehenge" monoliths, built many Mediterranean Revival homes in northeast St. Petersburg and developed Snell Isle.

_ Information for this story was obtained in the Florida Room of the St. Petersburg Public Library, Times files and from the book St. Petersburg and the Florida Dream, 1888-1950, by Ray Arsenault.

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