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Home of Fig Newton creator recognized

A unique St. Petersburg neighborhood named for the man who invented the Fig Newton has been nationally recognized as someplace especially sweet.

Roser Park, tucked just south of downtown and developed more than 80 years ago when St. Petersburg was barely out of the horse-and-buggy era, has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

It is the city's first national register historic district and, though the honor does not confer a grand list of benefits, it certainly brings added prestige to a neighborhood.

"I'm really excited! Cool, huh?" said Alma Hubbard, St. Petersburg's historic preservation planner.

Ron Motyka, who heads the Roser Park Neighborhood Association, couldn't be reached for immediate comment. But Roser Park residents have worked for years to revitalize a neighborhood that early in its history was considered one of the city's finest.

Even longtime city residents can be amazed to find a ravine, hills and a creek when they drive into Roser Park, sometimes by mistake when searching for Bayfront Medical Center. The neighborhood is roughly bounded by Fourth and M.L. King (Ninth) streets S, and Seventh and 11th avenues S.

It began in 1911 when Charles M. Roser started buying acreage in a section that at the time was outside the city limits. Between 1914 and 1916, about 60 homes were built, with another 20 added in 1921.

Roser was a cookiemaker born in Ohio and, says St. Petersburg historian Ray Arsenault, won fame for creating the Fig Newton before selling it to the National Biscuit Company and moving to St. Petersburg.

Criteria for selection to the National Register include historic and architectural significance. Roser Park also is significant in its landscape design because of the way the houses are arranged in the setting, said Carl Shiver, a state Bureau of Historic Preservation staff member.

Gaining a federal listing is not unusual. Florida alone has hundreds of properties listed, Shiver said, including Harbor Oaks and the Tarpon Springs historic district. Roser Park already was considered a local historic district and receives protection for historic properties and some tax incentives for rehabilitation projects. The national designation affords some protection from federal activities, such as highway projects.

But the designation enhances a neighborhood's image, historic planners say, and sometimes even affords it status as a tourist destination for people who like to visit National Register sites.