For too many years, Largo, calling itself the "City of Progress," progressively erased many traces of the booming citrus town it once was. The post-war years visited the same rampant "modernization" on Largo as on cities nationwide, but it is heartening now to see so many of these places coming back to life through successful urban renewal programs.
Largo was never the glamorous Florida resort town with luxury hotels like the Belleview Biltmore in Belleair or the Don CeSar at St. Pete Beach. In an attempt to distance itself from its solid, working-class, agricultural roots, Largo let much of its early character slip away and sacrificed its once-vital downtown to the sprawl of malls, strip-shopping centers and eastward expansion.
Fortunately, the heart of Largo has remained intact and is now growing stronger every day. Citizens recently rallied to save the brick streets and vernacular homes in the downtown area. Houses once belonging to prominent characters in Largo's history dot the neighborhoods north and south of "Main Street" (West Bay Drive), including the John S. Taylor home, William C. Taylor home, and the Belcher-Ulmer-McLaughlin-Johnson home. The latter was occupied by longtime Largo City Clerk and historian Sadie Johnson from 1963 until her death last September. Johnson, or "Miss Sadie" as she was affectionately called by many, was instrumental in creating the Largo Historical Society and fought for preservation whenever and wherever needed, whether it was a previous attempt to destroy brick streets or demolish an early bank building.
If any city needs Main Street designation, it's got to be Largo. A competitive program administered by the state, the Main Street designation would bring grant money and helpful advice. It would validate Miss Sadie's fervent past efforts at saving Largo's history and confirm that preservation and a sense of place have value and are necessary for the healthy continuation of society.
I have seen the amazing results other Main Street programs have had in rejuvenating the economic base of communities and, even more important, bringing people together for a common cause. Largo residents need to feel more connected to where they live.
Main Street designation would boost the newfound and growing community pride that has taken root in the city's original core. Thanks to a group of dedicated and enthusiastic individuals, including Ron Bortolini, Downtown Largo Main Street Association president; Curt Chamber, secretary and promotions officer; and Main Street manager Lotta Baumann, the will is in place to succeed. These people and many more are ready to roll up their sleeves and do what it takes to make downtown revitalization a reality, not just a dream. The history of Largo merely needs to be dusted off a little and its "Citrus City" heritage will once again shine.
Members and interested parties supporting Largo's designation as a Main Street community will be traveling to Orlando on Aug. 18 to present our case before the state of Florida Main Street Program officials. If you'd like to join us and help show the "powers-that-be" that Main Street designation would be a great opportunity for the city of Largo, call the Downtown Largo Main Street office at 518-8442 for more information.
_ Carol Cortright is the historical consultant for Downtown Largo Main Street Association Inc. She lives in Belleair Bluffs.