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Early developer gambled and left his mark on city

Published Sep. 27, 2005

Charles Richard Hall once walked with giants through the city's undeveloped areas.

"Giants, yes: giants in vision, courage and performance," historian Walter Fuller called the great developers of the early 1920s. "They wrote . . . their lives in the sand and brick and buildings of the city."

Hall built Kenwood and Lakewood Estates. He owned property east of Lake Maggiore and on 34th Street S, north of the Skyway Bridge. He gave the city a park.

He was "among the gamblers . . . the biggest plungers," wrote historian Karl Grismer, and had "unbounded faith in St. Petersburg."

He was "one of the biggest developers in the city's boom time era," the St. Petersburg Times reported.

Hall, born in Detroit in 1869, moved with his mother to Philadelphia several years after his father's death in 1872. After the fifth grade, Hall started working in the retail business and sold women's hats.

He married Emma May Blanchette in 1897, and they had five children. In 1908, Charles Hall developed New Jersey seashore property. One year later, St. Petersburg entrepreneur F.A. Davis coaxed Hall here, Grismer wrote. Fuller said his father, H. Walter Fuller, was the persuader.

H. Walter Fuller sold Hall 80 acres at Central Avenue and 25th Street in 1912 for $16,000. Hall stretched his early Kenwood holdings to 28th Street after buying 80 adjoining acres one year later for $40,000.

He slashed his prices in half, usually $100 to $1,500 per lot, and ignited a price war.

Scenic postcards and huge ads promoted Hall's property. "Your last chance to buy close in West Central Avenue lots and houses at your own price and very easy terms," read one plug.

In 1913, Hall helped finance the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line, the nation's first commercial airboat service. That same year, he gave the city Seminole Park, 8 acres between Second and Third avenues N and 29th and 30th streets. "He needs to be recognized," said Laura Labadie, Hall's great granddaughter. "My mission is to have the Hall name included in the park's."

In 1914, Hall sparked the formation of the St. Petersburg Country Club in the Jungle area west of Tyrone. He had a home near there and later had a mansion at 5030 Sunrise Drive S. "I heard his (mansion's) pool was one of the first (residential ones) in town," said Mary Richmond, 73, Hall's granddaughter. "He was generous with others to use it."

Hall helped establish the St. Petersburg Yacht Club in 1916.

By 1917, Hall owned "over 2,500 acres of beautiful rolling lands in Lakewood," Grismer said. Serious development began there in the early 1920s.

Nine-foot-tall stone urns graced several entrances. Many lots faced Hall's 18-hole golf course, designed in the shape of butterfly wings. "He was the first complete developer," said Dennis Rhodes, 62, a volunteer with the St. Petersburg Museum of History. "Selling the lot, building the house and installing brick streets."

In 1927, Hall announced a $1-million project to construct 400 Lakewood homes. Priced from $6,500 to $9,500, the two-story, stucco-finished homes had Spanish clay tile roofs. They featured open fireplaces, fire-proof garages, high-ceiling living rooms and Spanish tile flooring.

"(C. Perry) Snell developed for the rich," Richmond said. "My grandfather developed for the middle class."

People want "the modest home," Hall said then. "That is what we are going to give them."

Few of the homes were built, however, and Lakewood Estates and other Hall holdings faltered for several reasons:

Hall's properties south of Central Avenue suffered from racial prejudice directed toward the area, which "took another generation to overcome," Fuller wrote.

Lake Maggiore created dead ends throughout Hall's holdings, stunting their growth.

Florida's economic collapse forced Hall into bankruptcy.

While returning to Florida from New Jersey and New York in 1934, Hall died in Stroudsburg, Pa. He is honored at Pioneer Park, between Central and First Avenue N and Beach Drive and Bayshore drives.

After finding in 1991 that Hall's grave in Royal Palm Cemetery was unmarked, Labadie acquired and engraved a 2-foot octagonal piece of sidewalk from old Kenwood.

The stone, placed during a family ceremony that year, reads: "Charles R. Hall _ A preserver and creator of beauty."

_ Scott Taylor Hartzell can be reached at