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Groups hope to preserve old club for the fun of it

Published Aug. 25, 2005

(ran East, South editions)

Pink-sherbet clouds flirted with the baby blue sky at the St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club as sun-peeled turquoise awnings and hexagon block sidewalks tugged at memories of yesteryear.

It was a typical Florida evening Tuesday at the shuffleboard club. Situated between the Coliseum and Mirror Lake at 559 Mirror Lake Drive N, the club is a landmark of historic St. Petersburg.

In continued efforts to preserve the club through awareness and utilization, residents from Euclid-St. Paul's and Historic Uptown neighborhoods faced off in a tournament last Tuesday. About 24 players switched partners through three rounds, mingling and discussing neighborhood concerns.

Although most of the neighbors had been playing shuffleboard for several months at the most, the competitive edge grew sharper as the rounds progressed. In the end, Uptown took the win 11-7.

Mary Eldridge, club president and member since 1965, said the players did well for beginners. She believes that the Friday night tournaments and other activities sponsored by Pinellas Heritage and The Artillery, a group of young local artists, is the best thing to happen to the club in at least 25 years.

"My objective was to hold on until the future came, and do whatever it takes to keep this place alive," she said. "This is a huge step in the right direction."

Eldridge moved to Florida from New York in 1964, when she started to play shuffleboard.

When she became more passionate about the game, friends told her that St. Petersburg was the only place to be to pursue serious shuffleboard. Now she helps run the club, as well as provide newcomers with tips and knowledge of the game.

"I feel very happy watching the younger people playing and enjoying the game like I used to," Eldridge said.

Love connections, she also said, are a fairly common occurrence.

"Whenever you have people together having a good time, sooner or later a couple is going to click. It's happened over the years," Eldridge said.

Chris Kelly, co-founder of Pinellas Heritage, was picking up a smoothie at Evos in March when he met Chad Mize and Phillip Clark of The Artillery. That same Wednesday afternoon, the three men went to the Shuffleboard Club to explore the site, as well as the possibility of bringing the place back to life.

About a week later, the men reconvened at the club along with several other people, for discussions on what to make of the place. As the group was talking, a younger couple visiting from Newport, R.I., sauntered in.

"They were very supportive of our ideas," he said. "Before they left, they said "Whatever you're thinking about doing, start it.' "

And so they did.

About four months into their effort, there are as many as 125 people coming out on Friday nights to play shuffleboard, listen to music and view art provided by The Artillery.

"If we've done nothing else this summer, we've cycled 2,000 to 3,000 people through here. We're showing the city that people value this place," said Kelly, who believes there are many uses for the facility.

The whir of discs sliding down the shuffleboard courts buzzes through the air and neighbors slap high-fives and cheer for points well made.

They are the sounds of a true St. Petersburg experience.

They are the sounds of history awakening.

+ + +

The St. Petersburg Youth Council, sponsored by Community Police Officer Richard Grimberg, will have its closing ceremony at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the St. Petersburg Little Theatre, 4025 31st St. S.

"Patriotic Salute to America" invites all police, fire and military veterans to attend in uniform to receive a tribute by the council.

As part of a series of workshops and activities the Weedon Island Preserve Cultural and Natural History Center will host "Wee-time at Weedon: Snakes Are Hunters" from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Thursday. Children will experience stories, puppet shows and hands-on activities.

This event is free and open to the public. Call (727) 453-6500, as preregistration is required.

A free guided tour of the preserve will be from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturday. Call (727) 453-6506 to preregister.

St. Petersburg readers wishing to submit information for the Neighborhood Notebook should contact correspondent Katie Wilson either by e-mail at KTWilsaol.com or by phone at 742-8838.