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The mayor who brought spring training to St. Petersburg lived here — now you can too

The former home of the late Al Lang, mayor of St. Petersburg, is for sale at 336 Lang Court N, St. Petersburg. The 1419-square-foot home is listed at $385,000. It was built in 1915. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Published May 17

ST. PETERSBURG — It's been a century since Al Lang was mayor of St. Petersburg but he's hardly been forgotten.

There's Al Lang Stadium, once synonymous with baseball spring training, now home to the Tampa Bay Rowdies.

Green Bench Brewing, Green Bench Dental, Green Bench Flowers & Gifts — all owe their names to Lang's insistence that the city's sidewalk benches be painted a uniform green.

And just off Fourth Avenue N and Eighth Street lies Lang's Bungalow Court, an enclave of 13 houses Lang developed between 1912 and 1925. All but two are still standing, including the one at 336 Lang's Court where he stayed (at least part of the time) as mayor. It is now on the market for $385,000.

"Own a part of St. Pete history!'' reads the flyer prepared by broker Cheryl Greenwood .

The three-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bath house with separate carriage house has been updated but still retains its original wood floors, Cuban porch tiles, coffered ceilings and built-in cabinets. The garden in front, lush with plumbago and bougainvillea, is paved with hexblocks that continue onto a narrow street, just one block long and the sole pedestrian-only street in the city.

A native of Pittsburgh, Pa., Lang owned a laundry business there but suffered from respiratory problems that prompted him and his bride to move St. Petersburg in 1912. The city was on the verge of its first real estate boom as Lang platted the tiny community on the edge of downtown.

The Langs were living in the Jungle area, then outside the city limits, when he was elected mayor in 1916. To qualify for office he had to live in the city so he moved into the Lang's Court house. That became his legal residence while the Jungle house was his "vacation home in the country,'' according to research by the organization Preserve the 'Burg.

A baseball fan since childhood, Lang lured the St. Louis Browns to St. Petersburg for spring training in 1914 by offering incentives that included payment for the team's travel expenses. The Philadelphia Phillies came in 1915, and the city went on to host many more teams over the decades, including the New York Yankees with legendary slugger Babe Ruth.

"Lang was determined that Florida would become the center of the spring training world,'' Charles Fountain wrote in his book Under the March Sun: The Story of Spring Training. "Year after year he continued proselytizing on behalf of not only St. Petersburg but Florida in general. He delighted in calling attention to every frost in Georgia or to a freak snow squall that canceled a White Sox game in Shreveport (Louisiana) in 1926.''

During Lang's years as mayor, from 1916 to 1920, he personally greeted tourists arriving by train. The city cleaned up its downtown, paved more streets, added more parks and required the ubiquitous wooden benches to be of the same size and color.

In 1947, the opened a new waterfront baseball park named after its beloved former mayor.

When Lang died in 1960 at 89, thousands attended his funeral including baseball great Stan Musial. The bulk of his estate went to charities that helped children, although he also made a large bequest to what is now called Eckerd College.

By the time the current owners of Lang's house bought it in 2010 for $80,000, the little enclave had fallen onto hard times.

"It was all a disaster,'' Greenwood said, "but everyone has come in and fixed things up. It's a tight-knit community — everyone looks out for each other.''

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at smartin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.

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