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The ghosts of the Suntan Art Center in St. Pete Beach

They are believed to have ties to the Don CeSar Hotel.
A 2003 photo of the Suntan Art Center at the Don Vista Building in St. Pete Beach.
A 2003 photo of the Suntan Art Center at the Don Vista Building in St. Pete Beach. [ Times (2003) ]
Published Oct. 25

The Suntan Art Center in St. Pete Beach is full of creative energy, with classes and exhibits featuring works by local artists. But a paranormal energy also exists at its Don Vista Building location.

The Don Vista sits across from the Don CeSar Hotel. In the 1920s, Thomas Rowe lived there while he was building the hotel. The building served as administrative offices for the hotel as well as a bank for guests. During World War II, while the Don CeSar was functioning as a military hospital, the Don Vista garaged the facility’s firehouse and fire truck.

Perhaps Rowe and others associated with the building have never left.

In 2011, an art center employee told Suntan member artist and ghost hunter Brandy Stark that when she arrived for work alone early in the morning, she felt as if she was being watched and heard rustling in the hallway.

Stark did an investigation of the art center in 2016 with her paranormal investigation company Spirits of St. Petersburg. Armed with special recorders and other ghost-hunting equipment, the crew of people who Stark calls “sensitives” and her pet pugs felt chills and temperature fluctuations, and they noticed spikes on the devices. They identified two entities: the Running Man and the Hostess.

Patroclus the Paranormal Pug sensed presences throughout the Suntan Art Center.
Patroclus the Paranormal Pug sensed presences throughout the Suntan Art Center. [ Courtesy of Brandy Stark ]

The Running Man is always in a hurry, rushing around the first floor, constantly working. He is believed to be holding papers that have to do with finance. He dodges people, and the pugs. Stark thinks this could be the ghost of Rowe, who died before he could sign his will. He has a sense of urgency about him and is irritated by questions.

A particularly chilling male voice was picked up on the ghost hunters’ equipment during their initial visit, saying “don’t do it.”

The Hostess is believed to have been Rowe’s assistant, or “girl Friday.” She stays upstairs and won’t let the Running Man up there. There is audio of her murmuring “mmm-hmmm.”

On a return investigation in September as part of the World’s Largest Ghost Hunt, a third entity was detected, to Stark’s surprise. He’s a military figure that moves in a marching pattern, but he’s a mild presence.

The crew heard pops, the sound of a door slamming and other unusual noises. Stark’s pug, Patroclus, stared into a hallway where “sensitives” felt a presence moving around.

Patroclus also stared down the stairwell, where a crew member felt the presence of someone moving past her.

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The stairwell where Patroclus the pug sensed something and a crew member felt a presence move past her.
The stairwell where Patroclus the pug sensed something and a crew member felt a presence move past her. [ Courtesy of Brandy Stark ]

After that investigation, Stark believes the ghosts are coming from the Don CeSar. No one felt any negative energy at the art center specifically.

“Ultimately, they were coming over to the Suntan to kind of have a little bit of peace and quiet,” she said. “They enjoy the creative positivity of the place and they just kind of came to take a break.”

As if to back her up, when the all-female crew was discussing that possibility during the hunt, a male voice was picked up saying “yeah.”