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Today in history: The city of St. Pete Beach was formed

The island's future was shaped by just five ballots during a controversial vote in July 1957.

On this day in Florida history, St. Petersburg Beach was incorporated during a controversial vote.

Before 1957, the island known as Long Key consisted of four municipalities (Pass-a-Grille, Don CeSar Place, Belle Vista and St. Petersburg Beach) and some unincorporated land.

A referendum was introduced in 1956 to consolidate the communities as a single new city. The four local governments would be wiped out and one would be formed.

About 2,100 residents were eligible to vote on the Long Key consolidation on July 9, 1957. The topic had the island “divided into bitter camps,” reported the then-St. Petersburg Times.

A pro-merger sign, taken just about a week before the vote that consolidated the four towns on Long Key into the city of St. Petersburg Beach in 1957. [ Times (1957) ]

Some residents didn’t like the way the referendum was worded, saying it didn’t allow citizens to vote on the actual merger plan. Three citizens created a petition to change the wording. When one stood outside city hall gathering signatures, St. Petersburg Beach Mayor Herman G. James asked him to “ease and desist” the “most impolite” petition.

The city commission wrote a resolution calling the petition the “undemocratic and unreliable,” and a “Nazi method of giving the people only one way to vote.”

Seventy-five percent of eligible residents showed up to cast a ballot. Initially, the referendum passed with just five votes — 758 in favor, 753 opposed. Most of the people against consolidation were in the former St. Petersburg Beach.

The losing side was quick to request a recount and appeal to the State Supreme Court. But in the end, the four communities on Long Key were abolished and the new city of St. Petersburg Beach was formed.

The city became known as St. Pete Beach in March 1994, when residents voted to shorten the name and solidify the island’s independent identity. St. Petersburg Beach was too long to fit on auto and fire insurance policies, and the city was missing out on funding for police and fire pensions because residents were listing St. Petersburg as their residence.

This story was written using information from the Times archives.