Drive through the Tyrone area between the Gulf beaches and downtown St. Petersburg, and you’ll start to see the name everywhere.
It’s on the movie theater, Cobb Tyrone Luxury 10. It’s on Tyrone Barber Shop, right by Tyrone Gardens apartments and Tyrone Chiropractic Clinic. There’s Tyrone Square Mazda. Tyrone Middle School. Tyrone Square Mall.
The abundance of Tyrones in this corner of St. Petersburg prompted one reader to write to Florida Wonders for answers. Just where did the name come from, anyway?
The story behind Tyrone begins with one of St. Petersburg’s most famous figures: entrepreneur, historian and known bootlegger Walter P. Fuller.
The year was 1926, and Fuller was fresh off building his ritzy Jungle Country Club Hotel. St. Pete’s land boom had finally collapsed, and Fuller was determined to roll out a much-needed relief project right by his hotel. He was going to build the city’s first airport.
There was just one problem with Fuller’s plan, said St. Petersburg historian Will Michaels. Another man, Dr. R. L. Piper, already owned about half the land he intended to use.
The solution was a simple name change. Fuller Flying Field became the Piper-Fuller Airport. Fuller — a known smuggler who admitted to hosting Al Capone’s men during Prohibition, Michaels said — called the airport the “best bootlegging point in the country.”
Not much is known about Piper, but historians believe he was also responsible for naming Tyrone Boulevard next to the air field.
Why Tyrone? The name was an homage to Piper’s hometown: Tyrone, Pennsylvania.
The Tyrone moniker persisted far past just the boulevard. The massive Tyrone Gardens housing project emerged at Tyrone Boulevard and Ninth Avenue North in 1950. Tyrone Junior High School (now Tyrone Middle School) would open on 22nd Avenue North in 1954.
The airport was used through World War II. By that point, it had become a spot where pilots could practice landing and taking off from St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport (then known as the Pinellas Army Airfield.)
In 1972, that space would become St. Petersburg’s largest shopping center: Tyrone Square Mall. It boasted a Maas Brothers, J. W. Robinson’s and Sears. It is still the biggest mall in St. Pete.
Over the years, even more businesses with the Tyrone name have popped up.
Piper may have been forgotten, but his near century-old tribute remains.
“It’s something that has really faded over the years,” Michaels said. “(It is) one of those quirky things about our local history.”
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This report was compiled using Times archives.