An unassuming mystery lies in St. Pete, surrounding the intersection of 62nd Avenue and Fourth Street North.
The entire area is laid out in concentric circles — five nested circular roads — meeting in the middle at the intersection of the two streets. One curious reader contacted us through our Florida Wonders series, and asked why the streets are laid out this way.
We’ve been inviting readers to submit questions they want our reporters to dig into using Hearken’s community engagement tool. Readers then voted on the question they wanted us to write about as part of our community reporting project. The circles question was submitted by Andy E.
Andy E. wondered why this area in St. Petersburg was so unique — why weren’t there more designs like this? While we did find some concrete answers through archives and articles, this one was tricky — the creators of the suburb were long gone.
Nestled around the circles are businesses that see traffic every day. The four circles coming out from the innermost intersection are named after presidents — Jefferson Circle North, Monroe Circle North, and so on.
Digging for the answers brought us to the early 1920s, right in the midst of the Florida land boom.
The design culprit is E.B. Wilson, a developer whose company, the Greater St. Petersburg Land Co., bought quite a bit of land in the area. Wilson had his hand in many different St. Pete businesses — he owned a clothing store called “The Woman’s Store,” under the Wilson-Chase Co., and later became the president of the city’s Merchants Association. Wilson invested a large chunk of money in developing northern part of St. Petersburg.
Newspaper articles dating back to 1922 and guidance from the St. Petersburg Museum of History stitch together a narrative for the circular design.
A December 1922 article from the Tampa Times said E.B. Wilson, W.F. Smith and J.A. Townsend bought 1,200 acres of land to develop St. Petersburg, extending from Ninth Street North to Smack’s Bayou.
And a January 1923 edition of the Tampa Times solved the mystery of why Wilson designed the circle the way he did — the “new suburb” was modeled after Washington D.C.‘s famous circles, and was proclaimed to be a “high class development.”
Rui Farias, executive director of the St. Petersburg Museum of History, knew the area — in fact, he used to live in one of the “circles.”
He said the land was ripe for development in the 1920s because Fourth Street used to be the only way to enter the city from Tampa.
“It was one of the perfect locations to build a neighborhood like that — it was far enough away from downtown, but easy to reach,” Farias said.
Plat maps featured in newspapers from the 1920s show an area very similar to what exists today, down to the names of the circles.
Although Wilson made his money in business before turning his attention to developing St. Petersburg, Farias said it was normal for the time — businessmen would make a fortune and then turn to buying land and developing it to expand their wealth.
The suburb was scheduled for completion in the fall of 1923. Wilson and his company began to advertise for it in local newspapers — they asked local residents to invest in plots of land to help grow the neighborhood.
“The big investor always gets the plums, but here is where the small investor can get in on the ground floor through a small investment,” the ad from June 1923 said, and promised a profit to whoever gave their money.
According to the advertisement, an investor’s money would “[grow] where traffic grows,” and said projections showed about 100,000 passengers in cars would pass through the neighborhood each month, making the new intersection the “busiest traffic artery” in the area.
A few years after the completion of the suburb, the Great Depression hit, stunting St. Petersburg’s growth for years.
“That area was looking to develop pretty big in the 1920s,” Farias said. “A lot of it didn’t come to fruition till much later.”
Farias thinks Wilson’s ideas for the neighborhood eventually were realized once it became fully settled with homes and businesses.
“I think once St. Petersburg’s population exploded after World War II and in the early 1950s, then people started moving further north and further west,” he said. “That’s when a lot of his dreams probably came true.”
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