Advertisement
  1. St. Petersburg

Pier monument to honor historic Tony Jannus flight over Tampa Bay

Artist's rendering of the Benoist Centennial Plaza commemorating the World's First Airline. [Ravena Scheffer]
Artist's rendering of the Benoist Centennial Plaza commemorating the World's First Airline. [Ravena Scheffer]
Published May 1, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — The city is counting on its next generation pier to make a splash on the world stage, a goal that could be boosted by a planned monument to showcase St. Petersburg's pioneering achievement in international aviation history.

In recognition of the world's first commercial airline — launched in 1914 from St. Petersburg's downtown waterfront — the monument will rise in the new Pier District on the site of the hangar of the inaugural flight.

It was on New Year's Day more than a century ago that pilot Tony Jannus, with former St. Petersburg Mayor Abe Pheil as his passenger, took off in a Benoist Airboat across Tampa Bay. More than 3,000 people gathered to witness the first flight of the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line. The world's first airline owed its beginning to a collaboration of local business leaders, who helped aircraft manufacturer Tom Benoist finance the airline, and the city, which built the hangar.

"To me, this is an American success story, but you've got to give a lot of credit to the leaders at the time who were visionary," said City Council member Ed Montanari, a board member of the nonprofit group that is erecting the monument.

"You look at the very humble beginnings of a worldwide industry that connects people and places and cultures, and it all started right here in St. Petersburg," said Montanari, a pilot for American Airlines.

But for many years, a bronze plaque, forgotten behind a dumpster on the pier approach, was the only marker of the historic event.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Proposed monument near St. Pete pier would honor Tony Jannus history-making flight

The new tribute will rise in what will be known as the Benoist Centennial Plaza, at the site of the original hangar on the Central Yacht Basin from where the airboat made its first commercial flight. A replica of the Benoist Airboat will be suspended approximately 12 to 13 feet above the plaza.

"The plinth below the airboat will convey the idea of the airboat flying over the bay water," said Philip H. Graham IV, fifth generation of a pioneer St. Petersburg family, who is donating the design services of his firm, Phil Graham Landscape Architecture, for the plaza.

"The plaza will be a place that can provide a link to the historical events. We will have storyboards that walk visitors through the historical event and the story will come to life with the full-size airboat. Visitors will be able to walk around and underneath the sculpture."

The $750,000 project — which is still in the fundraising mode — is being spearheaded by Flight 2014 Inc., the nonprofit group that takes its name from the centennial year of Jannus' round-trip flight from St. Petersburg to Tampa and back.

Will Michaels, Flight 2014 president, said the city's board of trade, predecessor of the chamber of commerce, and city officials had viewed the new airline from a practical standpoint. It would greatly reduce travel time between St. Petersburg and Tampa and be a tourist draw.

"It was a small local community that embraced this technology from the start," said Michaels, author of The Making of St. Petersburg.

And, he said, they did what the First Flight group is doing now, "passing the hat" to make the project possible.

More than $500,000 has been raised for the "World's First Airline Monument Project," with the most recent donation coming in the form of a $100,000 "challenge grant" from Raymond James Financial. The project also is being supported by the airline industry, businesses, a member of Mayor Pheil's family and individuals who have given donations of $25, Michaels said.

Recently, Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, the pilot who successfully landed US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River off Manhattan in 2009 after both engines were disabled, joined the project's honorary advisory board.

The plaza is expected to be finished in time for the pier opening, now scheduled for the spring of 2020.

A request for proposals from Tampa Bay artists has been issued for the Benoist Airboat sculpture.

The monument will be an important recognition not just for St. Petersburg, "but something for the region to be proud of," Michaels said.

"Our goal is when people think of St. Petersburg, they should be thinking, oh, that's the birthplace of worldwide commercial aviation. The monument will tell that story and it is a representation of the spirit of the city today."

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Search is on for suspect, as police continue crash investigation and seek information.
  2. Luke Carl Neimi was arrested Thursday after Pinellas deputies said he was caught doing 145 mph on the Bayside Bridge. [Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]
    He told deputies he was just “having some fun,” according to an arrest report.
  3. Bank OZK CEO and chairman George Gleason, left, and managing director Greg Newman are photographed at the OZK Wynwood branch in Miami on November 13, 2019. [CARL JUSTE | Miami Herald] [Carlt Juste | Miami Herald]
    In fact, Bank OZK has emerged as a powerhouse in commercial lending generally.
  4. Delta Air Lines said Friday it will launch five new round-trip routes a day between Tampa and Miami starting May 4. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File) [MARK LENNIHAN  |  AP]
    Delta says the daily nonstop Miami service will create new connections for Tampa travelers to fly to Latin America and other international destinations.
  5. Chris Card, chief of community-based care for Eckerd Connects. His agency is now running the two biggest child welfare jurisdictions in Florida. [Tampa Bay Times]
    They are spending more time outside a permanent home as the county struggles to deal with an increase in removals.
  6. St. Petersburg police say Kristoff A. King, left, faces a murder charge in connection with the death of Scott Jenks, 48, whose body was found Tuesday morning in the parking lot of the Northgate Center parking lot at 1144 94th Ave. N [Alachua County Sheriff's Office]
    Scott Jenks, 48, was found dead in a St. Petersburg shopping center parking lot on Tuesday.
  7. Ex-St. Petersburg police Officer Matthew Enhoffer is set to plead guilty to one count of distribution of child pornography and one count of possession of child pornography. In this 2015 picture, he received the St. Petersburg Police Department's Medal of Valor for his actions in a shootout with a troubled teenager that year. [Tampa Bay Times]
    Matthew Enhoffer once received the Medal of Valor from the St. Petersburg Police Department. Now a federal judge will decide his fate.
  8. A Winn-Dixie store on W Swann Avenue in Tampa. |Times (2017)]
    The store, near a Publix and Target, was under-performing, according to the chain.
  9. A crash is causing a major backup in the northbound lanes of the Howard Frankland bridge this morning. [Florida Department of Transportation]
    A crash in the northbound lanes of Interstate 275 caused a major backup on the Howard Frankland Bridge Thursday morning.
  10. Church members hold hands and sing during the annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Interfaith Memorial Service. [CHRIS URSO  |  Tampa Bay Times (2011)]
    Hassan Shibly, CEO of the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Florida, says the U.S. must learn from its past.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement