ST. PETERBURG — Passersby might not know its name, but most are likely to remember the colorful doors of red, orange, green, blue, purple and yellow.
The quaint assemblage of apartments with rainbow-hued doors, chimneys dotting a red roof, and sprawling between 24th and 25th avenues N on Fourth Street, is the Holiday Motel.
It has been a fixture on the block for more than seven decades.
Now, though, the motel that once beckoned throngs of tourists may be razed to make way for a retail project by Pennsylvania-headquartered Armstrong Development Properties.
But Preserve the ‘Burg, the group whose mission is “to keep St. Pete special,” is intent on saving the old motel and has filed an application to get it designated a local landmark. The motel is already on a list of properties the city considers potentially eligible for the designation, but that's not enough, preservationists say.
“It’s just a list. It has no level of protection," Preserve the ‘Burg president Emily Elwyn said.
"The landmark designation process allows us to slow down and determine if this is important to us, if this is a place that matters to us.”
Neither the Holiday Motel's owners, Ramnarace and Marva Jagdeo, nor Armstrong Development, whose website includes CVS pharmacies and Publix supermarkets among its projects, responded to attempts to reach them.
In documents submitted to the city, Armstrong Development acknowledged that the motel is potentially historic, but noted that the Jagdeos have “attempted to sell the property for several years and any such conveyance will result" in demolition.
The developer has discussed its plans with the Crescent Heights Neighborhood Association. Two single family homes behind the motel also will be demolished, neighborhood president Jen Wright said. The homes — owned by the Jagdeos — will make way for parking, she said.
Residents also learned that the new retail space could include a nail salon, tanning salon and a couple of grab-and-go restaurants, Wright said. Armstrong Development said the strip would have little impact on the neighborhood, she said.
“We appreciate the Holiday Motel’s historical significance, but there does seem to be a divided opinion about the best use of that retail space,” Wright said.
“We do feel that the proposed developer has been very receptive to residents’ concerns and we’d love a solution that would allow the current development to proceed, while still allowing the historic façade to remain.”
PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Fourth Street’s mom and pop motels are a dying breed
The application to demolish the motel was filed on Dec. 20, but its potentially eligible listing automatically triggered a 30-day stay. Preserve the ‘Burg filed its application just hours before the deadline.
Derek Kilborn, manager of the city’s urban planning and historic preservation division, said the group's bid to make the motel a local landmark was "the only tool" it had to get it "in front of the Community Planning and Preservation Commission."
The commission will review the application on April 9, then send its recommendation to the City Council. The application is considered a "third-party designation over owner objection" and will require a supermajority council vote, Kilborn said. That means six of the eight council members will have to vote in favor of a designation. If fewer than eight members are present, a minimum of five votes would be required.
“We hate to do third-party applications. It’s very difficult, but we decided it was important to the community,” said Elwyn, who described the Holiday Motel as "an excellent example of early 20th century roadside architecture."
The earliest motels were built to look like cottages and homes, she said. "To have one of these very early motels is very important. This is the only one around.”
Elwyn believes that Armstrong Development should incorporate the motel into its plans. “It just takes a little bit of creativity," she said. "I think it’s an excellent candidate for that.”
Fourth Street has evolved since its heyday as motel row. The Holiday Motel flourished at a time when tourists cruised the thoroughfare for its many offerings of places to stay while visiting St. Petersburg attractions and Pinellas County beaches.
The Holiday is one of the few that remain. Originally called the Wilmarth Apartments, it took its name from L.E. and Mame Wilmarth, who, according to Tampa Bay Times' archives, began construction in 1939. Harlan Gregory, whose career spanned teaching, politics, construction and real estate, bought it in 1953 and a number of owners followed after he sold it in 1957. The Jagdeos have owned the property since 1986.
These days, motels might be out of vogue along Fourth Street, but the stretch is still in demand.
“It continues to be a desirable market for new development in St. Pete,” said Christian Yepes, co-owner of Belleair Development Group, based in Pinellas Park.
“Fourth Street actually continues to grow and show strong sales numbers. It continues to be a great market that retailers will target for future expansion.”
Contact Waveney Ann Moore at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.