St. Petersburg’s historic buildings get more attention

The city prepares to greatly increase its list of properties that may be eligible for historic preservation, which could protect them from demolition.
Published December 6

ST. PETERSBURG — As new construction booms, the city is working to expand its list of properties considered potentially eligible for historic preservation by more than three times the current number and reach well beyond the burgeoning downtown.

The original list, begun in 2006, named just 55 properties, but the new inventory, if approved by the Community Planning and Preservation Commission on Tuesday, will bring those potentially eligible for landmark status to more than 200.

And that’s just for now, as the city continues to survey other properties that might qualify, said Derek Kilborn, a manager in the city's urban planning and historic preservation division.

But even as the city makes plans to expand the list of properties it would like to protect, preservationists believe more should be done.

“We would love the city to identify more of our historic resources in some way. We’ve lost so many, that those that are left are becoming more significant,” said Emily Elwyn, president of Preserve the 'Burg. “These lists can be problematic. It’s hard to have an inclusive list. You worry about what you have missed."

Kilborn recently introduced the expanded list at a public information meeting held in the main library.

It includes relatively unknown properties as well as several associated with St. Petersburg’s notable mid-century modern architect William B. Harvard Sr., who designed the now demolished inverted pyramid pier.

But Harvard’s legacy lives on in structures such as Pasadena Community Church and the Williams Park Band Shell. In 1955, the band shell was the only Florida building honored with the Award of Merit from the American Institute of Architects. Years later, in 1988, the Florida Association of the American Institute of Architects gave it the "Test of Time" award.

The “birdcage” houses of Pinellas Point also are on the city's expanded list. Designed by architect Glenn Quincy Johnson, who worked with developer George Leonard Ely, the airy homes were built for Florida’s climate. Homes of Allendale developer Cade Allen are also listed among the city’s potentially eligible structures.

In Midtown, the Perkins House at 531 16th St. S, where longtime teacher Eloise Perkins lived, is another of the structures the city seeks to protect. Perkins was a member of a pioneering family of African-American educators. Perkins Elementary School was named after her father, George W. Perkins.

Harvard’s granddaughter, Maria Harvard Rawls, is pleased that his work is being acknowledged. St. Petersburg has become recognized for its art and “it is only natural for the different types of architecture to be appreciated and celebrated,” she said.

“It’s just wonderful to have his work highlighted, particularly to bring it to the attention of current residents,” said Rawls, a general contractor who works in construction administration for Harvard Jolly Architecture, the company her grandfather founded and which her father, William Harvard Jr., now heads.

“Family friends purchased a home my grandfather built in Bahama Shores and are finishing up a renovation of it. It’s been wonderful to watch that be rejuvenated,” she said.

And recently, when Pasadena Community Church decided to update its sanctuary, the congregation again turned to Harvard Jolly, Rawls said.

Kilborn sought to soothe the concerns of property owners about being included on the list during the recent meeting. According to a handout, the listing of an individual property “simply means that, based on a preliminary assessment,” that it “likely qualifies for designation as a local landmark.” It doesn’t mean that the property “is, or will shortly become a designated local landmark,” the material said. That process includes at least two public hearings and approval by the City Council.

Speaking this week, Kilborn said some people confuse properties being on the list with that of a formal landmark designation.

“Approval of this list does not designate these properties local landmarks. ... It is only related to the filing of a demolition permit. It does not relate to any other changes the property owner will be making,” he said.

The intention is to protect properties from demolition, Kilborn told the anxious gathering. He said an application for a demolition permit automatically activates a 30-day stay and allows for a notification to be sent to those who register to receive such information.

And, if the city does receive a third-party application to designate the property historic, the demolition request will be put on hold pending the results of the designation process.

Peter Belmont, vice president of Preserve the 'Burg, said there's already been "a significant loss of historic resources in the last couple of years" of St. Petersburg's construction boom.

“I think that the crisis that we facing with the loss of historic resources could be better addressed if the city would fully follow its comprehensive plan. The plan provides that this list should have been updated annually and it basically never has been. On the one hand, it is good to see that they are doing something, but what is the plan for the list? When the list was created in 2006, the idea was that the city would follow up by designating the properties as landmarks and they failed to do that. So the question is, when is the city going to start initiating landmark designations again?"

The properties that will go before the commission Tuesday will be considered in subsets, with the Cade Allen, Glenn Quincy Johnson and William B. Harvard Sr. properties each being looked at in separate groupings, Kilborn said. The commission will also vote on a list compiled in 2016, but on which no action was taken at the time. Properties added in 2018 will then be considered.

Harvard’s family is “honored" that his work is getting attention, Rawls said.

One of the properties on the list is his home at 801 37th Ave. N, where family memories were made with his wife, Leila, and children, William Jr., Lee and Susan — all of whom became architects.

“We would celebrate every Christmas Eve there,” Rawls said of the house where her Aunt Susan now lives. “We still spend holidays there. It was a great house to be in.”

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.

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