Saturday, January 07, 2006

Gods Waiting Room or Wrinklerama Plaza

I spent most of my life in St. Petersburg, Florida. Back then it was a haven for the elderly. I'd be there today but the sleepy little tourist town with the green benches has become a city with all the appendent urban problems. Back then in the summer you could fire a cannon down Central Ave., the main drag and not hit a soul. I have stood in the middle of Forth street and Central Avenue, the center of the business district, and not seen a moving car in any direction and that was in the daytime. Then the first of October the snowbird migration would begin until it hit it's peak in March with baseball spring training. The last day of April was the mass evacuation of all these "yankees" and St. Pete went back to sleep.

Back then the railroad ran as in many southern towns through downtown and in St. Pete, a peninsula, terminated there very close to Webb's City. Back when rail was the travel of choice, winter visitors would pour off the train and into the many small seasonal hotels and guest houses in the area. Now the train terminates in Tampa and one is bussed to the depot away from downtown.

I remember when I achieved my twefth birthday I was invited by the Boy Scouts to a bithday celebration for all the boys in town with birthdays that month. It was 1952 and, of course, kids of color were excluded. There were maybe twenty five of us at the building on the pier approach that the last time I was there was a senior center. I never did join the scouts but I did know kids that did.

This was the old Municipal Pier. It was like a community center where all the old people would gather and play cards. Around the perimeter of the open central area were little stalls selling everything Florida from Orange Blossom Perfume (a classic scent) to stuffed alligators and post cards such as this. I worked on the pier at WSUN Radio & TV. I did the midnight to six air shift and then ran the one person art department. It was a great place to work except the year we had to evacuate the station due to the hurricane.

This is the pier today. It has a restaurant and I worked there too. There's a bunch of shops and other stuff.

Up until the sixties this was retirement central. I remember the furor when that bastion of capitalism across Alligator Alley, Miami, accused St. Pete of being an old folks home or something to that effect. Words, and if I remember correctly green benches, were exchanged. The green benches which lined the downtown area were an icon of the elderly. I can remember being the only person under sixty on a crowded bus.

The St. Petersburg I knew has changed. It's part of that megalopolis now known as "Tampa Bay" with all the problems and amenities so prevalent in large urban areas. It must still be a great place to live because people flock there and pay outrageous prices for housing. But gone are most of the green benches and the quiet summer nights along the bayfront. The gulf beaches have become so commercial you almost have to rent the sand. I left because I thought I was developing terminal "laid back". It's a malady like sticky arm from freshly picked Mangos that has been eradicated.

More pictures from the old St. Pete and the new here .


Blogger GUYK said...

Yep. I remember wehn 4th street had all the laight poles painted in barber shop red and white stripes-I reckon so the old folks could see them and not drive into them.

I had to get out of the Bay area-just too many people and too much traffic. But there are still a lot of places in Florida-and other places in the south- that are laid back with a slow pace of living.

6:57 AM  
Blogger Bonita said...

I like old photographs, like these. Its always interesting looking back and seeing how things change. And how they shape us. Your wanting to get away, so as to not 'flatten out' was good. Youth is a time for energy and exploration, zest and experience.

8:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i am a 3rd generation tampa bay floridian. My grandmother worked at WSUN as a secretery in the late 50's early 60's until her death at the age of 45 in 1965. Was wondering when you worked there.Trying to find out any info on her. Her name was Mary Elizabeth White O'Leary (went by Betty). She would have been 20 yrs older than you.
Ann White Laferriere

12:57 PM  

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