The Historic Old Northeast neighborhood was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. The concentration and diversity of early 20th century homes built on a grid of narrow brick streets with granite curbing and hexblock sidewalks, all shaded by a mature tree canopy, are hallmarks of the neighborhood. Maintaining these characteristics is a key objective of the neighborhood association, as the economic benefits of preservation are well known.
St. Petersburg has a landmarking program called the Local Register of Historic Places, an official listing of neighborhoods, properties, sites and buildings throughout the City that are architecturally and historically important to the community. To join this illustrious group, an owner must contact the city’s Historic Preservation Office to see if his or her property qualifies, and if so, make application to the City for approval.
In addition to ‘pride of place’, there are other benefits, and some obligations to the homeowner. Exterior alterations (other than routine maintenance) require review and approval by the City though the Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) process. (It may be of interest to note that since the historic preservation program began in 1987, 97% of all COA applications have been approved.) Interior changes are NOT reviewed unless they are part of an application for the City’s ad valorem tax relief program. This program entitles owners of eligible properties to a freeze on City and County taxes incurred from rehabilitating a historic property for a period of 10 years. Designated properties are also exempt from meeting the literal application of certain parts of the Florida Building Code.
Our Historic Districts and Landmarks
The Old Northeast is fortunate to have 10 local landmarks, and is home to Granada Terrace, a Local Historic District designated in 1988. More recently, three one-block areas – the 200 Block of 10th Avenue NE, the 700 Block of 18th Avenue NE and Welch’s Mediterranean Row (100 Block of 19th Avenue NE) – were designated as historic districts.
These districts and individual properties can be significant to the history of St. Petersburg in several ways: they are reminders of the cultural heritage of the city, are identified with people who contributed significantly to our city, were designed by noted architects, are exceptional examples of a particular architectural style, or feature particular construction materials.
The individual landmarks in the Old Northeast include:
The Vinoy Park Hotel, 501 5th Avenue NE – An excellent example of Mediterranean Revival architecture, the hotel opened on New Year’s Eve, 1925. Designed by architect Henry Taylor, it was the centerpiece of St. Petersburg’s skyline for many years. In the 1970s, it fell into disrepair and closed. Vacant for almost twenty years, its restoration and re-opening in 1992 were cause for celebration, particularly in the Old Northeast where the hotel is considered the cornerstone of the neighborhood.
The Jones-Laughner Residence, 556 Beach Drive NE – Built ca. 1909 by Dr. Louis Jones, City Physician and Health Officer, this home is an excellent example of Craftsman style architecture using rusticated concrete block construction. Virginia Burnside, a leader among St. Petersburg’s women who resided in the house during WWI, made significant contributions to the war effort. In the 1920s, the founder of the Vinoy Park Hotel, Aymer Vinoy Laughner, purchased the home for the use of hotel personnel. His son, Paul, and daughter-in-law eventually made it their home.
The Ridgely Residence, 600 Beach Drive NE – Dentist Roy Ridgely, builder of this home, was an “ardent booster of the Sunshine City”. He established the Eureka Stone and Paving Company, a pioneer in the concrete business in St. Petersburg. His Craftsman style home is an excellent example of the rusticated concrete block manufactured by his company.
The Robert West House (Pineapple House), 101 6th Avenue NE – This is the 1912 home of Robert West who designed the first concrete bridge and first concrete sea wall in St. Petersburg. His design talents were also applied to the first City-owned gas plant, and plans for building and financing the city’s road system.
The Boyce Guest House, 635 Bay Street NE – Built in the mid to late teens, this vernacular style residence provided tourists with comfortable accommodations for twenty years following World War II. Almost thirty years later, the daughter of the earlier hosts and her husband, purchased the home and established the Sunset Bay Inn.
The Thomas Whitted House, 656 1st Street N – Thomas Whitted, the builder of this 1911 vernacular style house, owned the largest lumber supply business in St. Petersburg. He and his wife, Julia, raised eleven children, one of whom was Albert who became an aviator and operated the first commercial charter air flights out of St. Petersburg’s airport (later named after him).
The Monticello Apartments, 730 3rd Street N – This c. 1909 Neoclassical Revival home is another example of rare rusticated concrete block construction. In the 1920s it was converted to apartments catering to seasonal guests, and after WWII, became home to a group of artists. Later returned to single-family use, it was moved from 3rd Avenue North to its current location in 2005.
The Pace Residence, 705 16th Avenue NE – This 1932 home, designed by architect Elliott B. Hadley and built by Helen Pace Lawler and her husband, is an excellent example of the Mediterranean Revival style. One of the City’s earliest professional businesswomen, Mrs. Pace Lawler’s shop, Sherman’s, offered the latest in fashion to the women of St. Petersburg for over 50 years.
Sunken Gardens, 1825 4th Street N – Plumber George Turner began gardening as a hobby, but eventually gave up the business to devote himself full-time to developing Turner’s Sunken Gardens, one of Florida’s famed “roadside attractions”. Originally specializing in fruits and tropical plants, over the years he added birds and other small animals to the attraction.
First Church of Christ, Scientist, 253 5th Avenue N – Currently known as the Palladium Theater, the building is an excellent example of Italian Renaissance style architecture. Designed by Howard Cheney and constructed by the George A. Fuller Construction Company in 1926, the floor plan is typical of early 20th century First Church of Christ, Scientist designs. For almost seventy years, the congregation worshipped at this location. In the 1990s, it was repurposed as the Palladium Theater.
Land Development Regulations (LDRs)
During St. Petersburg’s most recent review of the City’s Land Development (Zoning) Regulations (LDRs), HONNA was actively engaged in the process, attending public meetings, meeting with City Council members, and submitting input as part of the Neighborhood Review Committee. This Committee included Historic Kenwood, Crescent Lake and HONNA as the core group, with other neighborhoods participating.
The consensus among neighborhoods was that far too many of the new houses constructed after the 2007 LDR revision were too large and had a boxy and/or poorly designed appearance. Many of these houses did not fit into the neighborhood context – a phenomenon that is not unique to St. Petersburg; it is happening across the country.
Approximately 85 amendments were under consideration. Many of them were for clarification and consolidation, but several of them were substantive. The most important of these was the introduction of a Floor Area Ratio (FAR). This measurement of the square footage of all floors of a structure plus the garage, divided by the square footage of the lot, is used to control the size of buildings in many cities in Florida and other states.
Citywide, the average FAR historically was .30. For homes built since 2007, that number increased to .44 (an average living space of 2660 square feet). City staff proposed establishing a FAR standard that would make new construction proportionate to the size of the lot and would use a bonus point system to incentivize good design. Their proposal was for a base FAR of 0.50 and up to 0.20 bonus points for a possible total of .70.
The Review Committee’s research showed that this ratio was too high and would not adequately address the issue of oversized new construction in the Traditional neighborhoods. The City Council agreed with the Committee and voted unanimously that a base FAR of 0.40 and an allowance for specific design bonuses up to 0.20 to achieve a maximum FAR of 0.60 would be a more effective ratio for NT-2 and NT-3 Traditional neighborhoods such as Old Northeast. NT-1 Traditional neighborhoods will be subject to the staff’s 0.50 and 0.20 bonus proposal, and a FAR ratio will not apply to NS (Neighborhood Suburban) districts.
Applying the FAR in a NT-2 neighborhood, one could build a 2,300 square foot house on a typical 45 x 128 foot lot without the need to utilize bonuses and up to a 4,000 square foot home by improving design and maximizing bonuses.
The City’s website (http://www.stpete.org/planning_zoning/land_development.php) has more detailed information about all the changes which were adopted. Keep in mind that Old Northeast is composed of two zoning categories: NT-2 which includes 6th Avenue northward to the south side of 9th Avenue, and NT-3 which includes the north side of 9th Avenue to 30th Avenue.
Partnerships in Education
The publication of Souvenir of St. Petersburg, Views from the Vinoy has been our most ambitious project to date. Fifty copies of ‘Souvenir’ were donated by the Association to every elementary school in St. Petersburg, Gulfport, and Pinellas Park, and to private schools upon request. Working with Sunken Gardens and the Vinoy, Old Northeast has sponsored workshops for teachers and promoted field trips for students to both the Gardens and the Vinoy.
Joining with the Museum of History and St. Petersburg Preservation, Old Northeast participated (pre-Covid) in Box City, a project for high school geography students, and City Builders Camp for younger students. In both programs they learned about city planning, preservation, and history. Campers also planned and built a miniature city.
Click HERE for a copy of the Teacher’s Guide.
Three proposed development projects are currently threatening neighborhood structures. Here’s a summary of them and how to voice your concern.
Two of the three projects are being driven by Belleair Development. The first involves the Westminster sanctuary and school at 11th Avenue NE and 1st Street NE. Although the buildings have been granted local historic landmark status and enjoy a degree of protection from demolition, the developer is seeking to demolish the buildings and construct large single-family homes. It is the HONNA Board’s belief that the church and school could be profitably repurposed and made into apartments or condominiums.
The sanctuary has been a cornerstone of our community since 1925 and the school since the 1950s. For many years, the property has served as a “community center” for the neighborhood, hosting HONNA meetings and other local activities. The historic designation as a local landmark reflects the importance of this relationship as well as its architectural significance.
The second Belleair development is on 4th Street N and 28th and 29th Avenues N. The developer is proposing to demolish an existing house and request a ‘special exception’ for a parking lot. They are also requesting approval of a ‘special exception’ for a drive-through to service a Panera restaurant to be located at 2831 4th Street N.
Area residents are adamantly opposed to both proposals, citing negative impacts including loss of privacy, noise and light pollution, traffic, and exhaust from idling cars at the 4th Street site. The project is tentatively scheduled for review at a public hearing before the Development Review Commission on Wednesday, October 5th .
The third development involves the vacant Granada Terrace home at 100 23rd Avenue NE. Owner Canopy Builders desires to demolish the 1941 home and replace it with a newly constructed one.
Although the current home is not a contributing property within the Granada Terrace historic district, it is significant as it was part of a second wave of homes built in Granada Terrace.
In order to gain city permission to demolish and replace the home, the developer must prove that no reasonable beneficial use can be made of the existing home. City preservation staff will review the proposal and prepare a report and recommendation for the Community Planning and Preservation Commission (CPPC). Following a public hearing, the CPPC will make a recommendation to City Council who make the final determination, again at a public hearing during which the public may speak.
To voice your concerns about these proposals and their impact on the neighborhood and its residents, email the following city departments and copy HONNA: Derek.Kilborn@stpete.org (Manager, Urban Planning and Historic Preservation Division); Elizabeth.Abernethy@stpete.org (Director of Planning and Development); Dave.Goodwin@stpete.org (Zoning Department); HONNApresident@gmail.com.