Today’s Old Northeast neighborhood, represented by the Historic Old Northeast Neighborhood Association (HONNA), was the first established neighborhood in St. Petersburg. Its amenities, proximity to downtown, parks and coherent sense of neighborhood are as relevant today as they were when it was established a century ago. An article in the July 1, 2001 St. Petersburg Times described the neighborhood as follows:
If the heart of St. Petersburg is its downtown. The city’s soul probably resides in the North Shore area. It was there, in the section now called Old Northeast, that St. Petersburg blossomed from a village of farmers’ homesteads to a town born of boom-time prosperity.
It thrives still, having the oldest and perhaps most influential neighborhood association in the city. Most of St. Petersburg’s movers and shakers have lived at one time or another in a North Shore neighborhood…”
Our neighborhood originally was comprised of pine trees, palmettos, sand flats, salt marshes, and several streams, ponds, and artesian wells. Today’s Sunken Gardens was a lake, fed in part by runoff from nearby Crescent Lake. The land has a natural downward slope from 4th Street to the waterfront; the highest elevation is just over 40 feet near 9th Avenue N and 4th Street N. Prior to development, the shoreline north of 5th Avenue had white sand bluffs four to five feet high and a sandy beach below.
During the late 1800s, the area was home to small farms, mostly citrus groves. In the more modern era, noted land developer C. Perry Snell was instrumental in the inception of our neighborhood for residential purposes. In 1905, he started on a small scale by organizing the Bayshore Land Company with F.A. Wood, A.E. Hoxie and A.C. Clewis. They developed the area east of 1st Street from 5th Avenue to 12th Avenue North. They leveled the land, laid streets, added water, sewer and additional services and then promoted the area as the “premier residential address.” They sold lots for subdivisions named Bayshore (5th to 8th Avenue) and Bayfront (9th to12th Avenue).
In 1910, Snell continued his efforts by teaming with J.C. Hamlett. They purchased 600 acres from 13th Avenue to the tip of Coffeepot Bayou. This rugged land was filled with palmetto scrub, creeks and ponds. Their changes included trolley lines, seawalls, sidewalks and a waterfront park. They called this new subdivision the North Shore. In 1925, Snell started Granada Terrace. He specified that all houses be stucco and built in Spanish or Italian style and painted specific exterior colors.
Residential development was brisk in the enlarged area but declined significantly during the Great Depression. Over the next couple of decades, new homes slowly occupied vacant lots until the neighborhood was built-out by the 1950s. In the 1960s and 1970s, the appeal of new suburbs prompted homebuyers to look elsewhere, and the neighborhood began a sad decline. To help stem the downward slide, the neighborhood association was founded in 1974.
Prompted by a new desire for urban living and tax laws that favored home rehabilitation, the neighborhood began a renaissance in the 1980s. After being threatened with demolition about the same time, the historic Vinoy Hotel underwent a total restoration and re-opened in 1992, inspiring a keener interest in the surrounding neighborhood of historic homes. The wide array of early 20th century residential styles and sizes has been an inspiration to renovation enthusiasts since then.
Those and other preservation efforts were rewarded with the designation of our neighborhood in 2003 as a landmark in the National Register of Historic Places. Within our neighborhood, many areas, including the Grenada Terrace subdivision, have since received Local Historic District designation by the City of St. Petersburg, providing an additional level of preservation protection.
The Old Northeast Neighborhood continues to be characterized by waterfront green space, brick streets and alleys, granite curbs, oak tree canopies, front porches and hexagon block sidewalks. It’s the proud home of approximately 2,500 households.