Education Feb '17 History

St. Pete High School – The Early Years and Lasting Traditions

SPHS Photo Credit: Ebyabe, Wikimedia Commons

Today, St. Petersburg High School is a bustling campus of nearly 2,300 students. It is well known for its stately building, its many peculiar traditions, and the students’ fierce pride and school spirit. The school’s extensive history began with the history of St. Petersburg itself. Though today the city of St. Pete is large and diverse, it was once just a little settlement by a railroad stop, with small a fishing industry.

The school humbly began in 1888 with 29 students in a rural, one-room schoolhouse referred to only as School Number 83. Through increased use of the railroad and the growth of the fishing industry, St. Petersburg became an official town. By 1892, the tiny school taught a student body of 74 in its location near Central Avenue, between 9th and 10th Streets.

Photo Credit: James G. Howes, Wikimedia Commons
Photo Credit: James G. Howes, Wikimedia Commons

As St. Pete’s population grew and grew, the school needed to expand, as well. In December of 1894, a new $7,000 facility debuted. The facility, initially called the Graded School, was a two-story building with seven rooms. It officially became St. Petersburg High School in 1898; and by 1901, the school had graduated its first student, Annie Bradshaw. Her graduation spurred St. Pete High’s lasting school spirit.

The school soon adopted its colors of green and white in 1908, and began to offer more sports to athletes in the following years. Additionally, the school’s football team (formerly the Saints) adopted today’s name of the Green Devils. After Executive Director of the Pinellas County Historical Commission Ralph Reed yelled, “Go, you green devil, go!” at a player clad in green and white, the school’s mascot was born.

Photo credit: Ebyabe, Wikimedia Commons
Photo credit: Ebyabe, Wikimedia Commons

Stories like this have helped to cultivate St. Pete High’s lively personality from the early days of the school. Even The Palmetto and Pine, the school’s student newspaper, often featured quirky jokes, such as, “Save your pity, I have a dog that growls, a parrot that swears, a lamp that smokes, and a cat that stays out late at night. So, what do I need a husband for?”

The student body loved to promote its sense of community as well. Students even created the Bobbed Hair Club and the Lard Head Club in the early 1920s to show off their favorite trends of the era. The ‘20s also brought about a physical expansion of the school. In 1926, a one-million dollar school facility, designed by William B. Ittner, was opened and dedicated, thanks to the efforts of the Superintendent of St. Petersburg Public Schools George M. Lynch. The Palmetto and Pine stated after the building’s opening, “It is an inspiration to walk toward it…to see the sun on the red-tiled roof. Inside, one is almost lost at first.” The now-famous Green Devil pride continues to thrive in this beautiful, Mediterranean-style structure on Fifth Avenue North and 27th Street today.

SPHS Photo Credit: Ebyabe, Wikimedia Commons
SPHS Photo Credit: Ebyabe, Wikimedia Commons

The new facility opened up many opportunities for students. The tennis courts, baseball field and football field created official homes for the athletic programs. The “enormous auditorium with a stage as large as those in the greatest theaters in the world” hosted productions such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream from the Public Speaking Club and Successful Calamity from the Drama Club. By 1928, the school’s musicians had composed the Alma Mater. The lyrics were written by a former teacher, Margaret Sue Burney, and speak to the school building itself and its generations of students in the words, “Time will not change you; your spirit will never die.”

The Alma Mater’s words remain true to 2017’s St. Pete High. Students still avoid stepping on the image of their Green Devil mascot on the floor of the main hallway. The student body still proudly sports its colors of green and white at football games. Many enjoy lunch in the Junior and Senior Courtyards, with underclassmen traditionally remaining in the Junior Courtyard and upperclassmen in the Senior. Students’ birthdays are celebrated with laundry baskets of junk food that they carry through the halls. Teachers, with the help of upperclassmen, pass along infamous ghost stories of the building.

From its humble beginnings as a one-room schoolhouse to the large campus it encompasses in 2017, St. Pete High’s history lives on through tradition and pride in the school that was born with its city.

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