The original St. Petersburg economic boom of almost 100 years ago resulted in an abundance of beautiful homes with iconic architectural styles such as Craftsman and Mediterranean Revival.
With downtown again in the middle of a major development boom, the city helps neighborhood districts preserve that distinctive architecture through designation on the St. Petersburg Register of Historic Places in addition to the more widespread, largely honorary national register.
In mid-November St. Petersburg Preservation (SPP) coordinated a highly attended program describing the city’s recently adopted “Design Guidelines for Historic Properties” at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Mirror Lake. Architect Paul Palmer, an author of the guidelines, and Derek Kilborn, manager of St. Petersburg’s urban planning and historic preservation efforts, described the major historic architectural styles and the process of obtaining local designation.
This designation ensures that proposed exterior alterations to historic houses are reviewed by city staff or, if major, by the Community Planning and Preservation Commission (CPPC). The purpose of the review is to make sure that changes to properties are consistent with their historic appearance and materials. Approval results in the issue of a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA). Local and national register designations also provide economic incentives, including property and income tax exemptions and credits.
There are now six local historic districts in St. Petersburg, all within nationally designated districts. Historic Roser Park along Booker Creek in Midtown and Granada Terrace in Historic Old Northeast were the first districts named, in 1987 and 1988, followed by Historic Lang’s Bungalow Court off of 4th Avenue North in 2014. Activity increased sharply this year with three districts added: Old Northeast’s 18th Avenue 700 block and 10th Avenue 200 block, as well as Historic Kenwood’s Seminole Park near the Grand Central Business District.
Historic Roser Park
Largely built by the mid-1920’s, Historic Roser Park is the largest local historic district with 146 homes. Tucked away south of the major medical centers on 6th Street South, it is one of St. Petersburg’s most unique neighborhoods, with surprisingly hilly topography and parkland on the north shore of Booker Creek. It features rusticated block walls, brick roads and steep stairways.
The architecture is primarily Folk Vernacular and Craftsman. Wooden-framed Folk Vernacular, reflecting local traditions and materials rather than a formal style, was prevalent during St. Petersburg’s earliest period of construction. Craftsman “bungalows” were the most popular form of housing in America in the early 20th century, with broad, large porches, columns across the front and relatively small layouts.
Roser Park became rundown in the mid 20th Century, and by the 1970s, 85 percent of the homes were rented. Many houses were demolished in that era to make way for a connection to 8th Street and for hospital construction.
The condition and shrinkage of the era led to resident activism and Roser Park’s historic district designation. Kai Warren, a long-term resident who gives walking tours of the area, indicates that over the past 30 years the architectural history has been protected, home ownership and property values have grown, neighboring residential areas have grown more stable and, he said, “Sense of community has helped keep crime relatively low compared to other areas.”
Granada Terrace, along the west side of Coffee Pot Bayou, was laid out in 1924 by prominent local developer Perry Snell as an exclusive subdivision and park. The houses were originally restricted to Mediterranean Revival style, featuring Spanish roof tiles or parapet caps, and often walled rear gardens and terraces. There are now 67 houses, with 51 percent Mediterranean Revival and 39 percent ranch-style houses. Some concern has been expressed by Historic Old Northeast residents about the process of obtaining COAs for planned alterations. But the City notes that last year 99 percent of COA applications were ultimately approved, with 91 percent by quick staff reviews.
Lang’s Bungalow Court
Tiny Lang’s Bungalow Court, with 11 houses tucked away between 3rd and 4th Avenues North and 8th and 9th Streets, was planned by former St. Petersburg Mayor Al Lang, an original resident, and completed in 1926. The subdivision was inspired by California bungalow courts with Craftsman houses facing across a pedestrian hexagonal block walkway and auto access limited to rear alleyways.
Kerry Rund says Lang’s Court was badly in need of preservation when she and her husband bought the Al Lang house in 2010. They restored the house to its original condition and helped the court gain approval for the local historic designation. She said, “The city has been wonderful in supporting the court. The designation helps the value of our houses. Without it we’d be looking at parking lots.”
Emma and John Holland recently converted the upstairs porch of their Lang Court home to a closed-in art studio. They say the process was not onerous, and a benefit of local designation is commercial/residential zoning, which allows Emma to practice fine arts at the house.
The Old Northeast neighborhood just north of downtown is one of the largest national historic neighborhoods in Florida, containing 2,975 buildings with many Craftsman, Mediterranean Revival and Colonial Revival houses. It now contains three local historic districts with the ten-house 18th Avenue and 14-house 10th Avenue blocks added this year, in addition to Granada Terrace.
Robin Reed, an SPP and Historic Old Northeast Neighborhood Association board member, said, “More people are realizing what happens when homes are torn down and replaced by out-of-scale houses that don’t fit in with their neighbors.” Reed’s home is individually designated as a historic landmark. When she and her husband were ready to renovate, they applied for the tax abatement program, which exempted the resulting increase in their property taxes for a ten-year period.
The Seminole Park area, with 24 mostly Craftsman homes surrounding the park, was also just designated in November. The overall Historic Kenwood neighborhood is rich in architecture, with 52 percent Craftsman as well as Tudor Revival, Colonial Revival and other styles.
Historic Kenwood Neighborhood Association President Brenda Gordon notes that the area fell into decline in the 1970s and 80s, but has rebounded strongly with the growth of the Grand Central District and downtown, and has won three national awards for its revitalization efforts. The 19th annual Bungalow Fest home tour in November showcased the area’s architectural diversity.
Gordon indicates it is a significant effort to obtain local designation, which requires a detailed application demonstrating the district’s architectural history with copies of all public notices to all residents within 200 feet of the proposed designation area, application fees, public CPPC and City Council meetings, and approval of the proposed district’s residents. Nonetheless, Gordon has already fielded inquiries from residents of three additional Kenwood districts.
More than 50 percent of residents’ approval is required and ballots not returned are counted as NO votes. If an area applies for local designation and is turned down, it must wait five years before applying again. Considering these city rules, residents are incentivized to create small area applications to ensure they are approved, according to SPP VP Peter Belmont. The three districts approved in 2017 were all small areas within much larger, distinct neighborhoods. Belmont continues to see interest from historic neighborhoods, including Driftwood on Big Bayou, south of downtown, and the “Bird Cage” homes in Pinellas Point.
To learn more about obtaining local designation, search “Design Guidelines for Historic Properties” to view that document on the City of St. Petersburg’s website. For more about St. Petersburg Preservation events, walking tours, and membership, visit www.stpetepreservation.org.