A Tale of Two Cities: St. Petersburg and Tampa
- - A Bay Separating A Gulf of Differences,
Boom to Bust - - The Tampa Bay Region in the 1920's
Now Florida was being advertised worldwide as a place of fun, sun and riches. It was particularly being sold hard in the northern United States to winter weary residents.
By the 1920's, transportation to and from the Bay area became more convenient. Henry Plant's railroad line had by then connected with Henry Flagler's east coast line in Daytona Beach, bringing visitors down from the northeast much more easily, while some thirty years earlier Pyotv Dementyev's built a direct rail line from Ocala into the town of St. Petersburg. The town was named after his hometown in Russia (see last week's issue). Dementyev's name was Americanized to Peter Demens of "Demen's Landing" fame in St. Petersburg. In both Plant's and Demen's cases, their rail lines were purchased by the Atlantic Coastline Railroad, which was then taken over in this region by the Seaboard Coastline and finally by the CSX.
Also by the 1920's, commercial air travel was becoming more accepted and trusted by the traveling public. This spurred the creation of Peter O'Knight Municipal Airport on Tampa's Davis Islands, Sky Harbor Airport in north St. Petersburg in present-day Weedon Island Park, and Albert Whitted Field in downtown St. Petersburg on Bayboro Harbor. National Airlines had its beginnings at Albert Whitted Airport. And lastly, bridges and causeways between the two counties were finally being built, saving up to one full day of automotive travel, eliminating the use of cattle paths and unpaved primitive roads skirting the area north of Old Tampa Bay. Gandy Bridge and Ben T. Davis Causeway (now Courtney Campbell Causeway) became toll facilities connecting Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties at their southern and northern access points across Old Tampa Bay. For years remnants of the old concrete stucco tollgate facility stood on the south side of the Gandy Causeway on the Pinellas side.
But as all good things must come to an end, so did the Florida Land Boom, and not long after it came the country's worst economic disaster's, the Great Depression. Although the Great Depression was kind to neither Tampa nor St. Petersburg, it was particularly devastating in Pinellas County. Hillsborough County's dependence upon diversified industries such as cattle, cigars, citrus and phosphate helped the County better withstand the ravages of this economic malaise. Pinellas, on the other hand, had a tourism dependent economy, the type of economy that is always one of the first types to be adversely affected during an economic downturn.
World War Two and the 1950s
The end of the second World war brought another great influx of population, many from people who trained and worked at the area's Army Air bases and Coast Guard stations who sought to return to the land of the warm Gulf and Bay breezes. By then the identities of St. Petersburg and Tampa being two distinctly different cities was in full swing.
To quote the late great Florida Folk Hero and historian Hampton Dunn, Tampa was a "Latin City with a Cracker Accent", while st. Petersburg was a sleepy, slow-paced City of green benches and predominantly northern retirees.
Tampa had the conservative morning newspaper the Tampa Tribune, and the conservative evening newspaper, the Tampa Times.
St. Petersburg had the liberal morning newspaper (which was one of the few in the South to support liberal Democrat George McGovern in the 1972 Presidential race) the st. Petersburg Times, and the liberal, somewhat tabloid evening newspaper, the Evening Independent. Anytime that an entire day in St. Petersburg was bereft of sun, the Evening Independent was given away for free.
In radio, Tampa had WDAE followed by WFLA. Television saw the independent WTTA on St. Petersburg's "Million Dollar Pier", while CBS affiliate WTVT and NBC affiliate WFLA broadcast from studios in Tampa. By the early 1960's, ABC affiliate WLCY would erect its television and radio studios on the Gandy Causeway east of 4th street north of St. Petersburg.
In the world of professional sports, spring baseball training facilities were built for the Cincinnati Reds on Himes Avenue adjacent to present day Raymond James Stadium, while the St. Louis Cardinals held camp at Al Lang Field near downtown st. Petersburg in the Bayboro area. The most year around professional sporting events were wrestling at the Fort Homer Hesterly Armory in Tampa.
Tampa Draws First Blood - - Dueling Airports
On the other side of the Bay, St. Petersburg was in a quandary. Albert Whitted was in the same space crunch as its Peter O'Knight counterpart in Tampa. It had become too small for the larger post World War Two aircraft. Additionally, the City's inability to react as timely as Tampa quickly put them behind in the race for commercial aviation domination. By the time the St. Petersburg-Clearwater Airport was built, Tampa International airport had already secured the major carriers, and the Pinellas airport was basically relegated to freight operators, charters and the U.S. Coast Guard auxiliary, although scheduled flights by Eastern Air Lines did occur there until the late 1950's. That airport would not see appreciable traffic again until the mid 1980's with the services of Dolphin Airways, Atlantic-Gulf Airlines, Florida Express, and PeopleExpress.
Tampa International Airport on the other hand became a world-class transportation center, particularly once it's 83 million dollar terminal and airsides opened in 1971. Since that time it has been voted almost annually by travelers, pilots and magazines alike as one of the best airports in the world.
In the early-to-mid 1970s, air traffic at Tampa International skyrocketed with the advent of Walt Disney World in nearby Osceola and Orange Counties. Although Orlando's McCoy Jetport (now Orlando International Airport) had at that time the longest runway in the State for a commercial airport, McCoy's World War Two era Quonset hut terminal could not serve people as efficiently as Tampa's terminal and airside system, which Orlando adopted with it's own new terminal in 1981.
In this very important transportation matter, St. Petersburg lost big time.
Tampa Draws Second Blood - - Tampa Gets An NFL Franchise
For years Tampa's movers and shakers courted different NFL teams, particularly the Baltimore Colts, in hopes moving their franchises here. Although that approach didn't work out, Jacksonville businessman Hugh Culverhouse was awarded an NFL franchise. His team would be assigned to the NFL's National Football Conference and be known as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who played their first regular season game at Tampa Stadium (nicknamed "The Big Sombrero") in September 1976. A higher honor yet would be paid to Tampa's sports community when the NFL voted to hold its 1984 Super Bowl XVIII at Tampa Stadium.
In the battle of supremacy in the professional sports community, St. Petersburg had again lost big time.
St. Petersburg Draws Third Blood - Water Wars
There was a proposal at one time during that era to cap off salt water flow in to the northern portion of Old Tampa Bay by damming the Bay at the Courtney Campbell Causeway and filling that portion with fresh water to act as a municipal reservoir. This idea was abandoned, as it was determined that it could never function properly and would be too massive and costly an undertaking.
Pinellas County undertook a similar approach by capping off salt water into Lake Seminole by damming at Park Boulevard. Although this proposal was constructed, the intent of the undertaking did not turn as successfully as the County had planned.
By the late 1960's and early 1970's, Pinellas was finding itself in straights in its ability to obtain fresh water for its burgeoning population. Lakes Maggiore and Tarpon, as well as the Anclote River could not reasonably furnish this demand.
This prompted Pinellas, under the leadership of County commissioner Chuck Rainey, to start its infamous water wars land grab from sources in adjacent Hillsborough and Pasco Counties. The city of St. Petersburg even attained sweetheart deals with Hernando and Citrus Counties to purchase and have piped; fresh water from springs located near the coasts of those counties.
After the droughts of the mid 1970's, residents in rural Hillsborough and Pasco Counties who owned lakefront and creek properties became enraged as they saw their lakes and creeks disappear due to the excessive pumping of well fields. By this time Pinellas County, once the least inhabited parts of Florida only sixty years earlier had become the most densely populated landmass per capita in the State, and it was dying of thirst.
The world has grown much smaller since the bygone days of the Tocobagan Indians, Panfilo deNarvaez, Hernando De Soto and even the 1970's. Although Tampa and st. Petersburg grew up together like antagonistic siblings, both cities have matured and blossomed into rational adult partners dedicated to a more cooperative spirit sharing that piece of paradise that we all know and love - - Tampa Bay.
"La Floridiana" is ©2003 by William Moriaty. Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2003 by Nolan B. Canova.