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La Floridiana by Will Moriaty
   Now in our ninth calendar year
    PCR #439  (Vol. 9, No. 34)  This edition is for the week of August 18--24, 2008.

Let's Stroll Historic Roser Park! The Fabulous Architecture of the Tampa Bay Region, Part 10  by William Moriaty
"The Rocker"  by Mike Smith
DVD Review: "Frogs"  by ED Tucker
DVD Grindhouse: "War of the Planets" (1977) by Andy Lalino
Pop Culture Potpourri  by Lisa Ciurro
Welcome To The Trop .... Gene Upshaw .... Citrus Park Loss .... A "Little" Problem  by Chris Munger
I Hate Being Sick .... 11 Delegates Behind??? WTF .... So Long Gene .... Cancer Test  by Matt Drinnenberg
 by Mike Smith
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Let's Stroll Historic Roser Park!
The Fabulous Architecture of the Tampa Bay Region, Part 10

To Light a Flame You Need a Spark
My boyhood fantasy of the perfect life was to live life frolicking in the mangroves and tropical waters of Coral Key in the NBC-TV series "Flipper". In my mind nothing could be more cool than swimming the canals of the Florida Keys with that adorable finned version of "Lassie".

Well, that fantasy never materialized, but I recently had the pleasure and honor to meet a Florida Folk Hero who had a boyhood that would've ranked as a second choice fantasy of mine.

Kai Warren is a native of St. Petersburg, Florida. His father was a doctor, and when he wasn't busy being a doctor, he was busy being an archaeologist. He would pack up digging gear and a young Kai into the family VW Beetle van and head out to Indian mounds and other archaeological sites throughout West Central Florida. As we were munching on Chattaburgers at the Chattaway restaurant (see PCR #437) after the June 28th tour he led our group on, he reflected about having to dig the van out of the sand on occasions and his father teaching him to drive it so that if the father had a heart attack during one of their journeys, young Kai could drive him to a hospital.

As a result of these memorable childhood experiences, Kai's knowledge and admiration of the Tocobaga Indians, the Tampa Bay area's original tribe, and of St. Petersburg, was a wellspring of knowledge to those gathered around the dinner table which in addition to myself included Pinellas Point historian Gerry Lembke, Pinellas Point civic activist Barbara Hawkins, and Temple Terrace architect and civic activist Grant Rimbey. Undoubtedly Kai's love of history, particularly the history of his home town, spurred him to action in later life.

In 1981 Kai and his two brothers moved to the Roser Park section of St. Petersburg. Like so much of America's inner cities at that time, white flight to the suburbs between the 1950's and 1970's left much of Roser Park, once one of the city's crown jewels, in a dilapidated, abandoned and crime infested state.

But Kai was and is a visionary who understands the importance of history and how through connecting with and learning from it it rather than shunning it, the future can be be better for all of us. As Kai stated so succinctly in the Poynteronline column of July 2., 2006, "These are beautiful homes and if they're neglected, they'll be lost." In response to criticisms about the gentrification of Roser Park possibly leading to the rising cost of housing and property taxes, Kai went on to say, "You can't blame people who are fixing up historic houses, bringing business in and kicking out crime."

In the spirit of the like-minded people gathered that day Kai is fighting for the future with a reverence towards the past. As a past president of the Roser Park Neighborhood Association he, along with other neighborhood activists, has been instrumental in providing input to the City of St. Petersburg on matters of high concern to the neighborhood's residents, including:

  1. The fate of Booker Creek, the neighborhood's natural focal point.
  2. The use of certain architectural materials for reconstruction or new construction of public facilities, such as rusticated block retaining walls and hex block sidewalks in order to ensure the neighborhood's continued authenticity and preservation, and most impressively,
  3. The placement of historic markers along the creek that give the neighborhood's history through the use of reproductions of old Burgert Brothers photos of Roser Park's heyday.
  4. The acquisition of various grants to improve the appearance and enhance the quality of life of the community.

To point it point-blank, Kai Warren has done a magnificent job in sparking the flame to get this unique part of Florida restored to its former glory and recognized for what a gem to the City of St. Petersburg it truly is.

The Tour
On the morning of June 28, 2008, Grant Rimbey and I first ran into Ray Wunderlich III and his wife Jennifer. Ray is a native plant enthusiast who grew up on the pink streets of St. Petersburg's Pinellas Point neighborhood. As a child he tore up the adjacent Hirrihigua Indian Mound racing his bike around the neighborhood. Now as an adult, he has been instrumental in restoring the Mound back to its former glory. It turns out that his wife Jennifer, who was already busy snapping photos of the area for her Flickr site, taught at one of the same schools as my cousin Dave Markwood!

Grant on the other hand, moved as a small child to Temple Terrace, Florida in the late 1960's where his father was a part of the University of South Florida's Engineering college. After Grant spent time out in Texas to complete his education, he moved back to Temple Terrace and fell in love with the home town of his childhood, lovingly and passionately embracing its history, as evidenced by his stint as President of the Temple Terrace Preservation Society. He even moved into a beautiful Mid-Century Modern house similar to one he grew up in as a child some four decades earlier.In addition to his love of that city's Meditteranean Revival and Mid-Century Modern houses, Grant is on a mission to rebuild a bat tower that was housed along the west banks of the Hillsborough River until destroyed by arsonists in 1979. But more on him, Gerry Lembke and Barbara Hawkins later.

We stood alongside Booker Creek south of Ingleside Street only several blocks west of where this ten mile long creek empties into Bayboro Harbor. Kai then walked over and introduced himself and pointed out the improvements that the neighborhood association had in mind for the creek, and bristled with joy when exclaiming that for the first time, a Manatee was recently sighted swimming the creek at this location.

Pinellas Point residents Gerry Lembke and Barbara Hawkins then joined us and Kai started on a one mile westward trek along the banks of Booker Creek that would end at Campbell Park looking westward toward the towering Tropicana Stadium.

One of the several visionary members of our group, Barbara Hawkins immediately seized upon the creek and pondered aloud, "Wouldn't it be great to make Booker Creek accessible by canoe or kayak from Lake Booker all the way to Bayboro Harbor?"

Undeniably it would Barbara!

After having finished our July 19, 2008 walking field assessment "dress rehearsal" of the entire 1.6 mile long Little Bayou Creek watershed, Ray Wunderlich III and I will plan within the year to tackle a field assessment of the 10-mile long Booker Creek watershed. Hopefully we will find out in this assessment that Barbara's vision is something that could become a reality in the future.

The initial part of the journey was on level terrain, but seemingly every foot westward saw a rise to the land that culminated in a sloping terrain close to 30' to 40' on both sides of Booker Creek about mid way into the tour. The south side, where the majority of Roser Park's most notable house were located, had the most severe slopes leading down to the creek and its immediate south side, the narrow, winding Augusta brick street bearing the neighborhood's name.

The houses and their yards were simply incredible. The crammed, curving and sloping streets were more reminiscent of San Francisco than St. Petersburg. Rusticated block retaining walls, some over 10' in height, were all that were keeping yards, both manicured and jungle-like from washing down the ravines into Booker Creek.

Kai pointed out the history of many of these houses and even compared a few existing homes that could be seen in the Burgert Brothers photos of close to nine decades earlier. The morning was bright and sunny and perfect for an excursion of this type. Kai pointed out that the neighborhood's Historic Greenwood Cemetery is where the majority of St. Petersburg's early pioneers, mayors and movers and shakers were buried. The web site to this historic landmark is worth the visit alone, and to prove that it is indeed more than chance that fate seems to bring us together, PCR publisher Nolan Canova should know that he has kin interred there in the likes of Andrew P., Rowena G. and Infant Canova! (See Page 21 of this PDF file). No matter where I seem to go, a Canova is there! Since Grant Rimbey's ancestors were from St. Augustine, I wouldn't doubt that they knew some Canova's way back when! Sheesh!

Back to the story at hand...
As the nearby ravine got more severe, so did the architectural response to it. Houses varied from Greek Revival to Mediterranean Revival. Long flights of marble or concrete steps left the street level of Roser Park Drive South and climbed skyward through backyards with lush lawns or lush tropical foliage. One architectural response was simply to build a Tudor style house at the street level of Roser Park Dive South and build it vertically into a three story high structure so that front door access would be at the crest of the ravine and back door access on the first floor. The yards of some houses with their overgrown tropical foliage could have passed for stand-ins of the house on Mockingbird Lane on the old TV-Show, The Munsters. They were of course amongst my favorites (I'll bet that walking Roser Park Drive South and the immediate neighborhood on a crisp, clear and breezy fall evening at sunset near Halloween is a joy to behold)!

But as we got further west, I was the most impressed with a gorgeous white and turquoise Prairie Style house on the north side of Booker Creek. As we neared the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street South bridge over Booker Creek and Roser Park Drive South (yes that's right, over Roser Park Drive South) Kai lamented on how 39 of the neighborhood's original houses were destroyed to make way for that structure.

Once we passed west of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street South, we entered the Campbell Park neighborhood where we saw marble curbs on the street and marble steps leading to houses that no longer existed. We then walked onto an overflow parking area several blocks east of Tropicana Stadium. Now, rather than walking at the level of Booker Creek as we did in the Historic Roser Park Neighborhood, we were looking down a chasm 20' to 30' deep where although a ditch, the creek was not channelized with concrete walls as was the case in the Historic Roser Park Neighborhood.

After almost two hours of a tour by one of St. Petersburg's most fascinating residents, our tour was basically over. Ever the visionary, Kai looked out over Campbell Park to the northwest and exclaimed "Wouldn't that be a great place for an outdoor amphitheater?".

Undeniably it would, Kai!

One of the first houses along Roser Park Drive South as one heads from the east that showcases the rise in elevation of the hillside running to the south of that street.The three story Tudor house, looking more like it belongs in the Alps adds to the cosmopolitan flavor of the Historic Roser Park Neighborhood. The architectural solution was simply to build the house at the street level of Roser Park Dive South and build it vertically into a three story high structure so that front door access would be at the crest of the ravine and back door access on the first floor.
This beautiful Greek Revival house has a pergola half way up its back yard stepped pathway from Roser Park Drive South. A Date Palm (Phoenix dactylifera) on the left and a Royal Palm (Roystonea elata) on the right of the stepped pathway add verticality to the surrounding terrain. Imagine the view from that second story balcony!What I endearingly nick name "The Munster" house, sparsely seen through a thicket of tropical foliage perched atop the rusticated block retaining wall along Roser Park Drive South, gazes down as we leisurely stroll the neighborhood. A closer look at the house shows it to be in much better condition, however, than the house that made Fred Gwynne famous.
One of Roser Park Drive South's Mediterranean Revival houses.An intersection showcasing the verticality of the neighborhood and its winding narrow Augusta block brick streets that abruptly end at Roser Park Drive South. At the top of the hill with a long stairway leading to it is a bungalow style house.
Another Tudor style house sitting way atop the hill!One of the few examples of a Prairie Style house is this beautifully painted white and aqua structure located north of Booker Creek. Note the use of the rusticated block retaining wall in front of the house.

As unique and interesting as the Prairie Style house mentioned immediately above is its next door neighbor, this almost modern looking Prairie Style house with hints of Mediterranean Revival elements in its design.

"La Floridiana" is ©2008 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 ©2008 by Nolan B. Canova.