In late June leaders and citizens of St. Petersburg along with members of the design teams broke ground on the new St. Petersburg Pier (and Pier District). It will be the fifth pier to jut out into Tampa Bay at the end of Second Avenue North.
The original city-owned pier, built in 1889 as a railroad trestle by the Orange Belt Railway, was also promoted as a recreational area for tourists and residents.
In 1926 the “Million Dollar” pier was built offering a huge second floor room to the delight of clubs, dance groups, shows, card players and more.
On the southwest end in the late 1940s and early ’50s, the Pier Drive-In was a popular hangout for teenagers. The
ground level of the big structure was filled with tourist shops selling Florida goods, ice cream, orange juice squeezed right in front of customers, and every kind of souvenir of the south. Several food entities also popped in and out over time.
A yearly Home Show was a highlight event no one missed. The Wonder Bread bakery always gave away a small loaf of its bread (and you could go by or seconds), hardware stores handed out yard sticks and everyone came away with bag full of free “stuff.” It was a great place for local high schools to hold proms and dances; it was fun to decorate and the view was wonderful. Another attraction was the pelican house on the southwest side which drew 50 plus pelicans looking for a handout. It was a rather messy place to visit, but the birds were very friendly and eager to get the fish purchased by people to feed them.
Fishing off the pier was profitable for anglers. Boat races from the nearby yacht club and sidewalk entertain- ment made the pier a great place to pass hours in the Florida sunshine. Local TV station WSUN broadcast from atop the pier for many years.
But the pier aged and the salt water and heavy use took its toll so in 1967 it was demolished and an inverted pyramid building was built–over many protests. It opened in 1973 and the traditions continued.
In 1987 an additional 70,000 square feet of retail space was created with the Columbia Restaurant on the upper floor along with several more causal food places. The pelican corner was still there and fishing remained popular, but the inverted structure never reached the popularity of its predecessor.
In 2004 it was determined that maintenance for the pier and pyramid was no longer cost effective and plans should be made to replace it in 10 years–and the search was on. Building of an initial selection dubbed “The Lens” was stopped by an opposition group and subsequent vote by residents in 2013. The process began again in 2014 and the plan expanded with Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to include the pier approach. The new pier will have restaurant and retail space, and many areas to relax along the new approach to accommodate more visitors.
Old traditions always make way for growth, but it is a slice of nostalgia this historic icon leaves with us along with fond memories.