Cruising around the beaches and finding historic houses, buildings, parks and even bridges is easy, but a business street is a bit unusual. There is Pass-a-Grille’s 8th Avenue at the south end of what is now St.Pete Beach, steeped in history, and there is also Corey Avenue at the north end of the island. This street is longer than American’s Shortest Mainstreet, as 8th Avenue is known, making its historic past even more extensive.
In the late 1930s brothers Nathaniel (Niel) and William (Bill) Upham armed with real estate and engineering backgrounds scouted the somewhat dormant barrier island town of St. Petersburg Beach and strongly believed the area showed great promise. They bought chunks of land, then used their own funds to fill the swamp land just south of Corey Bridge, paved a two lane street, and in 1937 Corey Avenue was dedicated. Niel moved on to develop Shore Acres operating from an office on Central Avenue while Bill moved his family to the island, soon becoming the prime developer of St. Pete Beach. He built stores on the south side of Corey Avenue which still have the Upham name on its façade.
A corner set of storefronts sprung up on north side of Corey and Blind Pass Road, and was leased before it was completed. Grocer Harry Schuster moved his store from Treasure Island to Corey becoming the first food store on the north end of Long Key. Annabel Jacobs opened Annabel’s Sun and Surf Shop featuring women’s causal beach attire. Chef Joe Eagan moved from St. Petersburg and opened Egan’s Nautical Bar and Grill; the sign painter in error dropped the letter A when doing Joe’s first sign, but Joe left it anyway. As this building quickly filled up, an addition was continued toward the east, and Corey Avenue thrived.
Lawrence Baynard purchased land from Upham and built the island’s first funeral home including the first crematorium in the county. Later mortician Paul Thompson took over adding the only ambulance service on the beach. Across the street from Egan’s west of the Upham’s office, the Gulf Beach News moved into a roomy corner office on Blind Pass and Corey, serving the community with weekly news until 1954; original copies of the paper are achieved at the Gulf Beaches Historical Museum.
In 1939 Florida Power leased half of the news offices, remaining there until 1950 when they built a new facility further west on Corey. In addition to the power offices it was a gathering place with a community room for sewing and craft classes, and a kitchen for cooking demonstration.
A citizens committee lured a young Dr. Paul White along with wife Bea, to open a practice on Corey in the 1940s, and Paul was the only doctor on the beach until 1950s when Dr. Bane arrived to help boost medical services. Dr. White along with several other practitioners eventually bought a small group of cottages just over Corey Causeway and opened what later became Palms of Pasadena Hospital. The Beach Theater opened in January of 1940 bringing more life to Corey. At cost of $50,000 it was the most expensive structure along the street.
First Federal opened branch office on Blind Pass Road on the northwest corner of Corey, later moving across the street into a large new bank now Wells Fargo.
These were the first business pioneers to get Corey moving, soon becoming the hub of business on the island. They all were very active in the community as it developed, serving in political office and supporting church and school events as they raised their families to love island life. Most of structures they built or occupied are still home to many shops. It is a sweet historic street with brick paved walkways, benches for locals and visitors to enjoy the sunshine.