Friday, April 3, 2020

St. Petersburg in Postcards

I just read a book called "The Postcard," by Tony Abbott, that I really enjoyed. It's for younger readers, but I could barely put it down, even though I could tell where it was headed plot-wise. It's about a boy trying to solve a mystery about his own family, and part of the fun, for me, was its setting -- St. Petersburg, Florida -- and its depiction of that area's history. Old postcards figure prominently.

It inspired me to dig out my own old postcards from St. Pete. These are only a tiny fraction of the sum total. I have hundreds of postcards from all around Florida that I collected in my thirty-plus years of living there.

Someone wrote on the back of this one (above): "It is warm to-day. Mabel and they will have a band concert in the park. They have 4 concerts a week." It's undated and was never mailed.

This one was mailed in 1955. "Dear Irma: I arrived here Weds. Have a nice room. I wonder where you are. Let me hear from you." The sender, Alice, added her contact information in Lakeland and mailed it to Irma in St. Petersburg, but it was forwarded on to Connecticut -- which I guess explains where Irma was.

The Gandy Bridge appears frequently in "The Postcard." Can you imagine sputtering across that bridge at night in a Model T? (Or whatever those cars are.) Gives me the willies just thinking about it.

The caption on this unmailed card: "St. Petersburg is famous for its green benches that line the streets and parks. The green bench has become a symbol of the hospitality and friendliness of this city offering the residents and tourists a place to sit, rest, enjoy the weather, make acquaintances and watch the passers-by."

When I was young, St. Pete was working hard to shed the image of the green benches and become a more modern, youthful, energetic city. I don't know if any green benches are still around these days.

The Pier is another prominent landmark featured in "The Postcard." This is the old pier, which was torn down and replaced with a modern inverted-pyramid structure that I knew as a kid. That, in turn, was demolished recently and something new is arising in its place. (I see from the web site that the new pier is supposed to have a grand opening on May 30. Wonder if that's going to happen? I'm guessing not.)

In "The Postcard," an old hotel is about to be demolished and the main character, a boy named Jason, explores the derelict building. The descriptions of the hotel reminded me of the Hotel Soreno, which really was demolished in 1992. In fact, its implosion was filmed by Warner Brothers and used in the film "Lethal Weapon 3."

This card was mailed from St. Pete to Paterson, N.J. in September 1945: "Arrived home safe and today is our hottest day, before the rains kept it cool. It feels good to be home again. I love it here. Love, Betty"

Sunken Gardens also features prominently in "The Postcard." I remember TV ads for Sunken Gardens when I was a kid, but somehow I have never been. I think I'll go next time I'm in Florida. It's still around.

This card, depicting "a young couple strolling leisurely through romantic Sunken Gardens," was mailed to Earl in New Jersey in January 1972: "Hope you are feeling much better by this time. We had a good trip down and we are enjoying the beautiful Florida sunshine. We both have colds right now but hope they will be better soon. It is nice here. We are near a park and lake. Ruth & Walter"

I wonder what on earth a "tourist meeting" is? It looks dreary as hell.

Mailed to Connecticut in September 1947: "Home sweet home. Arrived here Thursday just after the big blow, and it was some blow, not much damage done in this town BUT the East Coast sure did get it. Am very busy getting settled down again. In haste, BLB"

The "big blow" was the 1947 Fort Lauderdale hurricane. The card was mailed on Friday, Sept. 19, just a day or two after the storm passed over the state.

The Vinoy Park Hotel was a derelict wreck when I grew up in Tampa. Unlike many old hotels, though, it got a second act -- it is now the Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort. This card was never mailed.

This motel is actually on St. Petersburg Beach, which is totally different from the city of St. Petersburg, but I couldn't resist including it because I am a sucker for a mid-century motel. It was mailed in June 1955, to Edward in Tennessee: "We are staying here. I will be here 2 weeks from to-day, till July 7. So come on here if you come by car. If you come by bus call me and I will meet you. Love, Ruby"

An unmailed postcard dated 1959 from the Plaza Inn Motel, which apparently had "decorator-inspired interiors" (whatever that means) as well as this "spacious pool." I've never understood motels with the pool in the parking lot. I bet it just bakes.

And finally, a house that reminds me a bit of Jason's grandmother's in "The Postcard," with its jalousie-windowed Florida room. This two-bedroom 1954 model was built by the Sirmons Construction Company, and cost just $11,000 including lot. (Probably no air conditioning, though.)

Mailed in January 1955 to (again) New Jersey, the card's hand-written message sounds like it came straight from the Chamber of Commerce: "How grand to enjoy the warm sunshine. The beautiful fruit trees, loaded with fruit and the flowers. The layout of this house is tops, you would like it. Regards, Adam"

I'm guessing Abbott, the author of "The Postcard," had a personal connection to St. Petersburg. Maybe his own grandmother lived there, in a house like this one. He wrote with obvious affection for the city, even though he apparently lives in Connecticut himself.

Anyway, I think I'll buy "The Postcard" for my nieces. They might get a kick out of it.


Yorkshire Pudding said...

I loved this rather nostalgic blogpost. Well-researched and well-illustrated. I wonder if Edward did respond to Ruby's request. Perhaps they made beautiful music together in the Florida sunshine before Edward headed back to his job as a bank clerk or whisky distiller in Tennessee. Good work Steve!

Frances said...

Lovely post..very interesting. We have old postcards at the Oxfam shop, and some years ago I started reading some of them. There was a series of cards sent by a father who was away at war ( can't remember 1st or 2nd WW ) to his young daughter. They were were very sad, he was missing her so much! Just had a look at St. Petersburg on google street view. I am always amazed at how much space and green there is in US towns. So different to here.

David said...

When I read the title, I immediately thought, "St Petersburg, Russia." I was interested to learn that there is a St Petersburg in Florida, but then I shouldn't be surprised. In Australia, we have hundreds of towns and other geographical features named after places in Britain and Ireland - even a "Toronto" named after the more famous Canadian city - so I guess it is normal to transplant names all over the world. I wonder if there is any connection between the Florida and the Russian versions? Loved the old postcards! And the quirky messages on them!

Moving with Mitchell said...

What a great collection to have! In my numerous trips to Florida, I've never been to St. Pete. Charming. I think they should bring back the green benches (although I'm sure there are plenty of reasons why not... such as loitering, etc.)

Edna B said...

I loved the postcards and the memories. I've never been to St. Petersburg either, but I agree that it would be lovely if they would bring back the green benches. You stay safe and have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

Ms. Moon said...

I love this post! I actually spent quite a bit of time in St. Pete and especially St. Pete Beach. Such great memories. I was expecting to see a card with the Don Cesar on it. Such a beautiful pink cupcake of a hotel. Mr. Moon and I actually got to spend a night there once in a room the size of a broom closet. Do you remember the Out of Sight shop? I had a very good friend who worked there.
Anyway, if I ever get my hands on that book I will so happily read it. Thanks for the great post, Steve!

jo(e) said...

My favorite part of old postcards is reading the messages and getting that glimpse into the life of the person who sent it.

Red said...

I can tell that this brought back many memories to you. There's a good story with each one of the cards.

Cheryl Seaman said...

Wow! I grew up in St.Pete and am old enough to remember the green benches. It was such a sleepy town and now it is quite cosmopolitan! Sort of surprised not to see pictures of Webb's City or Wolfie's - but it was a history of postcards not St. Pete per se. Thanks for the memories. Cheryl

Sharon said...

What a thoroughly enjoyable post. The post cards are great and it's fun to think about the people who wrote them all those years ago. The last one with the house with the jalousie windows brought back some memories. My dad put those kind of windows in a cabin we owned back in Illinois. I remember him talking about them as if they were really something cool to have.

Allison said...

Great post! Good narrative about the postcards. I have always wanted to spend some time in Florida, wonder when that might happen. It's good they the didn't tear that yellow hotel down, old buildings deserve a second act.

Catalyst said...

I was wondering where you acquired your postcards and then seemed to remember that you like to visit thrift stores in your travels so I imagine that's where they came from. I agree with the others (above). This is a great post, well-written and illustrated.

ellen abbott said...

what a great selection of old postcards. all vintage. do you collect modern postcards too?

Colette said...

Wonderful postcards. My husband and I rode from Tampa to St. Pete just last month on a somewhat bigger variation of that bridge.

Penelope said...

Great post! I am a fan of postcards and have a few. And when I was 14 a photographer had me pose in front of a small pool at a local motel. I was posed like the girl on the striped towel. So I was a postcard pin up girl. I was sure it would make me famous. Lol

The Padre said...

WoW - These Are Terrific - I Never Thought About The Symbolism Of Green Benches - Thats Pretty Righteous - My Gramps Drove Us Around, VERY Special Occasions, In His Model A - He Then Purchased A Model T And We Were Always In The 4th of July Parade - Me & My Cousin Chris In The Rumble Seat Of Course - And The Fact That These Cards Are Time Capsules Of Words, Meanings, And History Blows My Mind - Like Way Cool - I Believe That Pools In The Middle Were The Communication Hub - Very Visible And The Draw For Wondering Eyes - That 1954 Home Lacks Garage Space For Us Entitled Americans With All Of Out Gotta Haves And Massive Pavement Eating SUV Machines - Man Brother Steve, I Really Enjoyed Walking Down Memory Lane Tonight - Many Thanx For This Post

P.S. Olga Knows Its Uncle T Biscuit Time

Steve Reed said...

YP: Glad you liked it! I couldn't quite tell what was going on with Ruby and Edward. On the one hand, she seemed pretty eager to meet him. But on the other, she said "we" are staying at the motel. Was she already with someone else? Hmmmm...

Frances: I didn't know Oxfam sold old postcards! I'll have to keep an eye out the next time I pop into an Oxfam shop. (Whenever that will be...sigh.)

David: According to Wikipedia, it was named after St. Petersburg, Russia by one of its founders, who was from there.

Mitchell: It's worth visiting! Great beaches and they have some world-class art museums, including one devoted entirely to Salvador Dali.

Edna: They may still have some green benches here and there -- I'm not sure!

Ms Moon: Was Out of Sight on Central Avenue? There were some groovy little Bohemian shops along that stretch when I was in college. I used to go there for vintage clothing.

Joe: Absolutely! I always prefer a card that's been mailed to one that's in mint condition.

Red: It really did. Reading the book made me very nostalgic for St. Pete.

Cheryl: I think I have a Webb's City card somewhere. Was there a Wolfie's in St. Pete? The ones I knew were in Miami.

Sharon: Those windows were quite the thing in the years before air conditioning became commonplace. I suppose they allowed the ready movement of air.

Allison: Oh, you'll get to Florida one of these days, I bet. We just have to get all this virus stuff behind us.

Catalyst: Mostly antique stores and thrift stores, yeah. You used to be able to buy nice old postcards for 50 cents or a dollar. Now, with online collecting possible, the prices have gone up.

Ellen: Not really. I like the old ones.

Colette: You were probably on the Howard Frankland, which carries I-275 over the bay. That's the one most people take. The Gandy was the earliest bridge -- it's still there but less traveled now.

Penelope: Ha! I always wondered who those people are, and now I know! I always figured they were probably related to the motel owner. :)

Padre: Glad you liked 'em! I hope you have pictures of you and your cousin in the rumble seat!

jenny_o said...

Not sure which I enjoyed more - the postcards or your commentary!

Sarah said...

You have a great collection Steve and it is so fascinating to read what people wrote on their cards home. I love the one about the big blow especially.(Very understated!) I love the colours of the cards too. It is interesting reading a book set in somewhere you know and fun the link with your collection of cards. I am reading one set in Greenwich at the moment and the author uses lots of local references. It makes me a bit ultra critical though where I feel she has made a mistake! I recently found a load of old postcards I bought as a job lot on ebay and there are some good London ones in there. I took photos of them to put on instagram but that is as far as it got. Have you ever seen those books called 'Boring Postcards'? They are full of old cards that are funny in their choice of subject, and not actually boring at all!

Moving with Mitchell said...

Wow! Salvador Dali. I never would have expected that. But don't know if I'll ever get to Florida again. The US is taken up with family visits when I do get there. And there's so much of Spain and the rest of Europe I still haven't explored). Maybe an online visit to St. Pete is in the cards.