Boom Brought 1925 Yankees to St. Pete

In 1924, with the Florida land boom accelerating, Yankee owner Jacob Ruppert decided to move his team’s spring training camp from New Orleans to St. Petersburg. About the same time, he invested in a grandiose residential development on Pass-a-Grille. He called it Ruppert Beach, “Where Every Breath Brings Added Health and Every Moment Pleasure.”

Ruppert Beach was near the Don CeSar Hotel which would open in 1928.

Colonel Jacob Ruppert was a percipient businessman. His grandfather was a brewer in New York. In 1915, Jacob inherited the Jacob Ruppert Brewing Company. He diversified the business by buying a baseball team. After several unsuccessful attempts to buy the New York Giants, he settled on purchasing a lower-tier team ‒ the Yankees ‒ in 1915. Through astute player acquisitions ‒ including Babe Ruth ‒ he developed the Yankees into the 1923 World Series champion.

Ordinarily, beer sales and baseball would be a superb business combination, but Prohibition came along in 1920 and sale of Ruppert Beer at the ballpark ‒ and elsewhere ‒ was nixed. Still, the surge in profits from Babe Ruth and the Yankees kept Ruppert’s enterprises afloat.

Meanwhile in St. Petersburg, former mayor Al Lang had been trying for some time to convince baseball’s best team, the New York Giants, to train in St. Petersburg. But the tide had turned in the major leagues and by 1924 he was pursuing the Yankees.

The city’s main industry ‒ tourism ‒ received free publicity when major league baseball teams trained here. The dateline “St. Petersburg” appeared in newspapers across the country, especially when a celebrity like Babe Ruth was in town.

Lang knew about real estate opportunities in St. Pete and was on friendly terms with the land boom giants ‒ Fuller, Snell, Mitchell, et al. Negotiations between Lang and Ruppert in 1924 would have certainly included a discussion of area properties and opportunities for easy money. Lang could connect Ruppert and his associates with the St. Pete real estate moguls. A deal was struck to bring Yankee spring camp to St. Petersburg beginning in 1925. As an incentive to the Yankees, the deal may have included ceding Pass-a-Grille land to Ruppert Developments at a discounted price.

Lofty plans for the Ruppert Beach development.

As president of the Jungle Country Club on the west side of St. Petersburg, Lang knew that Babe Ruth was a golfer who could bring fame to his course. That would turn out to be true ‒ for eleven winters Babe Ruth and the Jungle Country Club appeared in newspapers and on newsreels, making it one of the most famous golf courses in America.

1925: Babe Ruth arrives at the train station in St. Pete. Al Lang is in the back seat wearing a straw hat.

Colonel Ruppert, too, was aware of Babe Ruth’s commercial value and didn’t hesitate to ask the superstar to cavort before cameras with feminine babes at Ruppert Beach.

The development had barely launched when land values began to plummet and the boom was over. The investment was a financial disaster. An article in the Daily News (August 4, 1926) stated “if the New York Yankees cop the pennant this year owner Ruppert might give each one of his players a lot in Florida. Ruppert has been wondering how to get rid of the things ever since the bubble busted.”

A major storm ripped across Florida in September 1926 and according to one observer “there was nothing left [of Ruppert Beach] but 10,000 acres of seagulls and alligators.” (citation: One Summer: America 1927 by Bill Bryson).

Ruppert Beach was history, but the Yankees continued to train in St. Pete until 1961.

Faux baseball card by Stev, inspired by the iconic 1953 Topps set

Visit my blog The Jungle Country Club History Project – The Awesome and Unheralded History of St. Petersburg’s West Coast.

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