Shifting Architecture into the Golden Era

St. Pete (before it was known as that!) was an agrarian community that primarily raised livestock and farmed typical products that supplied the nearby city of Tampa. It was not a wealthy, or even large community. The first big shift occurred with the Orange Belt Railway arriving in 1888, allowing St. Pete to start selling more perishable agrarian products, especially citrus, which helped the small town grow more rapidly than it had in its past. The train also ushered in the ability for people to travel to the isolated town and this made possible a nascent tourism industry.

The city began shifting to tourism as a primary driver of the economy in the late 1910s, and by the early 1920s several changes occurred in Florida and the United States that allowed most of the city’s economy to move to tourism. One was the end of World War I, and two others were widespread adoption of the automobile, as well as “Good Roads” being built in Florida. Just as importantly, air conditioning was invented and adopted during this time.

1916 St. Pete was dirty and industrial, mainly processing agricultural products. The big smokestack is from the electric plant which was built right at the city’s waterfront. By the early 1920s, almost all the filth was cleaned up and hotels were being built instead.

The architecture of St. Pete changed dramatically as the economy shifted from agriculture and industry in the 1900s through the late 1910s to full-on tourism starting around 1920. In my research I’ve found these side by side buildings, the Stanton Apartments built in 1912 on the left and the Cordova Inn opened in 1921 on the right. This is the best modern picture of St. Pete I’ve seen that shows the striking contrast between unremarkable city beginnings of the 1900s era and the golden age of the 1920s. Note the dramatic shift from industrial era wood frame structures (residential, hotels) to elegant Mediterranean Revival stucco. The change in the wealth of the city is perhaps no where more striking in contrast than in this image.

The Stanton (at left) soon to be demolished, and the Cordova, which still stands today as a hotel nearly 100 years later. The Stanton was just purchased by the Cordova which plans to demolish the older building and expand in the upcoming months, so I was happy to get this image before the Stanton is gone.

You can see, the photo of the Cordova shows it looking very similar to today, but taken in the 1920’s!

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