Raymond O. Arsenault, Ph.D.
Gary R. Mormino, Ph.D.
Timothy N. Clemmons, M.Arch.
University of South Florida St. Petersburg
St. Petersburg stood on the cusp of great change in 1946. Returning veterans sought jobs and housing, and St. Petersburg experienced its first major growth era since the real estate boom of the 1920s. The decade of the 1950s saw the city‘s population leap from 96,738 to 181,298, an 87 percent increase driven by boosters and national publicity about the city‘s leisurely ambience. Tract houses replaced remaining pockets of pasture and pine trees as subdivisions sprawled toward the city limits and beyond. On fertile truck-farming acreage called Goose Pond, developers built Central Plaza, a shopping center positioned to drain business energy from an aging downtown. Space-age industry brought light manufacturing to supplement traditional economic bases. The Sunshine Skyway opened in 1954 and less than a year later, road builders completed U.S. 19 through St. Petersburg, providing more economic advantages. Civil Rights advances shook Jim Crow, as African Americans sued to integrate swimming venues and challenged ―red lines‖ defining where people of color could live and open businesses. Television began opening new horizons and changing leisure habits as air conditioning brought residents a new dimension of indoor comfort. City leaders reaching for a dynamic civic image worried about the city‘s reputation as a haven for the elderly, but education leaders ordered three new high schools built to serve the burgeoning white student population. The mid-century boom revived an optimistic spirit while raising iii issues such as land use, the downtown‘s future, and race relations against a backdrop of cultural change and the search for civic identity. As reflected in articles, interviews, reports, and manuscripts, St. Petersburg began redefining itself for the twentieth century‘s second half. This study surveys, describes, and analyzes the transformative events.
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