Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Preserving the Garden Cafeteria and Some Other History

Another lively discussion and a call to action was had last Friday morning at the Friday Morning Group (FMG). It all started out innocently enough. Patrice Pucci reported on attending the WEDU Be More Awards seminar the previous week. We had previously discussed the WEDU Be More Awards for non profit groups and the seminar was held to educate the non profit groups on how to apply for the awards.

Tom Taggart reminded us that WEDU would be 50 years on the air in October 2008. In connection with that, Patrice Pucci had used the Friday Morning Group Mail List with an interesting request. It turns out that WEDU originally was housed at what is now known as the Gibbs Campus of St. Petersburg College. Patrice had put a request out on the mail list for any information or documentation of that fact that anyone may know of. She was looking for this information for the St. Petersburg History Museum. Of course her request sparked several replies which were all shared with the FMG via the list.

Shirley Linde also got in on the act by using the list to ask the FMG if anyone knew of an alternative publisher she might approach for publishing her book. This also sparked several replies shared with the FMG via the mail list.

Tony Collins then remarked on the online social phenomena of mail lists and the interests sparked by seemingly simple requests. Tony remarked about these two requests being invitations to our community to respond via a new, social interactive media. in this case, the mail list.

The conversation then turned to a photographic assignment that was being offered to Herb Snitzer. The Garden Cafeteria / Piano Exchange building is slated for demolition and redevelopment. This building located in the 200 block of 2nd Street North is currently the studio of a metal working artist. It had also formerly been the home of a piano sales business. But the building had started out in life as the Garden Cafeteria.

The Garden Cafeteria was one of many cafeterias in St. Petersburg in the days of the green benches. The only remaining example of this type of business still in use is the Tramor building, which is used as the St. Petersburg Times cafeteria. In the heyday of the green bench era, cafeterias were one of the major parts of the tourism trade in St. Petersburg. Many, many such enterprises were located in and around the down town area catering to our winter visitors.

To differentiate themselves, many of these cafeterias used interior decorating to lure customers. If you have not seen the interior of the Tramor on 4th Street South, you should definitely check it out. (Little know fact - it is open to the public). The Garden, as its name implies, used a garden decorating motif. This included interior streams and bridges and potted plants all over the place. To top off this motif, the Garden employed muralist Scott Hill to paint murals on the walls and other murals to be mounted on the walls. Scott Hill was a well known Depression Era muralist. One of his murals has been preserved and is on display at Tampa International Airport. Hill in this case apparently picked up some commercial work. The crowning piece is a full wall mural painted directly onto the back wall of the Garden Cafeteria.

As the years have gone by, the Garden Cafeteria / Piano Exchange Building has deteriorated. Along with it, many of Hill's murals have deteriorated as well. The building has been acquired by a developer, who plans to demolish the building and redevelop the block. it's location across the street from Bay Walk makes it a prime candidate for such redevelopment.

When the developer filed his site plan for redevelopment of the property with the City, St. Pete Preservation became interested in saving the murals. They entered into talks with the City and the developer about saving the Scott Hill murals. The developer was not adverse to this, but everyone knew the full wall mural was going to be a problem. The developer hired an appraiser, another Florida muralist who was very familiar with Hill's work.The appraiser noted the deterioration of many of the pieces that had been painted on the mounted wall boards, but which could be removed and preserved relatively easily. He also noted that some of the work was probably not Hill's at all, but some other unknown artist's. However, much of the work was undoubtedly Hill's.

The full back wall mural turns out to in fact have been painted directly onto the wall. In approving the site plan, the developer and the city agreed that any murals that could be, would be removed and preserved. Prior to any demolition of the building, the remaining murals were to be photographically documented. This is the commission that was offered to Herb.

This is a rather long winded description of the situation to this point. But at the last meeting of the Friday Morning Group, a really interesting thing happened. It was suggested that while photo documenting the building was a good idea, a better idea would be to actually preserve the entire wall mural. This is a huge mural, encompassing the entire back wall of the building. The consensus of the group was that the effort should be made and that a way would be found to accomplish this.

So, anybody got a home for a wall with a beautiful mural on it?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Catching Up

I have a little catching up to do. I was a little busy last week, what with the election and all. What, you didn't know about the election on September 11th? That's OK, most of St. Pete didn't seem to know about it either.

There were primary elections for St. Petersburg City Council on Tuesday, September 11th. However, only about 11% of the registered voters in the two districts with elections bothered to show up to vote. In Council District 5, incumbent Council Member Jamie Bennett received 67% of the vote. He will face Chris Kelly in the general election in November. Kelly received 19% of the vote in the District 5 primary.

In the District 3 Primary, Cathy Harrelson failed to advance. Harrelson received 23% of the vote in the four person primary. The top two vote getters were Ed Montanari (42%) and Bill Dudley (30%). These two advanced to the general election, to be voted on city wide, in November.

So much for the election results. At the Friday Morning Group meeting on September 7th, we were joined by Barry Rothstein of the Maddux Report. In his spare time, Barry is also President of the Downtown Business Association. Barry filled us in on the Downtown Business Association's plans for a holiday window display program, themed to "Holiday Music". Downtown businesses will be teaming up with interior designers for some eye catching window displays (a la New York city) in the hopes of turning the downtown into a window viewing (and shopping ) destination this holiday season. The kickoff will be the day after Thanksgiving and the displays will run through New Years.

And for those of you who don't know, Barry is also a painter. In fact, Barry has a show opening at the Finn Gallery (176 4th Ave NE) on October 19th. You'll want to check out the bottom of this little ditty for a real treat.

On September 14th, we were joined at the Friday Morning Group by the inimitable Tony Collins. Tony, one of the founding members of the Friday Morning Group, is going on the Board of Directors of the Tampa Museum of Art in October.

We also got all the low down on the Friends of Photography dinner for Herb Snitzer at Redwoods. This sold out event was half tribute and half roast. Herb also sold eight photographs at the dinner. And the Museum of Fine Arts extended his show for one week. To top it off, Herb is now a member of the faculty of Eckerd College.

In other news that made the rounds last Friday Morning:
  • Mike Conway received an Honorable Mention at the Arts Center Member Show. Congratulations, Mike!

  • Rave reviews were given about the rave review received by Gem of the Ocean by August Wilson now playing at American Stage. Here is a snippet from the St. Petersburg Times:
"It is a brilliant production that goes to the heart of why Wilson was an American playwright to rank with Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller. ... Sharon E. Scott heads the outstanding cast of Gem of the Ocean, expertly directed by Bob Devin Jones. ... Gem of the Ocean is so rich with humanity, and this production is so fine, that it virtually demands American Stage return to the other plays of Wilson's cycle in seasons to come. "
  • Bravo, Bob!
  • Salt Creek Art Works will be hosting the Art of Healing on September 28th. This show is a benefit for the Bayfront Medical Center Foundation.

Finally, the City of St. Pete has found an additional $200 thousand for arts and social services funding in the upcoming budget year. Yet to be determined is how it will be divvied up. The level of arts and social services funding is still only about 25% of what it was a year ago.

And for a little treat, here is the invitation to Barry Rothsteins's show at the Finn Gallery.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

St. Peterburg Votes Today: Primary Edition

Today is Primary Election day for City Council races in St. Petersburg. Unfortunately, I had one candidate ask me last night if I thought voter turn out would exceed 15%. On September 11th, what could be a more patriotic thing to do than to go out and exercise your right, and duty, to vote?

There are 2 races on the ballot today. Primaries are being held for Districts 3 and 5. Districts 1 and 7, with only 2 qualified candidates each, skip the primary and will be on the ballot for the city wide General Election in November. Today, only voters in Districts 3 and 5 can vote to winnow down the number of candidates for the Council seat in their districts to 2 each. The top two vote getters within these districts today will go on to the city wide voting in the November General Election.

The District 5 race features one of only two incumbents on the ballot this cycle. Acting Council Chair Jamie Bennett is seeking re-election to a post he first won in 2001 in a special election to fill the seat of Larry Williams who had resigned to run for Mayor. Bennett drew no opposition in his bid for a full term in 2003. The widely held belief that Bennett will run for Mayor in two years has drawn at least one candidate to challenge him this time.

Chris Kelly, a community activist, appears to be running with 2009 in mind. Kelly is a former President of the Roser Park Neighborhood Association. He did move to Pinellas Point a few years ago, but has not been civicly active within the district. His campaign seems to be aimed at establishing himself as a viable candidate in 2009 should Bennett vacate the seat to make his Mayoral bid. Bennett's other challenger is little know school teacher Debra Woodard. Ms. Woodard has run a perfunctory campaign at best.

The much more competitive race is for the District 3 council seat. This district, encompassing Snell Isle, Shore Acres and other neighborhoods in northeastern St. Pete will see Council Member Bill Foster leave the seat due to term limits. We will probably see Foster again in a Mayoral bid in 2009.

Meanwhile, 4 candidates are vying to replace Foster. Ed Montanari is Foster's anointed heir apparent. Montanari, an America Airlines pilot, was Foster's campaign manager in 2003. Montanari was groomed for this run by being appointed Chair of the Albert Whitted Airport Advisory Board. Prior to that, Montanari, who has been heard to say that "the Mayor's the boss", had no civic involvement. Montanari's connections have enabled him to lead the pack in fund raising. However, as befits a good airline pilot, no one will mistake Montanari for Mr. Excitement.

Returning from his unsuccessful 2003 bid to unseat Foster is now retired Northeast High teacher Bill Dudley. Dudley got through a 3 way primary in 2003, but was drubbed by Foster in the citywide general election. To improve his chances this time, Dudley is President of the Snell Isle Neighborhood Association. Much like John Edwards, Dudley has been running for this seat since his defeat 4 years ago. The experience shows. Dudley is a much better candidate this time around, and has managed to raise substantial dollars as well.

The significant new face in this race belongs to Cathy Harrelson. Harrelson is a financial professional whose long civic involvement has been focused on environmental concerns. Harrelson is immediate past President of the 3,000 member strong Suncoast Sierra Club. She has also been recently appointed to the County board advising on the Booker Creek preserve. There she was elected Policy Chair by her peers. Harrelson brings the rare combination of business acumen and enviromentalist to the race. She also has the most realistic chance of maintaining the two woman minority on the Council. With Renee Flowers leaving the District 7 seat due to term limits, Leslie Curran is the only other woman on Council. Also, in this allegedly nonpartisan race, Harrelson is the only Democrat.

Mortgage Broker Cliff Gephart rounds out the field in District 3. Gephart has not run a substantial campaign, but speaks well in forums. Hopefully Mr. Gephart will stay involved in civic affairs and try again sometime in the future.

The District 3 race is really too close to call at this time. Dudley, Montanari and Harrelson are closely bunched and each has run a vigorous campaign. Which two advance to the General Election in November could literally come down to a hand full of votes. So if you are reading this in District 3 today, be sure to get out and vote. Your vote will definitely matter in this race

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Bennett Gets His Ear Bent and Bends Right Back

St. Petersburg City Council Member Jamie Bennett got his ear bent in our hot seat last week at the Friday Morning Group. Jamie is running for re election to the District 5 seat he has held since 2001. He joined us last Friday.

Jamie was immediately taken to task about a mail piece he brought with him. The mail piece talked about "Protecting Our Quality of Life". Yet nowhere did the arts get mentioned as a part of that quality of life. Jamie, to his credit, stated that when the mailer gets redone for the city wide general election, the arts would be included in the quality of life being protected.

Jamie related that this is going to be the battle for the next 10 years. He told us that the arts are as much of an economic driver in St. Petersburg as anything else we have here, if not more so. Jamie told us that to be a real city that you had to have more than just police and fire service. You need the arts and the social services that go hand in hand with making St. Petersburg the wonderful place we all believe it has become. Jamie agreed that to a very large extent the arts are the quality of life in St. Petersburg.

When asked how he might turn around the mind set that puts the arts and social services on the front of the chopping block, Jamie was blunt and forthright in his outlook. He suggested that some organizations will have to be funded out of emergency contingency funds to keep them from shutting their doors. Jamie explained that under our strong mayor form of government, the Mayor sets the tone and those that the Mayor controls end up dancing to his tune. He told us if we want to see this changed, the arts community would have to go get its political mojo and elect the right people.

Jamie explained that there is a great philosophical war going on between those who bleieve that the government has a role to play in the arts and social services and those who do not believe the government has a role. Right now, in St. Petersburg, the non believers are winning, Jamie said. He also had a rather interesting suggestion about what might be done to help stem the tide - partnering with big business. Currently the Mayor is getting corporate sponsors, or partners, for the public schools in St. Petersburg. Jamie suggested that we could be doing that for some of the smaller arts organizations. He also cautioned that for the arts to maintain their independence, that a variety of sponsors would have to get involved.

Herb Snitzer reminded us that Sandy Freidman, when Mayor of Tampa, would hold her cabinet meetings at the Tampa Museum of Art. This resulted in a very large increase in the number of memberships in the Museum. Jamie asked Herb to keep reminding him to hold meetings at the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts.

Here is a correction that most of you probably already know. The Arts Center Member Show opens this Friday, Septmeber 7th, not last Friday as previously reported. But, we hope to see you all this Friday morning at the Friday Morning Group.