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?

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