Headlines through the years

A look back at the events, people and places that made North Pinellas the unique place that it is. The information is compiled from past editions of the St. Petersburg Times.

By Times Staff Writer
Published May 22, 2005

May 7, 1944: Famed hostelry awaiting end of war and reopening

BELLEAIR - The internationally famous Belleview-Biltmore hotel silently stands today in old-fashioned dignity and beauty, patiently waiting for the dawn of a new era when men will return from the grim business of war to a life of peace and good living.

The present owner, Ed C. Wright of St. Petersburg, made the following statement as to future plans for the Belleview:

"I'd like nothing better than to open the hotel today. Scarcity of furniture, help and food makes it impossible to open the hotel on anything near like the grand scale of pre-war days. Every intelligent plan to hasten its opening is being seriously considered."

Wright made the suggestion that it might be practical this fall to open the numerous cottages at the Belleview and, should reservations warrant, using a wing of the giant hotel proper, thus making the best use of available help and furniture. The possibility of a central dining room was also foreseen.

One of the two fine golf courses is in the process of being put into shape. Very little would have to be done to whip the approximately 300 acres of naturally beautiful grounds into first-class condition. The property includes the golf courses, a beautiful combination solarium and tiled, salt-water swimming pool, private beaches, children's playgrounds and formal gardens.

The Belleview, often called "the largest wooden structure in the world," is a complete city in itself. It has its own fire department, police, post office, railroad station, its own facilities for generating electricity, heat, water and its own telephone and sewage systems. For the most part, the basic equipment and facilities are intact and in good condition.

Approximately half a million dollars was recently spent on improvements. Within the past year, the government spent nearly $200,000 to install a modern sprinkling system for fire protection.

In past years, as many as 20 private railroad cars carrying the Fords, Schwabs, Studebakers and others have run in a single season into this famous resort. Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, Ring Lardner, Babe Ruth and many others have traveled over its fine golf courses, one of which was the first course below the Mason-Dixon line to put in grass greens. Topsoil for this course was imported from Indiana. One of its holes, the 13th, is internationally known and was featured in a recent issue of Life magazine as one of the most beautiful in the United States.

Tournaments of national importance have been held on its tennis courts and the elite of the nation's society swam in its pool; danced in the formal ballroom with its reflecting, mirrored walls, dined in the gracefully vast dining room with its colorful, stained-glass windows, and played bridge in its spacious game room as members of the renowned, exclusive Sharp Shooter club.

Although idle, the giant kitchen ranges, yawning brick ovens and mammoth refrigeration facilities are quite capable of once again turning out the exquisite cuisine that was once an integral part of the Belleview's tradition. The many dormant elevators, sunny suites, cocktail bar and even barber shops stand ready to serve its patrons.

Branded many times by the uninformed as a fire trap, the hotel has an excellent safety record, according to Luke Martin, Clearwater fire chief. Martin said the largest fire at the Belleview did only $2,000 damage, burning out some of the expensive equipment in the telephone exchange. Martin, the hotel's first fire chief, ordered the first fire engine in 1917, but it was not delivered until 1918 because of Army needs of World War I.

T.R. Palmer of Clearwater, former guest of the Belleview, told of the distinguished Stone Crab Club, made up of former guests who had resided at the hotel five or more seasons. Palmer said that the club, still active today after 40-odd years of existence, was founded by the celebrated George Ade. The club once spent several thousand dollars on a single night's entertainment for its members, drawing from the headline talent of the nation.

Kenneth P. Kenyon, former manager of the Belleview when it was a leading hotel in the Biltmore chain and now manager of the Fort Harrison hotel in Clearwater, has the following to say about the Belleview:

"It's a grand old place. There are very few in Florida like it. It has always played a vital part in Florida's west coast development."

May 9, 1939: Students attend spring prom

CLEARWATER - Friday night saw many a car leave the thriving community of Clearwater to journey to St. Petersburg, and thence to the Coliseum.

For Friday night marked the date of the spring prom, the event sponsored each year by St. Petersburg Junior College in honor of the graduating seniors of Pinellas County. Orchids should be presented to those in charge of this gala event because of their knack of making everyone feel at home. Special orchids to the group who selected Miss Carrie Lou Reid as reigning queen.

Theresa Blackwell compiles the history column. She can be reached at 727 771-4305 or blackwell@sptimes.com