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Casino reaches for the stars

Gulfport's social hub has long been a special place. Now it wants to be a historic one.

By CRISTINA SILVA
Published September 27, 2006


GULFPORT - Complemented by the Boca Ciega Bay shoreline, a sandy volleyball court, and the tangy scent of the sea, the Gulfport Casino and Ballroom is like the city's public living room.

For years, residents of Gulfport have celebrated the Casino Ballroom for being their special place - like no other. Turns out, they might be right.

The state is considering nominating the casino to the National Register of Historic Places. If it does, and the application is given the thumbs up by the National Park Service, it would make the casino the first spot in Gulfport to make the national list.

By comparison, St. Petersburg has 29 listings on the National Register, including five neighborhoods.

"It is just such a significant place for the community; it is the hub," said James O'Reilly, director of the city's Leisure Services, which oversees the casino. "When you come down Beach Boulevard you see it. It is our landmark."

In the early 1900s, early community leaders eager to draw people to the area brought the St. Petersburg trolley line down near present-day Shore Boulevard.

A weigh station featuring a trolley ticket office opened on the east side of the tracks in 1906. An open-air pavilion on the second floor with a dance floor and a stage was also built, created a spot where religious leaders could hold Sunday prayer meetings and revelers could boogie in the evenings.

In 1910, residents gathered at what was then dubbed "The Casino" to found the city of Gulfport.

Built in its present spot in 1934 after earlier locations were lost to hurricane destruction, the wooden structure quickly became downtown Gulfport's mint green anchor, a seaside haven at the foot of Beach Boulevard greeting beachgoers and dog walkers.

In recent years, it has been used as both the city's political lectern and its social hub.

City officials applied for the casino's inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places earlier this year after being prompted by the Gulfport Historic Preservation Committee. A site needs to be at least 50 years old and reflect some historic significance to be considered.

City officials are now preparing a more thorough application for a state-appointed panel of preservationists and historians. They said they hope to get it all done by next year.

If approved by the state, the National Park Service would have 45 days to review the application, said Barbara E. Mattick, chief of the state's Bureau of Historic Preservation, which oversees the application process.

"It is such an honor to be considered," she said. "We get tons of applications, but this place is really well-known. I always hear about that dance floor."

Cristina Silva can reached at 893-8846 or csilva@sptimes.com.

[Last modified September 26, 2006, 19:34:15]


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