Letting Largo Hotel go is a necessary decision

Published September 12, 2007

Some people believe that in an urban county like Pinellas, every old structure still standing has historical value and should be preserved. Yet the challenges of doing so became apparent to Largo city commissioners during a recent tour of one of the city's most visible historic properties.

The Largo Hotel and the attached Rufus McMullen home sit near the intersection of Seminole Boulevard and West Bay Drive. Tens of thousands of motorists pass the buildings daily and probably know nothing of their history or their current sad condition.

The Largo Hotel is 99 years old. The age of the McMullen house has not been firmly established, but is believed to be older. Both buildings were modified over the years and, unlike the nearby Pinellas Hotel, are not on the National Register of Historic Places.

Members of the local historical society had hoped that the Largo Hotel and the McMullen house, which locals believe is where the decision was made to name the city Largo, could be saved. They had walked through the building and felt the echo of Largo's past there.

However, when city officials took a hard look at the buildings, they saw all the things that would have to be fixed and the costs involved. The buildings had not been well maintained, contained asbestos and were infested with mold and vermin.

The city staff estimated that it would cost as much as $2-million to move the structures and renovate them. In these times of tight city budgets, it might as well have been $200-million. Besides, city officials really wanted to offer the property to a commercial developer who could build a good commercial project that would contribute to downtown and provide a more attractive gateway amenity.

So the City Commission voted last week to spend only the $29,400 it will cost to demolish the Largo Hotel and McMullen home. The decision was one more disappointment to former Largo Historical Society president Bob Delak, who told the Times, "We basically don't have anything left. They've done a good job of destroying most of it at this point."

Commissioners did offer a bit of balm by saying they think the historical significance of the property ought to be recognized in some way. A plaque or historical site sign might be a good choice because it would allow the city to tell a little of the history of the site for passers-by.

These kinds of properties are tough to lose in a place like Pinellas that has grown so fast that the history is being lost. Yet with funding so limited, decisions must be made about which properties have the greatest value. When a structure not only has a rich history but its original architecture also has been maintained - places like the Belleview Biltmore Hotel - all efforts must be made to save it.

The old Pinellas Hotel in Largo falls into that category. Largo officials should redouble their efforts to see that structure preserved for future generations.