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Pelican lived through flag's transformations

The city's flag has one element that was present from the beginning: "One of the original characters of the area.''

By SCOTT TAYLOR HARTZELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 23, 2001


The city's flag has one element that was present from the beginning: "One of the original characters of the area."

ST. PETERSBURG -- In 1927, the city challenged its 30,000 residents to create a municipal flag.

Locals competed to fashion a symbol of unity, and a mayor-appointed committee evaluated each design. Unrelated to the flag drive, a former mayor circulated petitions, intent on unseating the entire City Commission. Despite the political storm, the city had its banner within two weeks.

The city flag, redesigned in 1951 and again in 1983, now is flown at The Pier, atop various city buildings, inside Council chambers and on special occasions.

"I'm proud we have (a flag) symbolic of our city," said resident Joan Appleyard-Tucker.

"I have the same feeling toward it as I do the American flag," said Herb Meleney, who from 1962 to 1985 was the executive vice president and managing director of the Festival of States.

St. Petersburg and its 300 residents incorporated in 1893. Support to adopt a municipal flag surfaced on a Fourth of July more than three decades later.

Local Edwin Murphy envisioned the banner at the commission meeting in 1927: "Two distinctive colors carrying the illuminated shield of the city."

White and blue, resident Doc Simmons suggested.

Or perhaps gold and orange or St. Pete High green and white.

Many people that Monday night talked of two flags, one for the city and one for the mayor.

Mayor C.J. Maurer assembled a committee to decide: Ernest Kitchen, the public works director who initiated the idea of a municipal flag, with Commissioner R.C. Purvis and Lillian Moore.

There was no prize offered as inducement. "The city considers that the honor of submitting the winning design will be ample reward to the designer," the St. Petersburg Times reported.

Meanwhile, former Mayor Noel Mitchell unsuccessfully pursued a recall election to remove the city's commissioners. Mitchell, creator of the city's orange (then green) benches, was removed six years before by special election because he held a liquor party in his office. While Mitchell attacked, Maurer kept the accusations at arms length and awaited flag designs.

J.B. Myers of 10 Sixth St. N submitted three designs. Mrs. Duff Green of 1325 17th St. S submitted an ink print, featuring a setting sun amid a red, white and blue background. Resident J.E. Gore displayed the sun and the words Ecce Signum; Scire Facias (Behold the Sign; Cause It To Be Known).

The Latin would attract attention, Gore believed.

The committee chose an entry from the Betsy Ross Flag Co. of Newburgh, N.Y. It featured a gold field, sandwiched between blue vertical borders. The city's seal had the sun, a pelican, a palm tree and a white poinsettia blossom.

The banners cost $6.75 each.

On Jan. 17, 1951, Council approved a flag that cost a reported $140. Trimmed in gold fringe, its upper horizontal blue bar featured the gold words "St. Petersburg, Florida." The seal remained in field of gold, and "Sunshine City" crossed the bottom blue bar.

The present city flag was designed in 1983. "They cost $45 each in bulk quantities then," said Linda Kinsey, 42, the city marketing department's information specialist.

The flag features colored bars, explained Ronald Whitney Jr., the city's graphic designer and the flag's creator: red and orange for the sun, green for the land, two blue bars for water. A white pelican adorns the flag's center.

"I grew up here, and the pelican as part of our city flag speaks well of our environmental concerns," said Whitney, 54. "We take them for granted, but they are one of the original characters of the area."

- Scott Taylor Hartzell can be reached at Hartzel@msn.com.

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