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The wins of the father are the wins of the son

Charles and Robert Blanc did well in business and politics. Both city boosters were considered gentlemen of integrity.

By SCOTT TAYLOR HARTZELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 21, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- When Robert Blanc assumed the mayor's seat once held by Charles Blanc, the city reveled. The press hailed the 1933 event "as the only known instance in which there had been such a father-son repeat in the highest office of an important city."

The achievement remains unparalleled here.

"Ordinarily the father tells the son, Don't (follow me), because it was a pain in the butt," said Robert DeVoe Blanc, 80, son and grandson to the mayors.

For nearly seven decades, Charles and Robert Blanc boosted the city's business and political atmosphere.

"The Blancs were standouts," said Harry N. Davis, 80, who knew the family since 1937. "Subsequent mayors patterned themselves after them."

Charles Monroe Blanc was born in Knoxville, Tenn., in 1867. He left home at age 20 with a fourth-grade education.

By 1888, C.M. Blanc had established Broadway Manufacturing, a lumber company, and married. He later formed a real estate firm, which he brought here in 1911. "I have driven my stakes in the prettiest spot in the world," he said of St. Petersburg, which then had but a half-mile of brick paving.

In 1925, Blanc was "prevailed upon" to run for commissioner, historian Karl Grismer wrote. The media called the real estate agent a hard-working, God-fearing man with blue-gray eyes and a ruddy complexion. He was "an imposing, tall figure with (premature) white hair," said Rose Helen Blanc, 74, wife of Robert DeVoe Blanc.

As a dark horse, C.M. Blanc won 1,802 of 2,816 votes and the mayorship over four rivals. "I shall feel no hesitancy in taking hold of the affairs of the city," he said.

During C.M. Blanc's one year as mayor, which, by custom then, was an unpaid position:

Streets were paved and widened.

The first sewage treatment plant was built.

The Million Dollar Pier was finished.

"The most striking waterfront improvement of this or any other era was the construction of the Million Dollar Pier," historian Ray Arsenault wrote.

C.M. Blanc presided over the Kiwanis Club and helped create the tourist societies, which eased individuals into the community. Blanc Park at 28th Avenue N and 11th Street is named in his honor.

"He was active into his 90s," said Robert DeVoe Blanc, who hunted with his grandfather just years before the ex-mayor's death in 1961 at age 94.

C.M. Blanc's only child, Robert Galbraith Blanc, was born in Pineville, Ky., in 1892. After working as a Favorite Steamship Line freight agent in Florida, he married and came here in 1922.

That year, after working for West Coast Tile, R.G. Blanc joined his father's business. "They got along quite well," Robert DeVoe Blanc said.

The Blancs developed 12 subdivisions, including Lincoln Park and Crescent Heights.

As his father aged, R.G. Blanc assumed more control of the firm. "Robert was a driving force behind the business," Davis said.

R.G. Blanc became a city commissioner in 1931. After serving as vice mayor, he vowed to improve the city's stagnant economy in 1933 during a heated mayoral race.

Eight candidates for mayor bickered about a proposal to change to a city manager form of government and about expensive pants for firefighters. Protest erupted when R.G. Blanc used his nickname, "Bob," on the ballot.

The younger Blanc won the mayor's office eight years after his father. "Mayor Bob" was 40.

"I shall expect full 100 percent value for every dollar spent by the city," Blanc said.

Working with Wilbur M. Cotton, the first city manager, R.G. Blanc established the first zoning laws for residential and commercial areas and backed the Snell Isle Bridge construction.

He also argued for federal economic aid. "The city's ultimate success in the fierce competition for federal aid suggests that the argument may have carried some weight," Arsenault wrote.

"He never talked about his accomplishments," said Robert J. Blanc, 51, R.G.'s grandson. "I'd hear about them later from others."

R.G. Blanc exchanged visits with the Cuban delegation during his two-year term. "He was like a little ambassador," Robert DeVoe Blanc said. "They treated him like royalty."

The Civitan Club issued its highest award, the Civitan Honor Key, to R.G. Blanc in 1979. The gentlemanly ex-mayor worked nearly up to his death, two years later, at age 89.

"They were both gentleman," Harry Davis said. "Everybody admired the Blancs because of their integrity."

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