Intown quarter exudes tradition
Many of the city's movers and shakers live in a neighborhood built for the merchant class and winter residents.
By LENNIE BENNETT
© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 1, 2001
[Times photo: Bill Serne]
Near the intersection of 16th Street NE and Cherry Street NE, morning sun lights the sidewalk. A sense of tradition still attracts people, especially young families, to the tree-lined brick streets.
If the heart of St. Petersburg is its downtown, the city's soul probably resides in the North Shore area. It was there, in the section now called Old Northeast, that St. Petersburg blossomed from a village of farmers' homesteads to a town born of boom-time prosperity.
It thrives still, having the oldest and perhaps most influential neighborhood association in the city. Real estate values, even in some of the lower-income pockets, continue to rise. Most of St. Petersburg's movers and shakers have lived at one time or another in a North Shore neighborhood, which now loosely encompasses the area between Fourth Street and North Shore Drive and between Fifth and 30th Avenues NE.
According to the 2000 census, more than 88 percent of its residents are white. Houses there can fetch several hundred thousand dollars. The neighborhood's status, combined with the social, political and economic clout of its population, have sometimes fueled resentment from other quarters of the city.
Many residents of North Shore say they have little reason to leave the northeast part of St. Petersburg because public and private schools, churches, restaurants, museums, shops and entertainment are blocks away. The waterfront parks, which unify the North Shore area, along with a vibrant downtown, now draw residents from throughout the city.
"We identify ourselves really strongly with Old Northeast and with the city of St. Petersburg," said North Shore Neighborhood Association president Susan Rebillot. "When I say St. Petersburg, I'm talking more about downtown than other areas like Tyrone."
Perry Snell saw its potential in the early 1900s, buying up most of the land in the Coffee Pot Bayou area, creating the city's first subdivision. Graciously proportioned homes were occupied by the new merchant class of bankers and businessmen who came to town. Some were built as winter homes for wealthy out-of-towners.
Lawyer Charles "C.I." Carey came to St. Petersburg in 1924 with his young family and settled into a house there, soon becoming a prominent member of the community. In 1939, he built a new, bigger house, a wood-frame Colonial, at 606 18th Ave. NE. He remained there until his death in 1970. His son, Jack S. Carey, also a lawyer, moved into the house with his wife, Delight, and three children.
"It was like a homecoming," Carey said.
The Careys now live a few houses away, and their daughter, Jill Hill, occupies it with husband Paul and daughter Evan, 7 -- a four-generation connection.
That sense of tradition continues to attract people, especially young families, to the old brick streets lined with trees and sidewalks. Jackson Willis, 4, and his 5-week-old brother, Walker, are the fifth generation of their family to live in the rambling wood-frame house at Eighteenth Avenue and Cherry Street NE. It was built by their great-great-grandfather Benjamin Armstrong in 1924 as a seasonal retreat from the Connecticut winters. Family members have lived in it ever since.
Bob Willis' mother, Betty Miner Willis, grew up there, and now he and his wife, Sally Stovall Willis, are raising their two young sons there.
The neighborhood has a special feel, Sally Willis said.
"The houses are close together. You have sidewalks and porches. The Old Northeast in a sense embodies a return to a '50s lifestyle, when there was a sense of well-being, when there was a network of people who knew you and a net to catch you. People here know their neighbors."
Communities of St. Petersburg