Dann blazed local trails in business, political life
By SCOTT TAYLOR HARTZELL
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 20, 2000
ST. PETERSBURG -- In 1933, a banner headline raced across the front page: "HERMAN A. DANN DROWNS IN LAKE."
Dann, a local business and political leader, suffered a heart attack while swimming. He was 44 years old. "Florida and St. Petersburg have lost a wonderful man," said Peter Tomasello, then speaker of the Florida House.
For 17 years, Dann ran a building supply concern here. He was a local and state chamber of commerce president and a Democratic state legislator. His efforts brought the Veterans Administration hospital to Bay Pines.
"He was a tiger," said Philip W. Dann, 55, a grandson.
"He took a leading part in virtually every project designed to lend impetus to the city's improvement," the St. Petersburg Times reported.
Dann was born in Titusville, Pa., in 1889. He moved to St. Petersburg in 1913, shortly after graduating from Lafayette College with a philosophy degree.
He was first a civil engineer with the St. Petersburg Investment Company. He was "always a worker to be depended upon," journalist W.L. Straub wrote.
Dann later built a home here in what the Philadelphia press called a "millionaire colony." The house is in the historic Roser Park district at 800 Seventh Ave. S.
In 1916, two years after buying an interest in and presiding over the Southern Concrete and Construction Co., Dann married Helen Thomasson. The couple had three children.
In 1917, Dann established the Dann-Gerow Co., a building supply concern. Within six years, the million-dollar business' volume increased 500 percent. Historian Karl Grismer called Dann's company "one of the largest of its kind in Florida."
In the 1920s, Dann was a director of the Central National Bank, the Mason Hotel Co. and the Tampa Northern Railroad. The press labeled him a "brilliant, forceful, vigorous personality . . . an organizing genius."
Dann, a man of "large affairs," presided over the local chamber of commerce in 1922. The Times dubbed his administration "one of the most successful in the (chamber's) history."
As president of the state chamber of commerce, Dann pushed for "good roads to unify Florida." He declined re-election for a fifth term in 1929 but remained a chamber executive committee member.
Dann, who once said the city could manage for some time without a mayor or commissioners, was elected to the Florida Legislature in 1931. "He was a great orator," said Helen Dann, 30, his great-great-granddaughter.
"A very confident type," said Dan Sullivan, 80, who as a child knew Dann.
During Herbert Hoover's frugal presidency, Dann "was . . . the driving force behind" a veterans hospital, the Times wrote. "Dann mounted a spirited campaign," historian Ray Arsenault wrote. The hospital's construction commenced in 1932 at Bay Pines.
"They were touting him for governor then," said Martha Long Dann, 80, Dann's daughter-in-law.
At 4 p.m. on Sept. 27, 1933, Dann left the hospital and headed for his lodge, 22 miles northwest of Tampa. On the way, Dann told his friend A.H. Stoughton he felt ill.
Dann improved about 7:30 p.m. after "a few" sandwiches. Thirty minutes later, he entered Grandma's Lake with Stoughton, the secretary-treasurer of the St. Petersburg Novelty Works.
The swimming stopped 40 feet from shore when Dann "threw up his hands and sank without uttering a word," the press wrote.
Stoughton searched unsuccessfully for Dann in the 18-foot-deep water. He then swam ashore, called an ambulance and sent an attendant to a nearby Boy Scout camp for help.
Scout leader N.W. Barratt and three others surfaced the body with grappling hooks about an hour after it had disappeared.
The president of Dann-Gerow Co. "never showed signs of responding," the Times reported.
Family members told the Evening Independent that Dann recently had a "heart ailment." Joe S. Clark, a hospital board member, said that Dann had complained the day before of heart pains.
Dann often blamed the pain on overwork. A Williams Park concert paused to honor Dann the evening after his death. "He was so well-known," said resident Samuel W. Harris, 81.
Mourners traveled from afar to attend Dann's services at Royal Palm Cemetery. "He made friends easily and numbered them among leaders in both politics and industry through the entire land," the Times wrote.
- Scott Taylor Hartzell can be contacted at email@example.com.
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