My Neighbor, Jack

23 Feb

St. Petersburg has a lot of hidden gems around it.  If you were walking around this city, you wouldn’t have a clue of some of the history that took place on the very ground you’re standing on.  The cool thing is though, this city still leaves behind a lot of subtle hints about the past.  And a lot of the past is still around, unbeknownst to the common person, resident or tourist.  I love that aspect of this place.  Every corner has something; whether it be Babe Ruth’s old apartment, a film location where in 1985 the movie Cocoon  filmed or the theater where Jim Morrison used to recite some poetry long before The Doors days – it’s all scrunched into Pinellas county.  Lots downtown where I reside.  But, it’s all in the common places that you wouldn’t know better unless you ask – or look.  To most, it’s just another thing; a building or old construction.  Garbage to most.  There’s no markers, statues or plaques that recognize the percentage of history here.  And you know, that makes it fun.

I’ve started up a, oh – I don’t know – let’s call it a Photo Collection of some of these spots.  Momentarily, I’ll be posting them up on here to share.  That being said, if you would like to journey with me on some some-what serious post, which is a stretch for me, come on along!  (Don’t worry, my typing skills will still challenge anything serious, but posting historic pictures up isn’t exactly a comedic masterpiece.)

So, I had to start someplace.  How about my neighborhood.  Sound good?  Sweet.

Above:  Grass to most – treasure to me.

These train tracks wouldn’t mean much to ANYONE that walks by them.  In use anymore?  No.  They haven’t been since the 1960’s.  So, Nate, what’s the significance?

Okay, I happen to be an avid railroad buff.  (But even if I wasn’t, I’d still like this.)  So, when I run across something like rusty rails that parallels one of the biggest roads (1st Avenue South) that heads directly downtown, I had to dig up what ran on these (besides trains, Smart Alec).

These are the tracks that USED TO BE First Avenue South.  And they lead directly downtown into a now extinct Union Station.  There aren’t many photos of the station, but you can tell it was quite the congested place with two tracks that lead there (at least according to several photos I found) and I could only imagine the automobile traffic it tied up back in the day.  Other than that, if you didn’t notice these old, unused train tracks, one would have no clue there was a St. Petersburg railroad station.  Right now, there is a Regions bank in its spot and no remnants at all of this place.  A shame.  It looks kind neat.

Above:  One of the few pictures I found of Union Station.  Who would have thought?

The REAL unfortunate thing is that there is no rail service here now at all.  There hasn’t been passenger trains since the 80’s (they shut down the Union Station in the 60’s and opened up a new, smaller station several miles away from downtown).  Let’s hope that changes soon.  Tampa has rail service.  We compete with Tampa, so let’s get a grip.  That’s enough to make Thomas the Tank Engine cry.

OH – I forgot to mention, my header for this blog ARE the same tracks.  Here’s a closeup.

Above:  No, Nate will NOT get hit by a train here.  Although, he might get attacked by ants.

Alright, so anyway, moving on – those train tracks that were in my photo are two blocks away from where I live.  So, as we journey on, yes – we’re still in my neighborhood.

We head down the tracks a ways, and inch closer to downtown.  And that is where I snapped another picture.

Above:  The old wing of The St. Petersburg Times

As my descriptions mentions, this is the old wing of the St. Petersburg Times building.  I know for a fact it’s an old wing after working there.  Plus, it’s kind of a giveaway when you look in the windows and its – well – dark.

I liked this picture because they still have the old, black, thin letters of its title stapled to the side of it where you can only guess how long they’ve been up there.

I also took this photo because as of January 1st, 2012, The St. Petersburg Times changed its name to The Tampa Bay Times.  So, I plan on going past here again soon to see if maybe – JUST maybe – they took these letters down.  I hope not and I doubt it since this area of the building is pretty much just sitting there unnoticed.  But, maybe they will.  And as I say, I hope not.  These letters kind of signify the heday of the print industry.  I think of the bustling newsroom, reporters chomping on cigarettes, the deadlines, scoops, etc. and the importance of the city paper.  I still (being the optimistic one) think the papers will rebound.  However, I don’t know if they’ll ever be at the magnitude they once were.  Certainly not in print, but hopefully in other formats.  These little letters say a lot.

From here, we head around the corner.

A little bit further.

And then, from across the street, I get this photo.

Above:  The inspiration for Village People everywhere:  The old YMCA building.

Right along First Avenue South, guess what else sat right next to the train tracks?  Well, again, if you read my description – it’s the old, abandoned YMCA building.

I’m not particularly a YMCA buff like I am with the trains, but this building is unique.  It’s actually really spectacular.  And I have a notion that it’s almost doomed for the wrecking ball soon.

It hasn’t been anything (business-wise) since I’ve lived down here and appears to have been vacant for an extremely long amount of time (I’m not sure how long of time, but judging by its deteriorating looks – its’ been awhile).  I can tell that this has been home of many transients and am actually surprised by the lack of vandalism to it.  I’m thinking others might have the same respect for this place I do.

What is it about the building do I like?  Well, it’s just a classic-style place.  It was built in 1926 and it would be too bad if nothing happens to it.  It has unique shapes, curves and colors.  I can only imagine what the inside has.  I’ve heard that it actually has a beautiful marble lobby, pool, chandeliers and more.  Developers come and go – but no one is buying (here’s an article about some of that).  I would buy it and make it a pretty smooth looking cartoon studio, but based on my income, I don’t see that happening too quickly.

Here are some more shots of it.

Above:  Even the old lighting is appealing

Above:  The old logo.  A little paint and this thing looks like new.

Above:  The main entrance on 5th Street South (116 5th St. S.) which parallels 1st Avenue South.

Above:  Another view.  Notice no spray paint.  That’s encouraging.

And for now, our last stop is a real jewel.

One of my favorite authors, Jack Kerouac, lived in St. Petersburg at the end of his life.  In fact, he died five blocks away from where I live at inside St. Anthony’s hospital at the age of 47.

His last stop?  Well, it’s a hangout of mine.

Jack used to frequent a bar called Flamingos on 9th Street N.  He would often go in there to write, hang out and it’s the place where he had his last drink.  From Flamingos, he walked home and then went to the hospital and died.

Well, that’s not an outcome I’m after, but his works are outstanding and – like I say – is definitely one of my favorite authors.  If you haven’t read one of his On the Road books, you’re missing out.

The cool thing about Flamingos is it hasn’t changed since the 1960’s – when Jack died.  (They don’t even have a website.  How old school is that?)  In fact, when you go in there, there’s a little bit of pink paint still on the floor that was the original paint from when Kerouac would sip some drinks there.  It also has some impressionable memorabilia from other famous people who have stepped inside.  All that being said, this place IS NOT a tourist trap.  In fact, they don’t really promote any of Jack’s history (again, they don’t even have a website).  It’s a hole-in-the-wall.  Interesting characters?  Yes.  But that’s what makes it neat.  There’s no commercialism to it.  It’s a cash-only bar.  Nothing special, which is how they like it.  It’s the way it was meant to be.

So, we go there.  We walk.  It’s not far from us (my wife and I) and when I go there I don’t really think of what Jack was doing like I used to.  I go there to go there.  And I’m sure on occasion I’m sitting in Jack’s stool and don’t even realize it (it’s the same bar stools from the 60’s as well).

Above:  My wife, Jack and I.  One of a few things that recognizes Jack’s connection is his image out front.

And that will do it for the first tour of downtown.

I’m not sure where you live, what city or home you’re residing, but if you’re like me – think about where you’re at.  You might be surprised sometimes.  I never knew a lot of this was around me when I moved here.  I liked St. Petersburg for its weather and surroundings – not history.  But, come to find out, there’s a lot of it (history).  And what I’ve shown you here is just several blocks surrounding me.

Wait, there’s more!  Until next time, history buffs.


6 Responses to “My Neighbor, Jack”

  1. gardenfreshtomatoes February 24, 2012 at 6:07 am #

    Great post!
    So sad about that YMCA building. It does look like it would make great studio space…or a community arts center…or – whatever, just don’t tear it down!
    Keep ’em coming! St Pete is more interesting than I ever imagined.

    • w101njf February 24, 2012 at 6:40 am #

      Well, I’m hoping SOMETHING happens to the YMCA building. It is a neat spot (and great location). But yes, that wrecking ball needs to stay away.

      More coming soon!

  2. bearman February 24, 2012 at 7:24 am #

    Is that poop on the ground in the forefront of the first pic? Did you just sit in it?

    • w101njf February 24, 2012 at 7:30 am #

      So THAT’S what stunk after shooting these. Whew! Explains a lot!

  3. Dennis Fakes February 25, 2012 at 7:32 pm #

    What fun. I love learning about old things–especially when something significant happened there.

    • w101njf February 28, 2012 at 11:30 am #

      The old thing that aren’t really well known are really intriguing to me (aka: places/things WITHOUT a visitors map). There’s plenty more around here….stay tuned.

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