Florida is slowly opening up and Florida’s beaches, the longest in the United States will play a major role in the economic recovery of Florida’s largest industry – tourism. I thought it would be appropriate therefore to take a visit to the oldest modern beach resort on Florida’s Gulf Coast. For those who want to hit the beach and the neat little shops and fine seafood restaurants, you can use this article. If you still want to stay in an automobile, you are cruise the streets from the tip of the Pinellas Peninsula northward toward the Don Cesar Resort.
PASS-A-GRILLE BEACH, the Southernmost of Pinellas County’s barrier beaches, is now the lower part of Saint Petersburg Beach. Yet the village was the first beach community on the Gulf of Mexico to develop as a weekend residential spot for successful Tampa and St. Petersburg residents. Home to fishermen, farming homesteaders, and lumbermen like Zephaniah Phillips as early as the 1880s, the island didn’t develop until Roy S. Hanna and Tampa cigar magnate Selwyn Morey started to develop lots for houses and hotels. Without a bridge until the 1900s, they invested in passenger boats taking visitors from the railroad towns of Tampa and Saint Petersburg to the beach.
James H. Forquer, manager of St. Petersburg’s Detroit Hotel, set up a floating hotel for excursionists and in 1898 George Henri Lizotte, a French travel agent for Thomas Cook Company, opened a huge, first permanent hotel. In summer, with the Northern tourists gone, the beach began to attract vacationers from all over Florida.
Although the town has merged with St. Petersburg Beach since 1957, Pass-A-Grille maintains its own arty and bohemian lifestyle, in part, because the village is but one block wide and 31 blocks long. There are no giant condos and huge 200-room resorts in Pass-A-Grille. By the 1920s humble cottages were built by people like Babe Ruth, who wanted to avoid the crowds. Prices are high for little houses with no front or back yards for the beach is your play area.
WHERE TO START: The island is ideal for walkers if you PARK AT THE SOUTH END OF GULF WAY by the beach. DRIVERS would appreciate the weekdays when you can loop around the narrow roads. BEWARE: although there is paid parking along the entire beach, parking fills up and there are no garages.
DRIVE EAST ON FIRST AVENUE toward Pass-A-Grille Channel to see the end of Pinellas County’s 26 miles of oceanfront. Only 103 First Avenue, a two-story frame with an old metal stove chimney is an early house. (1) LANDS END is a cottage colony at the very tip of Pass-A-Grille with a view toward the mouth of Tampa Bay. Here are some driving tour tips, but you can easily walk up to the downtown area and the history museum.
TURN LEFT (north) ON GULF and PASS SECOND AVENUE. On your left are four early 1920’s cottages: (2) 200 Pass-A-Grille, a fine 2 1/2- story frame structure with a large front porch.
TURN LEFT ON THIRD AVENUE. All the cottages on your left are old, including the (3) DR. EDMUND MELVILE HOUSE (1906), 104 Third Avenue, a two story that was moved from the Point to make way for apartments. At 110 Third Avenue was the (4) THOMAS WATSON COTTAGE SITE, the cute winter home of Thomas Watson, co-inventor of the telephone.
TURN RIGHT ON GULF and then RIGHT ON FOURTH AVENUE.
On your left is the historic family-owned (5) HOTEL CASTLE (1906) one of the older beach establishments and an unusual style of a beach colony. On your right is the (6) FIRST SCHOOLHOUSE (1912), 105 Fourth Avenue, a one room school, now a residence. Across the street lived William Staub, editor of the St. Petersburg Times (111 Fourth). (7) HAROLD McPHERSON HOUSE (1903), 308 Pass-A-Grille, once an old fish camp, now a large frame house.
TURN LEFT ON PASS-A-GRILLE.
The next four houses on your left are fine older homes. The first one is the (8) WALDRON HOUSE (1910), 400 Pass-A-Grille, with a wonderful stone fence and cement yard.
TURN LEFT ON FIFTH AVENUE where old cottages line both sides. The first house on your left is the (9) CAPTAIN RANDON MILES HOUSE (1920), 102 Fifth Avenue, one of the island’s oldest, complete with fluted chimney. The last house on the left is the modernized (11) JAMES SIMMONS HOUSE (1911), 108 Fifth Avenue, a big waterfront owned by the New York Congressman. A huge condo blocks the water view today.
TURN RIGHT ON GULF and right on SIXTH AVENUE. This entire block is mostly 1920’s cottages. The last house on the left stands where Zephaniah Phillips built his sawmill in 1884.
TURN LEFT ON PASS-A-GRILLE and LEFT ON SEVENTH.
The 600 block once had some old houses like the (11) AMELIA WILLIAMS HOUSE (l9l9), 612 Pass-A-Grille. At 608 Pass-A-Grille was the (12) ZEPHANIAH PHILLIPS HOUSE (1886), once probably the oldest home on the island. Giant three story condos mark this area today. On your right is 1917 (13) V. K. OUTLANDS HOUSE (1917), home of a noted poet, batter known locally as the “Cat Woman.” Here and at 702 Pass-A-Grille were located the Old Spanish Fishing Ranchos in the 1880s.
At 102 Seventh Avenue is the (14) GEORGE GRANGER HOUSE (1925), one of the oldest waterfront cottages in Pinellas.
TURN RIGHT ON GULF WAY and RIGHT ON EIGHTH AVENUE, downtown Pass-A- Grille. The two-story buildings with their open or enclosed second-floor porches give downtown a frontier look except at 111 Eighth, a delightfully tiny pink storefront advertising “a little room for ART.” A block away is the towering HURRICANE RESTAURANT, where people drive for miles for a grouper sandwich and a sunset view from the rooftop bar.
DOWNTOWN is one long block of funky shops dating as far back as the 1920s. At 107 Eighth Avenue was the (16) JOSEPH MERRY BAIT SHOP (l911). The fancy building at 106 Eighth Avenue is the 1913 (17) J. J. DUFFY GROCERY, started by the first Mayor and major developer of this area. The huge second-floor balcony and the many flags remind me of a consulate in some foreign country. Several shops are housed at the (18) CAPTAIN KEN MERRY BUILDING (1936), 105 Eighth Avenue, once the Kay Metz store. At 102 Eighth Avenue was the (19) JAMES MASON HOUSE (1923), one of the earliest hotels and now an apartment building.
Continue North of Pass-a-grille way to Ninth Avenue.
On your right is the Pass-A-Grille Park. On your left at 808 Pass-A-Grille is the (20) JUDGE L. S. SCHWERDTFEBER HOUSE (JEWETT VILLA) (1908), a big house with three dormers and a cute, little white fence. The Seaside Grille Pavilion across Gulf Way along the public beach continues a tradition started in 1905 by Charles S. Page who opened a beachside snack bar.
One can not miss the (21) PASS-A-GRILLE COMMUNITY CHURCH (1911), 115 Tenth Avenue, now a history museum for the Pinellas islands. Stop by and visit the exhibits if the building is open. (22) 105 Tenth Avenue once housed the 1913 Women’s Club.
At 103 Tenth Avenue is the (23) E. C. KITTRIGHT HOUSE (1903), one of the island’s oldest and moved from downtown. At the end of the block is 1906 (24) ALPHONSE THAYER HOUSE, 1000 Pass-A-Grille. The art gallery on the backside was the studio of noted artist Ralph McKey.
This shop is just ten-foot-wide.
TURN LEFT ON PASS-A-GRILLE past the 1910 Mac Granger House at 1002 Pass-A-Grille, and TURN LEFT ON ELEVENTH AVENUE. At 109 Eleventh Avenue is the delightful (24) CHARLES BEINERT COTTAGE, (1921), better known as the “Staten Island Cottage.”
This ends of the original Pass-A-Grille district. At 113 Twelfth Street is the house with the wonderful porch, the (25) VASHTI BARLETTE COTTAGE (1918) and at 1202 Pass-A-Grille Way is the three-story (26) HAROLD McPHERSON HOUSE.
OTHER SPOTS: 1805 Pass-A-Grille Way – the 1928 waterfront house of movie actress Norma Talmadge; 2201 Pass-A-Grille Way – the 1948 Women’s Club. 1307 Gulf Way – the 1922 Sea Spray Motel, popular in Florida Land Boom with actor Lionel Barrymore has been replaced by a very expensive 2017 beach mansion.