Florida Ranch-Style ArchitectureThe Bahama Shores Neighborhood is located just south of Little Bayou. It is bounded on the west by 4th Street and on the east and south by Tampa Bay. Little Bayou is located just south of Big Bayou, adjacent to the Driftwood Neighborhood. A bayou is a water body tributary to another body of water, or simply a marsh. Little Bayou merges with Tampa Bay and is fed by Little Bayou Creek, which originally began from springs that now feed Lake Vista. At one time Little Bayou was a marsh, but little of the marsh exists today.
Both Bahama Shores and Driftwood were first settled by Native Americans, but few vestiges of theses original settlers remain. The Indian mounds in this area of St. Petersburg were destroyed long ago. One might see a few conch shells remaining from the mounds from time to time while kayaking the bayous. Big Bayou was the site of the first European settlement in what is now St. Petersburg. The settlement was called Pinellas Village. It eventually included a post office and general store. Abel Miranda established a “fish rancho” there in 1857, catching primarily mullet and selling them to Cuba. He was soon joined by his wife’s brothers, John and William Bethell, who established their own mullet ranch at Little Bayou. But for the most part, Little Bayou and the area immediately south of it remained undeveloped and undisturbed until the 1920s. In the mid-1920s, there was a burst of development in what is now South St. Petersburg. This included Lakewood Estates and Golf Course, and the Pinellas Point neighborhood known for its pink streets. In 1926, the Bee Line Ferry was established at what is now Bay Vista Park, cutting the travel distance from St. Pete to Bradenton by 49 miles.Perhaps anticipating a positive boost from the greater accessibility created by the ferry, in that same year Burnette F. Stevenson undertook the development of what was to become Bahama Shores. Stevenson was from Detroit, where he was one of the city’s premier builders. In 1926, he established a winter home in St. Pete, moored his yacht Anona in the downtown North Yacht Basin, and founded the Marina Land Company. The original name for Bahama Shores was Alta Marina. A unique sales building with a tower in the Mediterranean Revival/mission-style was built at the corner of 4th Street and 60th Avenue South. The plat for Alta Marina included streets with Spanish names and anticipated the creation of canals and small basins abutting Tampa Bay. Today’s 62nd Avenue South east of 4th Street was named Gerona Avenue. A grand entrance to the development was designated Palma Victoria Boulevard. This street was 100 feet wide, paved in brick with a median down the middle. Today it is 60th Avenue. But, just as the development got underway the boom in St. Pete collapsed. In the 1920s, developers largely purchased land for home sites and laid out the streets or grid. They did not generally undertake the actual construction of homes. Only two homes were built in Alta Marina, both of these in the Mediterranean Revival style. These homes still stand today. Their architect was Edgar Ferdon, St. Petersburg’s first professional architect. Ferdon came to the city in 1892. His works include the Crislip Arcade on Central Avenue and the First Congregational Church on 4th Street North, now designated as a city landmark. The development languished throughout the Depression. In 1941, Paul E. Lundmark of Chicago and Indianapolis acquired Alta Marina and began development anew. The Bahama Beach Construction Company was formed, and the development was renamed Bahama Beach. Lundmark began construction of a few high-quality homes, primarily along 4th Street. But WWII brought a hiatus to construction and at some point Lundmark sold Bahama Beach to Robert W. Lyons.
Lyons was originally from Indiana. Early in his career he served as secretary to the Secretary of Defense, and for many years worked as an attorney in New York for major department stores such as F.W. Woolworth and J.C. Penny. He came to St. Pete in the mid-1930s and originally lived in Driftwood. With the end of the war, development in the city began again, stimulated by the GI housing financing program. The Bahama Beach Replat Survey document attested by Lyons and his wife Alma is dated October 23, 1946. Lyons formed the Coronada Company to continue the Bahama Beach development. He hired William F. Gorman as his agent, and engaged George C. Buchtenkirk, apparently from New York, as architect. Gorman was also involved in the building of Brightwaters Blvd. on Snell Isle. Lyons dredged along the bay and filled about a mile of shoreline to a height of eight feet above sea level, claimed to be “the highest major waterfront development on the West Coast [of Florida].” The project’s tagline was “Where Tampa Bay Meets the Gulf of Mexico.” This was somewhat of a stretch as the bay and the Gulf do not actually meet until one passes Pinellas Point further south. Lyons engaged Henry S. Churchill, a prominent New York city planner, to design the Bahama Shores development. Churchill’s recommendations for the neighborhood are unknown. Lyons and his wife Alma moved in to one of the two 1926 homes that were a part of the original Alta Marina development.Lyons’ vision for the development greatly exceeded that of Stephenson. In addition to a fine neighborhood, Lyons also built a hotel and yacht club, a restaurant, and had an interest in a motor lodge. The Bahama Beach Hotel and Yacht Club was constructed adjacent to Little Bayou in 1947. It was intended as an amenity for residents of Bahama Shores as well as the general public. The neighborhood association held its meetings there. William Harvard and John Dodd were the architects. Harvard would later go on to design some of the city’s most notable structures including the Williams’ Park bandstand, the Central Library, and the Inverted Pyramid Pier. The hotel was composed of small bungalows totaling 120 rooms, many of which are still standing. There were also a swimming pool, tennis courts, and four docks extending 100 feet into the bayou – “enough to accommodate 80 yachts.” While the hotel was connected to the neighborhood, the motor lodge and restaurant were some distance away at 4th Street and 18th Avenue South near Bartlett Park. There the El Rancho Motor Lodge and the Wedgwood Restaurant were constructed. William Harvard was also an architect for El Rancho. While George Buchtenkirk designed most of the early homes in Bahama Shores, Harvard also designed two, one of which he planned to live in himself but never did. The Wedgwood restaurant was opened in 1946. The author A. Wynelle Deese in her book St. Petersburg Florida: A Visual History described the restaurant as canopied by huge trees. The dining room was shrouded with exotic flowering plants and trees. There was an aviary of colorful and melodious birds that shared the dining room with patrons. The restaurant claimed to have the world’s best apple pie, and the restaurant was recommended by the celebrated chef Duncan Hines. The restaurant also claimed to have the world’s largest collection of antique Wedgwood ceramics on display for free – hence its name. Whether the restaurant was an independent venture of Robert Lyons, or seen as a way also to positively impact his Bahama Beach development is uncertain. It was one of the first major restaurants located in South St. Pete. Aside from its waterside location, Bahama Shores’ most distinctive feature is its architecture. Lyons’ architect designed unique early ranch-style homes on a grand scale, many of which remain with little change. Lot sizes were large, a minimum of 100 feet long and wide, with waterfront lots having a depth of 200 feet. The original homes were designed to be of the “low, rambling, ranch-type,” and have a very distinctive appearance. They are solid and well-built, with little decoration. The living area is separate from the private bedroom areas and the garage is usually attached. Most are one story, with a light stucco exterior. Typically the garage and public rooms are on one side of the house, and the bedrooms and private areas on the other. The original roofs were of stepped flat tile and usually gable in shape, and overhang. There were porches and patio areas to provide space to enjoy the outdoors. Many of these have since been enclosed. Other features include high ceilings, some curved, and numerous large windows to facilitate cooling during the summer.
There was no air conditioning when the homes were built. Also, there are massive chimneys, simple horizontal, decorative exterior work, and spiral-shaped ornamental iron work. Several homes have exterior port-hole or circle decoration. Interior features include hard-wood, parquet, red tile, and marble floors, cedar closets, ample closet space, and fireplaces. Many homes include outside small walls creating courtyards and decorative tailings coming off the exterior walls. While the homes have many of these features in common, it is hard to find any two that are exactly alike. Early large ranch-style homes are Bahama Shores’ signature architecture, but other styles have also appeared over the years. These include some modern, Spanish, prairie, and of course the ever-popular Mediterranean Revival.
The neighborhood’s name Bahama Beach changed to Bahama Shores when Lyons acquired the development. Legal descriptions of the neighborhood still carry the name Bahama Beach. Every once in a while, a tourist using a GPS will still show up and ask where the beach is. There is none. While 60th Avenue was intended as the main street, Bahama Shores Drive paralleling the bay has since overshadowed it. An eight-acre public nature preserve abuts Little Bayou on the north. The Bahama Shores Neighborhood Association is one of the oldest in the city, dating from 1948. The association owns a small park overlooking the bay near the end of 58th Avenue South. Dolphins can often be seen swimming the shoreline from the park. Dolphins, rather than a beach, are the adopted logo of the neighborhood and are found on its street signs. Over the years, the neighborhood’s foliage has matured and is now lush with many pine, oak, banyan, poinciana, and kapok trees. Fourth Street has been landscaped with Royal Palms and hedges.In 1949 Lyons died suddenly of a heart attack while staying in the Willard Hotel in Washington, D. C. He was 53. After his death his considerable interests in Bahama Shores were put up for auction. At the time this included 19 unsold homes and 54 lots. Bahama Shores’ development was again derailed and growth thereafter continued at a much slower pace. In 1954 the hotel and yacht club was acquired by the Methodist Church and converted into a retirement community, initially called Bahama Shores Haven and later Sunny Shores Villas. In 1991 the complex became affiliated with Presbyterian Retirement Communities and the name was changed to Westminster Shores. The retirement community plays an active role in the neighborhood, and the neighborhood association holds its meetings there. In 1984 the movie Cocoon, directed by Ron Howard, and starring Maureen Stapleton, Don Ameche, and Tyrone Power, Jr., among, others, was filmed in part at Sunny Shores Retirement Community and the Bahama Shores neighborhood. Residents of Bahama Shores have often taken an active part in the city’s civic life over the years. Some of these include city manager Ross Windom, state legislator Bob Melby, city councilmen Ray Dugan and Larry Williams, city councilman and county commissioner Bob Stewart, Eckerd College president Peter Armacost, real estate entrepreneur Mark Mahaffey, civil rights and environmental leader Winnie Foster, and Florida Orchestra Conductor Stefan Sanderling.
Bahama Shores Association president Jeff Kusek says, “Bahama Shores is a vibrant little neighborhood with many generations of families making their home in this picturesque setting. This is truly a beautiful hidden gem on the southeast point of St. Petersburg.” Bahama Shores continues to be one of our city’s finest neighborhoods.
Resources used in this article include Ray Arsenault, St. Petersburg and the Florida Dream: 1888-1950 (1988/1996); A. Wynelle Deese, St. Petersburg Florida: A Visual History (2006); Karl H. Grismer, The Story of St. Petersburg (1948); Evening Independent, various including Jan. 29, 1941, Feb. 21, 1942, Aug. 13, 1948; St. Petersburg Architecture and Associated Industries, Featuring Bahama Beach (1947); Tampa Bay Times (St. Petersburg Times), various including, Feb. 22, 1942, Dec. 14, 1945, Jan. 31, 1946, July 4, 1947, July 2, 1947, Nov. 9, 1947, Sept. 4, 1948, Feb. 4, 1949, March 6, 1949, March 25, 1949, March 26, 1949; special thanks to Richard Brashear of Westminster Shores Retirement Community for his history and photos of the community, and to Bahama Shores residents Sue Riggins, John Fox, and Catherine Belcher for their assistance with this history.