St. Petersburg



North Lawn & Cactus Garden, Sunken Gardens

Both times we visited Tampa first leaving us short of time in St Petersburg. Both times we did manage to get to St Petersburg’s long established botanical garden, the Sunken Gardens. Occupying a site of 1.6 hectares (4 acres), the gardens date back to 1903 when gardening enthusiast George Turner Sr. purchased the site. The land included a shallow lake which he drained to build his below sea-level (or sunken) garden. Turner planted many exotic plants as well as  papaya and citrus trees. It was originally his private garden but in 1920 Turner opened a nursery and allowed nursery visitors to stroll through the garden for a small fee. In 1935 the garden was fenced off and opened as an attraction in its own right, soon becoming one of Florida’s top attractions. After George Turner died in 1961 his two sons ran the garden until they sold it to the City of St Petersburg in 1999.


Replica of the 'Bounty', St Petersburg, FL, USA
Flamingos, Sunken Gardens, St Petersburg, FL, USA
North Lawn & Cactus Garden, Sunken Gardens, St Petersburg, FL, USA
Dali Museum, St Petersburg, FL, USA



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Flamingos, Sunken Gardens

In 1956 the Sunken Gardens introduced a new attraction, a 17 bird flock of Chilean flamingos. In 1982 we photographed five of them but by the time we last visited in 2014, the flock had shrunk to the two shown here. In 2016 a new flock of 20 Chilean Flamingos was brought in from from the San Antonio Zoo.

Dali Museum

In 1942,  businessman Reynolds Morse and his fiancée Eleanor from Cleveland, Ohio attended an exhibition of the works of Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dali. They were intrigued by his work and soon after they married they bought their first Dali painting. By the beginning of the 1970s their home was full of works by Dali and the Morses realised that they needed proper gallery to exhibit their collection. In 1971 they opened a Dali Museum in  Beachwood, Ohio which was opened by the artist himself. The museum became very popular, so popular that within a decade it could not cope with the number of visitors and the search began for a new home. St Petersburg bid to become that new home and in 1982 the Dali Museum opened in a converted warehouse in the city. In 2011 the collection moved to a new purpose built museum on the waterfront. Designed by architect Yann Weymouth the building pays homage to Dal’s surrealism  while also protecting its contents from hurricanes. The museum houses over 2,000 works from Dali’s long career which came to an end with his death in 1989. When we visited in 2014 photography was not permitted in the galleries, so no Dali pictures here. According to the Dali Museum web site photography is now permitted in the permanent collection. Instead our second picture is of the Wish Tree outside the the museum where visitors can write down a dream on their admission arm bands. The tree was toppled in 2017 by Hurricane Irma by was rigted and has survived. Click Tab 2 to see the Dali Wish Tree outside the museum.

Replica of the 'Bounty'

This photograph taken in 1982 shows the replica of the Bounty that was built for the 1962 film ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’. Built in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, the replica was due to be destroyed when  filming was complete, but actor Marlon Brando protested against this so once the ship had been used to promote the film it was moored in St Petersburg as a tourist attraction. In 1986 Ted Turner, the founder of CNN, acquired the replica and for a time it was used once again in films. By the start of the 21st century it was in poor condition. In 2002 much of her planking was replaced and in 2006 she was modified for use as a sail training ship while also making her appearance more authentic to the original Bounty.  On the 25 October 2012 she left  New London, Connecticut to sail to St Petersburg under captain Robin Walbridge with 15 crew. Hurricane Sandy was approaching but the captain believed that the ship would weather the storm better at sea than in dock.  Knowing that Sandy was a powerful hurricane, the crew were given the option of staying behind, but none did. In the early hours of October 29 she began to sink off the coast of North Carolina in the teeth of the hurricane and the crew had to abandon ship. Helicopters rescued 14 crew from the water and liferafts,  but the captain and one member of crew were lost along with the ship.

- From what we have seen so far, a very nice city.
- St Petersburg and Tampa are so close to each other that it is tempting to try to visit both in one day. As a result we have far less to show on St Petersburg than on Tampa - don’t fall into this trap as we did!
Our View
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But not 5

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The story of St Petersburg starts with two men from opposite sides of the globe. General John Williams from Detroit, Michigan bought 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) of land on Tampa Bay in 1875. He had plans to build a grand city, but made little progress. In 1881 Russian aristocrat Peter Demens arrived in New York having spend much of his childhood in Russia’s St Petersburg. He moved to Florida where he invested in the timber business. In 1885 he supplied sleepers (ties) to the Orange Belt Railway, a 914 mm (3 foot) gauge railroad being built between  Lake Monroe and Lake Apopka to carry citrus, vegetables and passengers. The railroad company was unable to pay, so Demens ended up owning the railroad. He was more ambitious, planning to take the railroad though to a western terminus on Tampa Bay. He negotiated with John Williams for land on which to build the terminus which opened on May 1, 1888. It was Demens who gave the town the name St. Petersburg after his childhood home. The same year Demens built an hotel in the town which was named the Detroit Hotel after Williams’ home town.  Demens sold the railroad in 1889, it struggled to make money and in 1895 it was bought by railroad mogul Henry B Plant who converted it to standard gauge. By the 1920s St Petersburg’s average of 361 days of sunshine a year was attracting tourists by the bucketload. The city continues to attract tourists to this day, not just for the sunshine, but also for its museums and art galleries.


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© Mike  Elsden 1981 - 2021

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