History of the Pier
St. Louis has its Arch, Seattle, the Space Needle, and San Antonio its River Walk. Similarly, St. Petersburg and its pier are indelibly linked.
One almost cannot exist without the other. In fact, one wouldn’t exist without the other – the city and the first pier birthed by the same mother, the Orange Belt Railroad in 1888.
For years if you asked a local to drive you to the pier they would head downtown, turn east on Second Avenue North, cross glitzy Beach Drive and Bay Shore Drive, and drive 1500 feet into Tampa Bay. Today this would land you in the drink, as the pier undergoes complete reconstruction. And even though the first pier was built in 1889, try those directions then and you’d have met a similar fate. To enjoy the pier in those days, one would need to head three blocks south to present day 1st Avenue South. That’s where the Railroad Pier was erected to facilitate the movement of goods between freighter ships and boxcars of the Orange Belt Railroad.
Nearly a dozen piers followed, at different times and in different locations, catering to the dueling needs of St. Petersburg’s citizens. In its early years the lifeblood of the city was its fishing industry and the pier was a critical link in that industry’s supply chain. As the city evolved under the direction of progressive citizens, a focus on tourism emerged, and the pier took on a very different role – the glittering location of dances, sunbathing, swimming, and boating. Shipping interests utilized the Railroad Pier, while tourists enjoyed the novelty of the Fountain of Youth Pier, residents flocked to the stunning Million Dollar Pier, and tongues wagged over the design of the controversial Inverted Pyramid Pier.
Today, citizens eagerly await the newest iteration of the pier. In a story as old as the city itself, the process of realizing this newest pier has been fraught with political back-biting and financial wrangling. But the promise of that long stroll or leisurely drive over the sparkling waters of Tampa Bay beckons as residents and tourists dream of piers past and future.
Take a stroll through piers past.
From its humble beginning as a railroad trestle devoted to the delivery of goods into the city from Tampa Bay, the
city of St. Petersburg has always had a pier.
The Railroad Pier
St. Petersburg’s first pier, The Railroad Pier, is built by the Orange Belt Railway at today’s First Avenue South, where Demens Landing is today. It stretches 3000 feet into Tampa Bay to a depth of twelve feet. The Pier quickly attracts fishermen and swimmers as well.
The Brantley Pier and the Waterfront Park system
Local boat builder D.F.S. Brantley builds a pier at Second Avenue North, three blocks from the Railroad Pier. The Brantley Pier stretches 1500 feet into the bay, to a depth of seven feet. Its location is too far from the railroad depot to be profitable.
The Fountain of Youth Pier
The Fountain of Youth Pier, set at the foot of Fourth Avenue South, is built in 1901 by Edwin Tomlinson. Tomlinson drills an artesian well at the base of the pier and promotes its malodorous sulfuric waters as “miraculously restorative.”
The Electric Pier
F.A. Davis opens an “Electric Pier” strewn with incandescent lights in 1905 at the site of the newly demolished Brantley Pier at Second Avenue North. Residents are delighted with the electric trolley that carried them to the end of the illuminated pier.
The Municipal Recreation Pier
The City opens the Municipal Recreation Pier, just ten feet north of the Electric Pier at Second Avenue North. The Electric Pier is torn down the following year.
The Million Dollar Pier
The Million Dollar Pier, which comes in under budget at $998,729.18, holds its grand opening on Thanksgiving Day 1926. The pier stretches 1400 feet into the Bay and quickly becomes the city’s most identifiable landmark and most popular recreation spot.