With St Petersburg upcoming Mayoral election, we thought it would be fun to look at one of
St. Petersburg’s earliest, and more colorful, Mayor – Noel Mitchell. Noel Mitchell is probably most famous for being the first to install the green benches that lined the streets of downtown St Petersburg during the first half of the twentieth century. But, he was St. Petersburg’s Mayor, for a short time, too.
“Mitch” as he was known, was a realtor in St Petersburg’s early boom-to-bust days. He was already a successful businessman when in 1907, he moved here from Rhode Island to operate a real estate company on the northeast corner of Central Avenue at Fourth Street. He owned the building which later became the Rutland Bank Building, and today is a City of St Petersburg’s Municipal Building.
Mitchell promoted his business by placing colorful park benches, with marketing messages, outside his office. One such message was, “The Honest Real Estate Dealer – Noel Mitchell. He Never Sleeps.”
Businesses copied his idea, and benches of various sizes and colors sprang up in front of storefronts throughout the area. While comfortable and convenient for residents and visitors, they were not an attractive look for the city, leading Mayor Al Lang to mandate all benches on city streets were to be the same size and color, green!
For over half a century after Mitchell introduced them, Central Avenue green benches were St Petersburg’s nationally recognized trademark. Loyal St Petersburg residents became a bit sensitive about them though when a famous columnist characterized ‘the Green Benchers as living in the cafeterial paradise of the idle stupid.”
From 1913 to 1924, Mitchell also bought and developed the south end of Madeira Beach. As a realtor, he had it platted, as Mitchell’s Beach Subdivision. Today’s deeds still refer to it as that.
In 1913, Mitchell bought a resort on the north bank of John’s Pass for a small fortune. It even came with a hotel. Mitchell bought other parcels of land, and owned most of Madeira Beach south of today’s 140th Avenue. Because of his beach property, he became known as “The Sand Man.”
Mitchell eventually sold his beach holdings, when he found himself too busy with other projects.He developed the Court House subdivision between 40th and 46th Streets near Central Avenue and was president of the Jungle Golf Club, where Admiral Farragut Academy is today.
He unsuccessfully ran for mayor many times, until in 1919, he saw an opportunity to capitalized on area women’s desire to vote. They had only recently won that right and with their support, he defeated incumbent mayor Al Lang, to became the twelfth Mayor of St Petersburg.
His term was short though, lasting only two years. Even though it was during prohibition and alcohol was illegal, he was known for his alcoholic binges. In 1921, the local
police raided a wild party in the Mayor’s office, where the guests were consuming alcohol. In those days, the Mayor’s office was right next door to the police department, so they
couldn’t ignore it. Mitchell was charged him with public drunkenness. Denying he was drunk, he refused to resign and had to be recalled from office. Mitchell vowed to run again, first for Mayor, then for Governor, but never did.