St. Petersburg was born and came of age during an era when transportation was the key to
development. The city’s rise to fame as a tourist destination began with the rail and steamboat connections that gave sun-starved snowbound northerners access to the area’s tropical wonders.
That great transportation link came about with the completion of the railroad pier in 1888 near today’s Central Avenue.
Soon, trains from Henry B. Plant’s rail line were arriving along with the Plant System’s steamboats, to be greeted by the town’s 30 inhabitants. The Detroit Hotel opened that same year, just steps away, with its 40 rooms readied for the expected tourist boom. The pier’s role in the city’s emergence and growth was established.
In the 1890s, a bathing pavilion and toboggan slide were added to the pier, beginning its role as an entertainment site. A competing pier, built by D.F.S. Brantley in 1895, also featured a pavilion and slide. The manager of the railroad pier bragged his bathhouse offered patrons “a freshwater bath after you take a dip in the briny blue.”
Brantley’s pier was torn down in 1906 and a larger pier was constructed near the foot of Second Avenue by F.A. Davis, who brought electric lighting to St. Pete. The Electric Pier served as a dock for Davis’s 500-passenger steamer, the Favorite.
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The Electric Pier’s demise came in 1913 with the construction of the Municipal Recreation Pier, the first downtown pier devoted to pleasure. The columned wooden structure known as The Spa offered a bathhouse and solarium, along with a sandy beach.
The hurricane of 1921 left the Spa in bad shape, transportation was limited as well, but the pier would be transformed by the construction of the city’s prime waterfront tourist destination of the next decades – the Million Dollar Pier.
What Happened Next
Financed by a million dollar bond issue and constructed for a total cost of $998,729.18, the Million Dollar Pier was the crown jewel that symbolized St. Petersburg’s boom times. Some 10,000 people attended the official dedication on Thanksgiving Day 1926.
For four decades, the Million Dollar Pier with its massive Mediterranean Revival casino building at the tip was the gathering place for downtown St. Pete. Activities ranged from rooftop dances and tourist card parties to fishing and sightseeing.
The Pier’s fortunes declined along with the city’s in the 1960s, and in 1967 the venerable structure faced the wrecking ball.
Today’s inverted pyramid municipal pier went up in the early ’70s and has undergone several rejuvenations since. Though its profile is lowered from its million dollar ancestor, the Pier still draws crowds of residents and tourists each year