The St. Petersburg Yacht Club is almost 110 years old. It’s 100 anniversary was marked with a number of gala events and activities that celebrated the occasion.
Organized in 1909 with the purpose “to promote, encourage and protect interests of boating and boatsmen in and about the city of St. Petersburg,” the yacht club had a fitful start.
According to historian Carl Grismer, nothing definite was accomplished until 1916. Then, a group of the city’s movers and shakers, led by William Straub of the St. Pete Times, the Evening Independent’s Lew Brown, and George Gandy of Gandy Bridge fame, decided to jump in and revitalize the organization. Action followed. A group of charter members were
promptly signed up, and $15,000 was raised to construct a new clubhouse.
A problem surfaced, however. The Yacht Club was without “yachts.”
“After the club was formed, somebody happened to realize that none of the members except Gandy had a boat,” charter member Walter Fuller reported. The flaw was quickly remedied when a fleet of 12 sailboats, “14 feet long and cheap” according to Fuller, were shipped down from New Jersey.
That issue settled, the club proceeded to gain a 30-year lease from the city on a prime waterfront lot at the end of Central Avenue.
On June 15, 1917, the clubhouse building was opened, and the dream of a world-class yachting center for the booming Sunshine City was finally realized. The club prospered along with the city, fueled by a growing enthusiasm for boating. Soon, the need for expansion was evident.
A major bond issue of $60,000 to enlarge the yacht club was approved on April 22, 1921. Despite being swamped by the biggest hurricane ever to hit St. Petersburg in October of that year, the yacht club improvements moved forward at a rapid pace. The newly enlarged clubhouse opened just before Christmas 1922.
Plush times were to follow. The expansion gave the club new prominence in major yachting circles. St. Petersburg became famous as a yachting center, with the yacht club hosting major events such as the Gulf Yachting Association’s annual regatta, the St. Petersburg-Havana yacht race and the Southern Ocean Racing Conference competitions.
The club’s vitality as a center of social activity helped it survive some challenging financial periods, Grismer noted. He points out that fewer than one third of the early members owned boats, due to expense and ownership restrictions.
The club underwent a $4 million renovation and expansion in 1992, adding a swimming pool and windows in front to take advantage of the waterfront views. Sailboat racing activities, including junior sailing classes for youth, are the focus of the Sailing
Center at Demen’s Landing.
Today, “members value the unique and friendly blend of social and boating enthusiasts, anchored by the Club’s impressive boating history,” according to the club website.