Jewel Of The City

 

``You pick people up at the airport, put a bag over their heads, drive them to Gandy and then take it off when you get to Bayshore Boulevard,'' says an architect specializing in urban design.

``As Bayshore wends its way to downtown, you see these phenomenal buildings, the glimpses of the minarets of the University of Tampa, the parents walking with kids, the dogs, the joggers. It is simply spectacular.

``Bayshore is the definitive public space in Tampa.''

With its distinctive white balustrade, its romantic view of a sparkling Hillsborough Bay on one side and its exquisite, multimillion-dollar homes on the other, Bayshore Boulevard is a key point of civic pride.

Thousands of revelers flock to its 6.5-mile sidewalk in January or February each year to catch beads flung by ersatz pirates coming ashore as part of the annual Gasparilla Pirate Fest. Most every Friday since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, a group of men and women calling themselves the Bayshore Patriots has gathered there to wave flags as a show of patriotism.

``Even as a child, almost by osmosis, you could feel the pull of the Bayshore,'' says Mary who grew up nearby and now lives a block away. ``To ride your bicycle there, even 50 years ago, was a great feeling.

``Even now, as you walk alongside the water, and you become weary, you can stop on a bench put there for your rest. You can gaze at the water when the sunshine strikes it. You can watch as the storms come in, see the water pounding the shore. It's there for everybody, for all ages, for all of us.''

The Bayshore,'' as it is called by longtime residents, run deep. Developer Col. Alfred Reuben Swann, her great-grandfather, had a vision for that stretch of shoreline in the early 1900s.

`The Bayshore: Boulevard of Dreams,'' she discovered that Swann, whose name lives on as a familiar Tampa avenue, and his partner, Eugene Holtsinger, set out consciously to limit development on the lip of the shore.

Instead, fine homes would be built across the street, allowing the stretch alongside the water to remain open to the public.

The thinking likely arose from the ``city beautiful'' movement that was the rage in Europe at the time,

``It was an American version of the European promenade that was popular then,''

Mud Flats And Mangroves

Other waterfronts in Tampa had been taken over by industry, by the railroads and port traffic, and by homeowners. But the shoreline along the western side of Hillsborough Bay was less desirable.

``It was very shallow, maybe not so useful for boats,'' Moore says. It was marked by mud flats and overgrown mangroves, as well.

To pretty it up, a suction dredge covered the mud flats with clean sand brought up from the bottom of the bay, and a sturdy sea wall was constructed. Electric lights installed atop poles were a modern marvel.

In the late 1800s, a trolley route had been built along the water's edge to take riders south to Ballast Point Pavilion, an open-air dancing spot, theater, bath house and restaurant. The building burned to the ground in 1927, but not before throngs of visitors had made the scenic journey.

``The ride ... is in itself a delightful trip, the bracing sea breeze, the charming scenery and the comfortable cars combining to charm the eye and please the senses,''.

People decided it would be a nice place to live.

Swann and Holtsinger built Suburb Beautiful, Bayshore's first subdivision, in 1907, and by 1914, Bayshore was a two- lane brick street separating mansions from the shore.

The 1930s saw the birth of the distinctive look of the Bayshore, when Tampa snagged a redevelopment project funded by the Works Progress Administration, part of President Roosevelt's New Deal. Unemployed men were put to work repairing the sea wall, which had been damaged in a hurricane, and building a larger, distinctive balustrade.

A Children's Wonderland

Warner Wood, 71, a retired Tampa orthodontist, remembers growing up on a Bayshore that was a ``child's wonderland'' in the 1940s.

``It was our Eden, our little playground,'' he says. ``People could park right on Bayshore. We might see two or three cars all afternoon.''

Summers were a long stretch of fishing, playing football in Bayshore's grassy medians, and more fishing. A boy peering into the clear waters with baited hook could spot spadefish, pipefish, needlefish, eels, sea horses and a variety of minnows.

``Snook would lie against the sea wall and then bolt out into the channel, leaving an explosion of sand,''.

He and his friends eagerly awaited the arrival of tarpon in June, sometimes using a tin pauper's coffin sealed with tar as a boat to paddle out into the bay.

Wood and his buddies still gather to fish along Bayshore, but the waters don't yield much these days, just ladyfish and jackfish - ``the survivors,'' he calls them. He blames pollutants.

For years, virtually untreated human waste flowed into Hillsborough Bay, contributing to the nefarious ``Bayshore smell.''

Jeanne Holton Carufel, 51, vividly remembers sitting in classrooms - sans air conditioning - at nearby Academy of the Holy Names, not knowing whether or not to pray for a cooling breeze.

``We would smell the Bayshore, and it was awful!'' she says.

Into the 1970s, the growing stench and a flagging economy began deterring people from moving to Bayshore, leading to worry that property values would drop and the mansions would fall into disrepair.

Tampa's conversion to more advanced sewage treatment in 1980 was key to dissipating some of the stench and restoring the boulevard's charm.

Improvements And Controversy

In the early 1990s, a major reconstruction of Bayshore was completed, with improved landscaping, new sea walls, a bike path and a jogging course.

But debate ensued about the balustrade. Some wanted it gone, believing it old- fashioned and an obstruction to the view. Others praised its historical feel. Eventually, the balustrade was restored, but a wider buffer between cars and sidewalk traffic was created for safety.

Bayshore lovers have yet to completely wave away controversy.

A jogger was struck and killed by a motorcycle in February, leading to a task force recommendation under review by Mayor Pam Iorio that calls for more traffic lights and a lowering of the speed limit from 40 mph to 35.

The erection of high-rise condominiums has worried residents since the 1960s, but for years, only the Harbour House and Bayshore Towers would rise along the boulevard. A rebirth in interest in urban living has led developers to seek out Tampa's available waterfront property, including what remains along Bayshore. Currently, residents are battling a high-rise at the southern end of the Hyde Park Historic District.

``We want to continue to protect the Bayshore from developers who would take advantage of it,'' says Carufel, president of the Historic Hyde Park Neighborhood Association.

Urban architect Moore believes there is a place for high- rise living along Bayshore.

``I like them,'' he says. ``It gives more people access rather than less. And our cities are changing. In the 1960s, just under one-half of all households were a nuclear family, with a mother, father and kids. The natural place for them to want to be is someplace with a yard, with part of an acre. Now, the nuclear family is just 23 percent.''

More people living near Bayshore will enhance it, he says.

``Cities need to be enjoyed by the people who live here, not just the tourists,'' Moore says. ``Part of that is having the chance every day to slow down, look at the houses on Bayshore, look at the bay.''

He believes Bayshore Boulevard is a model of what a city can do with careful planning, foresight and the affection of those who valued its beauty.

``Bayshore is this wonderful place, our place for special events, for parades,'' Moore says. ``It is our icon.''

 

 

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