For more than a century, the wealthy elite have built opulent mansions overlooking the scenic shores of Hillsborough Bay and Davis Islands, giving Bayshore Boulevard passersby something to gawk at and long for. With passing bikers, joggers, skaters, strollers and cars, it is Tampa's most visible residential street. And despite towering high rises, new modern-style homes and fast traffic that occasionally mows over a few palm trees, a Bayshore address is still an announcement to Tampa Bay that you've made it.

Newfound wealth trumpets it loudest. Ron wallace A man who made his fortune selling RV's off I-4 is building the largest Bayshore home, nearly 12,000 square feet. At the other end of the boulevard, the most majestic estate was renovated and expanded by a man who worked his way up through Coca-Cola. Another resident bought a historic home after hitting the jackpot managing casino operations for the Seminole Indians.

That's not to say the traditional professions, such as medicine and law, isn't represented. About a quarter of Bayshore homeowners between Gandy Boulevard and Davis Islands, are doctors and lawyers. Original Bayshore families are hard to come by. The Ferman family, of car dealership success, and concert musician Joseph Lieb , who was born in his Bayshore home, are among the handful who remain.

But the legacy of a quieter and gentler area lives on in the thoroughfare's history. Shaped by economic booms, depression and recession, Bayshore is a microcosm of American progress. The next time you raise a glass of champagne, you might want to toast Emelia Chapin. The Northern heiress reportedly introduced the bubbly spirit to Tampa at the lively parties she threw at her Bayshore mansion around the turn of the century, The Chapins, who started a Tampa street railway and electric company that later became TECO, built one of the first luxury homes on Bayshore in 1891.

Emelia Chapin insisted on having her own streetcar, She called it "Fair Florida." It traveled between her home and Ballast Point Pavilion. Tree new mansions now sit where her mansion once was, but you can still find the remnants of the rail tracks in Bayshore's medians. The Chapins weren't the only ones to recognize Bayshore's potential. Dutchman Frederick Salomonson, who later become Tampa mayor, bought Bayshore land and sold lots for less than the cost of today's big-screen TV's for $250, on a plan of $25 down and $5 a month, Bayshore lot could be yours. Today, lots start at about $350.000.

But it wasn't what today seems like bargain prices that fueled Bayshore's first heyday between 1900 and 1920. It was partly Florida's national publicity as a tropical paradise. The waterfront then had a beach and residents swam in a natural spring pool bear where Fred Ball Park is now. And it was the planning of two Tennessee developers, Col. Alfred Swann and Eugene Holtsinger, who tidied the area by building the city's first sea wall, dredging and filling in marshland with sand, and building the first paved road along the water, toast them, too, for they kept public access to the waterfront. Swann also built a Bayshore mansion for himself. Ironically, it withstood the area's worst hurricane in 1921, but it didn't survive progress.

It was torn down to make way for the massive Wallace homes now under construction. The hurricane, however, did destroy much of Bayshore's sea wall and flooded many hoes, Some residents escaped to rafts through their upstairs windows. Almost every home, including those still standing, suffered major damage. And it wasn't until the creation of the Worker's Progress Administration of the Depression that Bayshore was restored.

During those time the city also passed and ordinance prohibiting construction of new gas station, which explains why, to his day, there are no commercial businesses (except the already-existing Colonnade). By the 1960's traditional family homes on Bayshore had lost some of their appeal. As the nation was riveted by change in fashion, more and social consciousness, Bayshore made its most controversial transition. Under pressure form prominent residents who wanted to sell their homes, the Legislature agreed in 1961 to allow a high-rise district. It suddenly became cooler to live above Bayshore than on it.

To get there, though, some historic buildings and homes such as Centro Espanol Hospital, the Kreher home and Gov. Doyle Carlton's home had to go. The switch form single-family homes to condominiums had much appeal in the 1970s when the economy was sluggish, the wealthy moved to country clubs, and Bayshore became the Winston 500 during rush hour. To boot, the sidewalks butting the street were often strewn with glass, trash and noxious fumes from cars and the bay. It wasn't until 1988 that the city revamped the balustrade and put a grass median between the street and sidewalk.

Today Bayshore id enjoying a renaissance of sorts associated with booming economy and a kindled romance with convenient downtown living. Housing prices along the waterfront have never been higher, and new homes have never been larger. By pointing points out that many houses "of no consequence" will likely be torn down to make way for something bigger, grander.

While the average American family home has about 1,200 square feet. Bayshore homes commonly have 3,000 to 6,000 square feet. Smaller, 2,000-and 3,000-square foot houses of "no consequence" are newer testaments to wealth and prosperity. Some residents see it as inevitable progress, and some, like lifelong resident Joseph Lien, see it as a sellout of history and culture.

"All people seem to care about is just the almighty dollar, getting more bang for the buck, more square footage, more resale, "Lien said. "They kicked the crap out of this whole area. High-rises have taken dozens and dozens of houses." But even the harshest critic says he wouldn't live anywhere else. "As long as I live, I'm going to live here," Lieb said. "I love the place.

" Other residents echo that. For the most part changes have been for the better," said William Rodgers, a retired lawyer who's lived on South Bayshore since the 1950s. " More people utilize the sidewalk than ever before. "Traffic, pedestrian and engine-powered, has long been a part of Bayshore life that most residents invite, not shun, despite the fact that you rarely see any residents outside their homes. And of course, the No 1. Reason given for living there is the literal million-dollar view. Longtime resident Rodgers said.

"You have a panoramic view of everything: Tampa Electric, Davis Island. Sometimes you can see porpoise, airplanes flying over, and mullet jumping." And on most sunny days, residents can also get a good view to the rest of us as we exercise our legs and curiosity on the road of riches.