Preservation in Motion: Saving the Historic Bay Gables House

August 1, 2022

It’s not every day that you see a 100-year-old mansion being driven down the street. But that’s exactly what downtown residents encountered in the early morning hours this past Sunday as the Historic Bay Gables home at 136 4th Avenue NE was loaded onto a massive flatbed truck, destined to make history in a new neighborhood ten blocks away.

Moving the 112-year-old home is part of a plan that will make way for the 23-story Nolan condominium project. But, while saving Bay Gables – one of the oldest homes in St. Petersburg - is a victory for Historic Preservation, it’s only part of the story.

Bay Gables will lend its distinctive character to the Historic Uptown neighborhood, on the corner of Eighth Avenue N and Dartmoor Street North after movers, city workers, police, and Duke Energy employees worked through the night to carefully transport the home to its new location. 

Meanwhile, the 100-year-old home located next door (at least up until last Sunday) to Bay Gables at 126 4th Avenue, was demolished in July. Sadly, there was no truck ride for the former Morrison Hotel.

Both homes were constructed more than a century ago. Both feature(d) Queen Anne and Colonial Revival architectural elements. Both are/were listed as contributing structures to St. Pete’s Downtown National Historic Landmark District. So why was one saved while the other got a date with the wrecking ball?

The answer is that one – Bay Gables - is a Designated Local Landmark while the other, the former Morrison Hotel, was not.

“Local designation is really the only thing that guarantees a building can’t be demolished,” said Preserve the ‘Burg board member and historic preservationist, Emily Elwyn. “National Designation is mostly an honorary recognition and opens the door to federal funding for restoration work, but local designation is where the enforcement happens. Without it, a building can absolutely be demoed,” she said.

Unlike being listed on the National Register, local landmark designation provides protection from demolition and alterations, which are reviewed and approved by the City’s historic preservation staff.

"Land use ordinances, particularly historic preservation codes and ordinances, are governed and enforced at the local level," said PTB's executive director, Manny Leto. 

PTB has a long history of working to protect 4th Avenue North, which features a relatively concentrated streetscape of historic resources, including some of the oldest buildings in downtown. But the historic corridor is rapidly changing. PTB’s efforts to save both Bay Gables and the Morrison Hotel date back to at least 2008, when a previous developer declared Bay Gables “too fragile to relocate.”

In 2019, St. Pete’s Development Review Commission approved The Nolen over PTB’s objections, but we were happy to support the developer, DDA Development, and their agreement to relocate Bay Gables at their expense.

The home landed safely near Round Lake around noon on Sunday.

To learn more about the historic designation process click here.

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