Few may realize that the building near the corner of 4th Street and 22nd Avenue North, familiar to many as the Melting Pot Restaurant, was a popular roadside attraction after World War II, through the 1950's. That was a time when visitors still primarily drove to Florida but before traffic flocked to U.S. 19 (34th St.) after the construction of the Skyway Bridge and, in later decades, I-275. As the primary tourist route into downtown, 4th Street was lined with roadside tourist motels like the recently demolished Holiday Motel and popular attractions like Sunken Gardens and Earl Gresh's Wood Parade.
The "Wood Parade" was located in the building that would become, in the late 1980's, the Melting Pot Restaurant. Earl Gresh built the building in the early 1930's to look like an English cottage. The Earl Gresh Wood Parade Museum Brochure describes it as follows,
"The architecture of Kent, England was chosen for the main building because it offers the best opportunity for displaying the work of wood craftsmen. The building with its mullioned windows is fashioned of hand hewn longleaf yellow pine timbers with flitch tide red cypress siding. The rived shingles of heart cypress are similar to those used on George Washington's home, Mount Vernon. Bricks from historic Fort Dade at the mouth of Tampa Bay were used for the garden wall and the immense chimney. The art of the hand craftsman is manifested in every detail of the exterior and interior of the building."
The Wood Parade would become a home for Earl Gresh's work, which included wooden fishing lures and tackles boxes as well as wooden purses and bracelets. The center of his museum contained the cross-section of a 2,270 year old tidewater red cypress tree stump. The museum featured carvings from all over the world that at first glance would appear to be paintings but were works of art made entirely of wood pieces and without paints or stains to color the wood. People traveled from all over to see his most famous series which contained 16 works illustrating the life of Christ. Gresh said of the series, "I'll be gone, you'll be gone, but they'll still be there". He was right, the series can still be seen at the Memorial Park Mausoleum at 49th Street and 54th Avenue N.
The construction of the Sunshine Skyway bridge moved traffic away from the 4th Street corridor which meant fewer and fewer tourists visiting the roadside attractions along its path. The Wood Parade closed in 1959. It has since been the home of various restaurants, most notably, Rollande et Pierre from 1959-1985 and more recently, the Melting Pot. With the recent closing of the Melting Pot, the building's fate is up in the air.
1940: The Earl Gresh "Wood Parade" opens. The workshop, gift shop, and museum becomes a major St. Petersburg attraction.
1959: The Wood Parade is closed due to a lack of tourists visiting after construction of the Sunshine Skyway bridge offered alternate and quicker traffic routes.
1959: The Rollande et Pierre French restaurant moves into the building until 1985 followed by a few other restaurants for short periods of time.
1988: The Melting Pot restaurant moves into the building.
2020: The Melting Pot announces it is closing, and the building is listed for sale.
2021: Site purchased by Mad Beach Brewing, with plans to open a new restaurant and brewery on the site.
The 4th Street corridor still retains numerous historic buildings that tell the story of our decades long tourist focused economy that led to St. Petersburg's growth and success. The closing of the Melting Pot and the Holiday Motel, which was demolished and replaced with a new strip commercial center, reminds us that many of these buildings are threatened. A 4th Street corridor historic survey and plan is needed to assure that the corridor's most important historic resources are identified and continue to contribute to our city's sense of place.
It is exciting that a local business has purchased the Earl Gresh Wood Parade site with plans to reuse the historic building as it creates a new restaurant and brewery. The charm of the historic building has attracted visitors for more than 80 years and is sure to continue to do so when renovated and reused.
We are actively encouraging the City to identify the 4th Street corridor historic resources and to develop a plan that will allow those buildings and resources to continue to contribute to St. Petersburg's unique sense of place. Additionally, we are working to increase public awareness of the importance of the 4th Street tourist corridor and its remaining historic resources to St. Petersburg's sense of place with public and private social media campaigns, online accessible information, and public programming. We are also advocating for the city to include polices in STPETE2050 to protect the 4th Street tourist corridor's historic resources. Finally, we are offering tours & programs about the historic 4th Street tourist corridor to encourage consideration by city council and local citizens of historic designation within the 4th Street tourist corridor.