Downtown’s Historic Mirror Lake neighborhood extends between 8th and 4th Streets and between 1st and 5th Avenues North. The area still retains much of the city's early feel. In 1899 Mirror Lake became the public water supply for the small but growing downtown. By the early 1900’s one of the city’s early leading developers, Perry Snell, had started developing the orange groves around the lake. By the 1920’s boom, winter residents and visitors were flocking to Mirror Lake to play shuffleboard, go to the library, dance at the Coliseum, as well as taking up residence in one of the neighborhood's rooming houses or hotels.
The area around Mirror Lake has retained a human scale uninterrupted by monolithic parking structures supporting high rise towers now found in other portions of downtown. Instead, one finds downtown’s most intact collection of historic homes and small apartment buildings, many of which are tucked away on small parcels along narrow courts or allies. Additionally, Mirror Lake is home to city parkland that includes the Shuffleboard Club, lawn bowling courts and chess club, each with its own historic clubhouse. Across from these facilities the 1914 Carnegie (Mirror Lake) Library is still being used for its original purpose as a free public library. Finally, within the area around Mirror Lake one finds several historic church and governmental buildings.
Eleven buildings within the neighborhood have been designated as local landmarks but the greater neighborhood, including most of the property overlooking the lake, lacks local historic designation, and as such, has no demolition review nor protections in place against out of scale new development.
1899: Mirror Lake becomes the downtown water supply with the construction of a water works. The 1900 census pegged St. Petersburg's population at 1,575.
1915: City receives a $17,500 Carnegie grant to construct the Mirror Lake Library.
1918-19: The St. Petersburg High School is built at a cost of $205,000, designed by nationally known architect William Ittner. Later, in 1991, the building would be renovated and converted to 50 condominium apartments.
1918-1926: The Shuffleboard, Chess, and Lawn Bowling Clubs all build clubhouses on city land across the street from Mirror Lake. In 2000, the Shuffleboard Club begins its reorganization leading to it regaining its popularity and attracting younger members and families for Friday Shuffle.
1974: I-375 is constructed, separating the Mirror Lake neighborhood from the Round Lake (Historic Uptown) neighborhood.
2019: City council rejects Preserve the 'Burg's appeal and approves a 21 story high rise tower that will result in the demolition of several historic apartment buildings, located across the street from the Library. A majority of city council found their hands tied as they concluded the out of place development, not being located within the boundaries of a local historic district, was consistent with downtown zoning regulations.
St. Petersburg is booming and the area around Mirror Lake, being a pleasant walk from the heart of downtown, is primed for massive new development. In 2019, City Council approved the replacement of a number of low rise historic apartment buildings across the street from the Mirror Lake Library with a 21 story tower atop a parking garage, the garage itself being larger than most other neighborhood buildings. In 2020, the City approved another new high rise development in the parking lot for the historic Lyceum building. With these approvals a fait accompli, and absent new rules such as those provided by a local historic district designation, it will be difficult for the city to ever again close the door on proposed out of scale new development. In fact, with high intensity downtown zoning overlaying the neighborhood, there are not even height limits for new development in portions of the area around Mirror Lake.
St. Petersburg can recognize the historic character of the Mirror Lake neighborhood by designating it as a local historic district. Such designation encourages reuse of historic buildings with both a carrot (tax incentives and code flexibility) and a stick (restrictions on demolition and design review). District designation has a long track record of success around the country maintaining sense of place, providing for economic vitality, and for maintaining neighborhood diversity.City Council can initiate the process to designate the area around Mirror Lake as a local historic district and Council members Gina Driscoll and Deborah Figgs-Sanders have committed to having the matter placed on a city council agenda for further discussion - something expected to occur in May or June 2021.
We have been working to raise the awareness of the value of keeping Mirror Lake’s sense of place and the benefits of historic district designation. We are reaching out to neighborhood property owners, council members, city officials, users of the Mirror Lake recreation facilities, and the public at large to educate and advocate for keeping Mirror Lake special. You can remind city council of the importance of Mirror Lake to the city by emailing them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell them why you like Mirror Lake and that you support its designation as a historic district.