The Holiday Motel, once located on 4th Street North at 24th Avenue, was a fixture in St. Petersburg for more than 7 decades. It was an excellent early example of visually distinctive 20th century roadside architecture. The Holiday was unique and important to St. Petersburg as it was the last of its kind within the city.
At the time of the motel's construction in the late 1930's, and for the ensuing decades, 4th Street served as the primary route for tourists coming to St. Petersburg. As such, 4th Street once was home to many examples of roadside architecture from motels, to restaurants, to attractions like Sunken Gardens. Much of that roadside architecture has been lost as the primary use of 4th Street has changed from a tourist to a "modern" commercial corridor. Yet, with a little attention to the streetscape, one can still find a significant number of buildings from 4th Street's tourist era. The future of many of those buildings, particularly during a booming real estate market, is threatened.
The earliest motels were built to look like cottages and homes, and the Holiday was no different. It was built at a time when the family road trip was an intrinsic part of the Florida Dream and choosing a temporary home was part of the adventure. The Holiday Motel was comprised of three nearly identical court-style buildings constructed in phases by Mr. & Mrs. L.E. Wilmarth. They called their buildings the Wilmarth Apartments and operated the business until 1953. The motel they built is representative of a period dubbed the "Mom-and-Pop enterprise" era of motels. During the 1930s and 1940s there was an increasing demand for roadside lodging and it was often individual or family-run businesses that met this need by constructing modest cabin-style motels along the major corridors.
The choice of the name “Wilmarth Apartments” (rather than Motel) suggests that many early patrons were seasonal residents. The name choice also followed the national trend. As the number of roadside accommodations grew, visual imagery became an increasingly important factor in enticing guests to stay the night. Domestic architecture inspired most of the early tourist cottages, and sites often took on the look of "tiny villages of miniature cottages" replete with landscaping of trellises, floral plantings, and lawn furniture. The free standing units more convincingly represented the concept of home, if only for a single night, and the construction of the garage structures emphasized the importance of automobile culture. By the mid-1950s a large number of motels would line 4th Street joining the Holiday Motel in vying for tourists’ business.
The Holiday Motel was sold in 1957 to Harlan Gregory, whose career included teaching, politics, construction, and real estate. He sold the motel in 1957, and number of owners took possession after.
1996: Building is listed on the Florida Master Site File following a historic survey and completion of a Historic Structure form. The motel was noted as being eligible for listing on National or local historic registers.
2006: Following Mayor Baker's Historic Preservation Summit, the Holiday Motel is included in a City list of properties identified as potentially eligible for listing as local historic landmarks.
January 2019: While motel has continued to operate as short term rentals, owner enters into a contract with a national developer, paving the way for property redevelopment.
February 2019: A local historic landmark designation application is submitted by Preserve the 'Burg.
April 2019: The Community Planning and Preservation Commission votes against designating the Holiday Motel a local historic landmark.
May 2019: City Council also votes against designating the Holiday Motel a local historic landmark. In doing so, council rejects the city's historic preservation staffs' recommendation for designation.
December 2019: The Holiday Motel is demolished.
Sadly, the Holiday Motel is no longer standing. Despite its significance to St. Petersburg's sense of place, 4th Street's bygone roadside architecture will continue to be lost unless a new focus on the benefits of reusing the past can be undertaken and realized. Both public and private efforts are needed to increase the understanding of the import of the historic 4th Street tourist corridor and to encourage City Council and the Mayor to put into place the tools necessary to protect to its past. This last motel of its kind on the strip once called "the great white way", because of the many neon signs lighting the roads, was demolished on December 18, 2019 to make way for another retail strip commercial shopping center. While the Holiday Motel had long been identified by the City as a historic resource, the motel, like most of 4th Street's roadside tourist architecture, had never been designated as a local landmark. Preserve the 'Burg's effort to have the motel buildings designated was rejected by City Council a short time before the buildings' demise.
St. Petersburg is in the midst of its STPETE2050 future planning process.This process will set the framework for the policies that will guide the city's ongoing redevelopment, a process that could include policy recommendations to protect 4th Street's historic resources.The 4th Street tourist corridor is an appropriate candidate for a National or Local Historic District. National Register designation provides tax credits to encourage historic building reuse, while local designation (district, individual, multi-property listing) provides a review process to encourage building reuse and to discourage demolition. Click here to learn more about the local historic district designation process.
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 actively advocating for the city to include polices in STPETE2050 to protect the 4th Street tourist corridor's historic resources. Additionaly, we are offering tours & programs about the historic 4th Street tourist corridor and encouraging consideration by city council of historic designation within the 4th Street tourist corridor.