Studebaker Building (St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey)
Completed in 1925, this building was home to the Peninsular Motor Company, which at that time was the fourth-largest dealer in the world for the Studebaker car company. It is now the St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The building is significant for its association with the automobile industry and its architecture. It was erected during a building boom spurred by a thriving economy and the increasing use of affordable, personal automobiles like Studebakers that enabled Americans to travel to Florida and other destinations. In terms of architecture, the building is a rare example of the Tudor Revival style in the city. Notable features include brick piers topped with stepped parapets and decorative recessed stucco panels (the Studebaker logo remains in some of the panels). The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.
Built in 1925, the historic Studebaker Building was, for a few years, the largest Studebaker car showroom in Florida. It is now home to the St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center of the U.S Geological Survey.
The Studebaker logo can still be seen above the windows of the building.
Backstory and Context
This area of St. Petersburg where the Studebaker Building stands began to develop in the early 1900s. Initially this consisted of affordable housing. This started to change when a building boom began in 1912 and lasted until 1917. Development continued steadily and surged again between 1921 to 1926 thanks to the influx of new residents and tourists who arrived to the city by car (this period is called the Florida Land Boom). As a result, the demand for cars increased substantially.
It was in this context that the Studebaker Building was constructed. Local investor Frank C. Lyon provided most of the funding for the project and became the owner. He leased the building to the Peninsular Motor Company (PMC), which was based in Tampa and was the Studebaker franchise for southwest Florida. The PMC was founded in 1921 and opened a branch in St. Petersburg the next year. By 1925, it operated in 14 counties and several showrooms, and employed 300 people. The St. Petersburg franchise became the largest automobile showroom in the region.
One year later, however, the PMC went bankrupt and was terminated when the boom collapsed. While most businesses in St. Petersburg survived the sudden downturn, those that were in debt were in a precarious position when banks that had lost money attempted to call their debts. In the coming years the building became a grocery store, a car garage and storage facility, and a cigar warehouse. It was vacant in the 1960s and 1970s.
In 1988, after about a year-long process, the USGS selected the building to be the site of the Coastal and Marine Science Center. Over the two years the building was renovated. The center opened in June 1989
Bob Johnstone, "Studebaker Buildings" (accessed 10/26/16) http://www.studebaker-info.org/Dealers/StPetersburgfl/stpetersburgfl.html.
Hansen, Howard. "Studebaker Building." National Park Service - National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form. July 5, 1985. https://npgallery.nps.gov/AssetDetail/NRIS/85001485.
"History of the St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center." USGS. Accessed October 31, 2023. https://www.usgs.gov/centers/spcmsc/history-st-petersburg-coastal-and-marine-science-center.