St. Petersburg Yacht Club
Backstory and Context
The St. Petersburg Yacht club was founded in 1909 in St. Petersburg Florida. The original plan for founding the club was to transform the small town of St. Petersburg into a world class area. St. Petersburg was originally a small plot of land bought by General John Williams in 1875, off the coast of Tampa Bay. He had the dream of turning his 2,500 acres of land into a beautiful town of parks and resorts, though it wasn’t until 1903 that St. Petersburg became a city at the hands of Peter Demens, who named the city after his birthplace of St. Petersburg, Russia (City of St. Petersburg). Demens arrived in St. Pete and built a railway to the city in 1888. The building of the railway quickly helped to expand the city and make it into the city of Williams' dreams. The railway helped improve the seafood shipping business and brought more people into the area (Encyclopaedia Britannica).
With St. Petersburg being a coastal resort and boating city, it wasn’t a surprise that the wealthier population wanted to use the docks for things other than fishing boats. So, they banded together and founded the St. Petersburg Yacht Club in 1909 and opened its doors five years later. Due to the club’s success, it was able to expand, “…the clubhouse was inaugurated on its current site in 1917. Two years later, 6 Fish Class sailboats were acquired and one design racing began”(National Sailing Hall of Fame). It wasn’t too long after that disaster struck, or so they thought,“Just four years after the official opening, the Grand Hurricane of October 1921 hit St. Petersburg, flooding the clubhouse. Remarkably, the storm only made the yacht club more popular, expanding membership so rapidly that a bigger clubhouse was needed to accommodate all of the new members.” (The Florida Boating Club) with this influx of new members the club had to expand, they rebuilt the docks, expanded the building and even added a grand ball room for large parties and events.
The Club brought people from all over the Bay area to sail and enjoy what the city had to offer. One of the biggest events the club held was the annual Havana Race. The Havana Race started in 1930, and brought exposure to both St. Petersburg and Havana. Sadly, due to the happenings of the Cold War the race was cancelled in 1959. With the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba gradually improving, he St. Petersburg Yacht Club and their partner the Hemingway International Yacht Club, they are fighting to bring the race back. The fight began in 2016 and is still going on, Richard Winning; current Commodore of the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, and George Bellenger; organizer of the Havana Challenge (a race from the Keys to Havana), hoped to bring the back by 2017. The races to Havana have been struggling due to low turnout, but that hasn’t stopped them at all. ‘"The race was started to bring St. Petersburg and Cuba closer together," Winning said. "It's come full circle."’ (Guzzo).
The St. Petersburg Yacht Club is a significant social site in the city. Not only does the club play host to races such as The Havana Race (upcoming) and Ocean Racing Conference and parties and events like Regattas and the Vintage Motor Classic, but the club is a large part of the community. The Club has drawn in tourism and new members ranging from Olympic athletes to renown speed racers who have brought life to St. Pete since the Great Depression. With the rising popularity of the St. Petersburg Yacht Club and the expansion of the city in the 1920’s, St. Petersburg became a beacon for tourism and development. This lead to the founding of high class hotels like the famous Don CeSar and The Vinoy. It was this type of economic growth that kept the city going during the Great Depression and for long after. “Tourism remains the basis of St. Petersburg’s economy, and the region is a popular retirement area. High-technology industries, manufacturing (including office equipment, electronics, and optical products), fishing and services are also important” (Encyclopaedia Britannica).
City of St. Petersburg. “History of St. Petersburg.” http://www.stpete.org/history_and_preservation/index.php
Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Saint Petersburg.” Encyclopaedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/place/Saint-Petersburg-Florida
Florida Boating Team. “The St. Petersburg Yacht Club History. ”Florida Boating Magazine, August 4, 2015. http://floridaboatingmag.com/?p=386
Guzzo, Paul. “St. Pete yacht club working to restore annual race to Havana.” Tampa Bay Times. http://www.tampabay.com/news/localgovernment/st-pete-yacht-club-working-to -resume-annual-race-to-havana/2279120
National Sailing Hall of Fame. “Stories from the St. Petersburg Yacht Club.” National Sailing Hall of Fame. http://www.nshof.org/sailing-an-american-experience/23-stories/yacht-clubs/379-st-petersburg-yacht-club.html
St. Petersburg Yacht Club. “The St. Petersburg Yacht Club.” http://www.spyc.org