Gulfport History Museum Reopens After Fire 

Gulfport Merchants Chamber President Barbara Banno and Gulfport History Museum Operations Manager Jon Tallon stand on the brand-new porch at the museum at the grand opening on Saturday, June 1. The first of the month marked a new beginning for the museum following a damaging fire in September of 2018. 

Everything in the building is new, except for the kitchen sink.  

That’s how Gulfport Historical Society President Cathy Salustri described the new Gulfport History Museum – then she remembered that they replaced the sink too.  

After nine long months of missing a huge chunk of archives, the Gulfport History Museum, located at 5301 28th Ave. S., reopened on Saturday, June 1.  

“Thankfully, the city’s insurance department covered everything,” Salustri said. “But everything had to be taken out and treated or replaced, we even have a new toilet seat.” 

The Fiery Backstory  

It was an early Labor Day morning, Monday, September 3, 2018 when firefighters put out the flames that blackened and destroyed the porch of the history museum.  

But before the teams of firefighters and history museum volunteers gathered to the scene, it was 56-year-old David Knoll, a homeless man, who threw a torched umbrella onto the porch.  

Fortunately, the fire was put out in a matter of minutes. But the smoke that lingered.  

The museum was left with over $60,000 in damages, which consisted of mainly the front porch, and some smoke damage to the historic artifacts inside the building. The city covered the costs of renovating the museum. 

“It’s a blank canvas right now,” said Jon Tallon, the operations manager at the museum. “People were really so passionate about getting this place back up.”  

The museum will now feature rotating exhibits that will outline Gulfport’s unique history. Presently, an exhibit, The Gabber: 50 Years of Hyper-Local News, is on display, which had only been open a few weeks before the fire.

After the Smoke Cleared   

Thanks to water damage that came from under the singed door, the museum had to completely replace the floor. 

“Even though there were no flames inside the building, a lot needed to be done anyway,” Salustri said. 

A new porch, complete with a brand-new wheelchair ramp that is in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, was the most urgent repair. 

“Before the fire we really just had everything out for display, but now we’re going to be putting exhibits out and rotating everything,” Salustri said. “If someone wants to see something however, they are more than welcome to come look in the back.”

Currently, the museum is featuring a display of historic newspapers and items that reflect the first and newest rotating exhibit, The Gabber: 50 Years of Hyper-Local News, which had only been open a few weeks when the fire happened. The revolving exhibits will pay tribute to every aspect of Gulfport, it’s just a matter of staying tuned in to see what’s next. The museum is also back to its normal operating hours, Tuesdays and Fridays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

A Controlled Burn 

Tallon is looking to the future of the museum and how it will eventually fit into South Florida’s growing historic tourism industry. 

“I just got involved with walking tours, and I was shocked how many people came on the tours that were not from Florida,” Tallon said. “I’d love to get to a place where the Gulfport History Museum is part of a list of historic places in St. Pete that people will come to see.”

According to Tallon, the museum may start partnering with local businesses to really tie in the entire Gulfport experience.

“We might have a little coffee kiosk that we use Sumitra’s coffee for,” Tallon said. “It may make people interested in the local places here.” 

The museum is even looking into a possible small botanical garden that visitors can check out after a look at Gulfport’s history.

“You know they call it a controlled burn when there is all this growth after the burning,” Tallon said. “It’s kind of like that here.” 

 

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