According to St. Pete Beach City Commissioner Melinda Pletcher, former chairman of the Historic Preservation Board for Pass-a-Grille, “It’s been a path with hurdles and struggles; a world of phases, uncomfortably upgrading the historic avenue.”
Historic 8th Avenue, which has been featured on “Ripley’s Believe It or Not,” is listed as the “shortest Main Street in America flanked by water,” according to Pletcher. It’s home to several shops, restaurants and historical landmarks, such as the Zephaniah Phillips’ homestead, one of Pass-a-Grille’s very first homes.
After a decade of planning and a half decade of construction, 8th Avenue is now open and ready for people to find a “community of love, warmth and adventure,” said Amy Loughery, owner of Bamboozle, Etc., and resident of Pass-a-Grille.
The restoration of the old Augusta-block brick road – 75 percent of which were original bricks from the 1800s – seemed natural to Pletcher and Loughery, though initially elicited doubts from some residents and business owners. The restoration was just a small part of the City of St. Pete Beach’s roadway improvement plan for Pass-a-Grille, a five-year project was estimated to incur a bill of $5.5 million.
However, Ehren Hollenback, a lifelong resident of Pass-a-Grille, whose family owns the Seahorse restaurant on the corner of 8th Avenue and Gulf Boulevard, grew up on the historical block and has been a staunch supporter of preserving the history of Pass-a-Grille.
From an early age Hollenback says he understood the importance of preservation. As a child, he collected discarded Augusta blocks from dump sites and paved the walkway leading up to his childhood home.
“We’re bringing history back into the future,” said Hollenback of the restoration project. “And trying to maintain the vintage feel,” Angela, Hollenback’s wife, added.
“It’s a little imperfect and I like that way,” said Loughery as she pointed out rough spots in the road where it looked to be heavily trafficked.
The decade-long journey to restore 8th Avenue ended in the jovial Pass-a-Grille style: steel drums, lighted canopy and an evening to be remembered.