If asked to name “pretty in pink” places from Pinellas history, locals frequently mention the fabled “Pink Streets” south of Pinellas Point Drive. Or, they talk about the fabulous stucco on the “Pink Palace,” the Don CeSar. These streets and hotel suites first appeared in the 1920s. However, the ruddy roads have a history that few remember nearly a century after their creation.
Healthy Land Holdings
On April 29, 1885, Dr. Washington Chew Van Bibber delivered a paper at the American Medical Association conference in New Orleans. Entitled “Peninsular and Sub-Peninsular Air and Climate,” the Baltimore physician’s presentation focused on an area he believed would serve as the perfect location for a proposed “Health City.”
Three years before the Orange Belt Railway connected a small settlement that became St. Petersburg with the outside world in 1888, Van Bibber touted the benefits of living in the area now comprised of Pinellas Point, Maximo Point, and Lakewood Estates. He unsuccessfully attempted to market these then-remote lands in the mid-1880s.
In the early 1900s, David and Marguerite Cook bought waterfront acreage south of downtown St. Petersburg. They also acquired large portions of Pinellas Point in 1906. At that time, no paved roads existed in that area.
The couple had a successful publishing business in Elgin, Illinois. Marguerite Cook transferred parklands to the city in February 1917 for Waterfront Park. Parts of these tracts later became the sites of the Mahaffey Theater, Salvador Dalí Museum, and a portion of Albert Whitted Airport. However, she kept her substantial Pinellas Point holdings intact and undeveloped until the 1920s.
Due to a lack of quality roads, the land boom originally bypassed much of the area south of Lake Maggiore. By 1924, Maximo Road (31st Street) and 4th Street had reached the southern end of the peninsula. Better road access to downtown destinations encouraged Marguerite to develop her healthy inventory of land into a new subdivision.
A Princely Portmanteau?
Marguerite Cook and her eldest son, George E. Cook, formed the Murok Realty Corp. in 1925. They launched ambitious plans to develop lands they owned south of Pinellas Point Drive between 10th and 22nd Streets South.
The company’s name served as a portmanteau, a blending of two words. Similar to the way that “brunch” combines “breakfast” and “lunch,” “Murok” combined Marguerite’s maiden name of “Murat” with her married name of “Cook.” By the time her company began to market some of Cook family’s lands, she had become a highly-regarded businesswoman in St. Petersburg.
There may be more to Marguerite Murat Cook’s ancestry, including Napoleonic connections. However, she apparently never talked much about them. Her July 1941 obituary claimed she was a descendant of Joachim Murat (1767-1815). This first Prince Murat also held the titles of King of Naples and Marshal of the (French) Empire. Through marriage, Joachim became Napoleon’s brother-in-law.
Some census records claim Marguerite’s father, Thomas Murat, was born in France, possibly into this powerful family. W.L. Straub’s 1929 history of Pinellas County places Thomas’s birth location in Tallahassee, which may have him connected to Prince Achille Murat, Joachim’s son and a powerful leader in St. Augustine and during the early years of Tallahassee.
Although her exact connections with Napoleon requires futher investigation, Marguerite Cook certainly rolled out her vision of the royal red carpet in 1925.
Spending Green to See Red
Red roads and auburn avenues first appeared along Pinellas Point during the spring of 1925. In a half-page advertisement placed in the May 29, 1925 Tampa Morning Tribune, the Murok Corp. explained the reason for the concrete’s red tint: “We are coloring it red … because when we went up to the Lake Wales Section we noticed that the red clay streets up there reflected no glare into the eyes and that the color blended beautifully into the landscape.”
“Pavements are of a dull red, a color obtained by a mixture of one part cement, two parts sand and four parts selected gravel,” according to a July 12, 1925 article in the St. Petersburg Times (now Tampa Bay Times) that described the Murok development.
By October 1925, the City Planning Board approved an ambitious dredge-and-fill request that would have extended Pinellas Point into Tampa Bay with new islands, canals, and an exclusive beach and casino.
Seeking Healthy Returns
Knowing the Van Bibber story from the mid-1880s, Cook’s sales team marketed their Pinellas Point properties as “The Healthiest Spot on Earth.” Company cars whisked people from downtown to the Murok properties. They occasionally offered investors copies of Van Bibber’s “Health City” documents.
By 1926, advertisements in the Times encouraged people to follow the red brick roads of 4th Street South and turn onto Pinellas Point Drive “until you come to our own red concrete roads running through the most beautiful place you ever saw.” The company’s Pinellas Point Tea Room offered refreshments to those who came to see Murok’s “miles of red concrete pavement” by mid-1926.
Although Murok Corp. missed the excitement of the early boom years, the Cooks hoped that the presence of the nearby Bee Line Ferry would benefit their development. Before the opening of the original Sunshine Skyway in September 1954, the Bee Line ran between Pinellas Point, Piney Point in Manatee County, and other destinations.
First launched in 1926, the ferry met vehicles at present-day Bay Vista Park, located where 4th Street South curves into Pinellas Point Drive.
Drivers paid a toll to have their vehicles floated across Tampa Bay. This saved them a long drive through Tampa across the Gandy Bridge, also a toll road at the time.
An Unhealthy Economy
Detroit developer Burnette Stephenson first visited St. Petersburg in 1922. Four years later, he acquired more than 65 acres a short distance northeast of the Bee Line. Full-page newspaper advertisements in the Times touted his Alta Marina development in April 1926.
The demise of the land boom ended frenzied real estate speculation by the late 1920s. With only a couple of homes, Stephenson’s Alta Marina remained mostly pinelands until another developer turned it into Bahama Beach, now Bahama Shores, after World War II. Construction also ceased in Lakewood Estates.
Approximately 15 homes sat along Murok’s red roads by 1929, but most of the sanguine streets remained empty. Murok’s plans to expand Pinellas Point into Tampa Bay never materialized.
All Quiet on the Red Street Front
From the late 1920s through the early 1960s, little development happened along lower Pinellas Point. Edward C. Wright bought approximately 500 lots from the remaining Murok and Cook family holdings in October 1940. Although he sold a few lots, much of the land remained undeveloped.
Kendrick Ford, founding director of Pinellas County’s Heritage Village, remembered going there with his father and brother for target practice. The Fords and other south Pinellas families sometimes ventured into the forests to cut down small sugar pines for use as their Christmas trees.
Wright donated lands that included the Pinellas Point Temple Mound to the City of St. Petersburg in December 1958. Once part of Cook’s property, the site is now preserved for posterity.
A Rosy Renaming
The red roads received a different nickname after their rouge luster began to fade. A planned repaving of the concrete on some streets led a Times writer on March 7, 1959 to refer to the roads’ “rosy hue” as city officials debated whether to replace the “boomtime pink streets” with blacktop. City leaders soon ditched the asphalt alternative.
A cursory examination of classified ads in the Times reveals that real estate agents occasionally referred to the Pink Streets in homes for sale during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The pink parlance increased 50 years ago, after Rutenburg Homes bought properties from Wright and touted the grand opening of its Pinellas Point community. Ads during the summer of 1973 celebrated the area’s “winding pink streets and beautiful pines and palms.”
Cat Acts and Cracked Concrete
Long before big names built large mansions, the Pink Streets had residents that gave the community a welcoming and quirky character. Those who lived there in the 1970s may remember Ron and Doris Guay. They arrived in 1971 with a few large cats.
Known by their stage names of Ron and Joy Holiday, the Guays had leopards, tigers, a panther, and a jaguar. When not on the road, the Guays and their “Magnificent Magical Animals” offered Saturday morning performances for the locals at their home. They moved to the Gainesville area in 1984.
Many of the Pink Streets fell into disrepair by 1984. Cracks and warps made navigating the roads an arduous adventure. Despite an April 1977 resolution from the St. Petersburg Arts Commission to encourage the preservation of these roads, the City considered covering them with asphalt.
A five-year battle to preserve the Pink Streets ensued. While some officials complained about the cost of pink concrete, more than half of the property owners signed petitions in support of the streets, knowing they would be required to pay special assessments.
At their Sept. 7, 1989 meeting, City Council members agreed to maintain the Pink Streets. They also approved a measure recognizing the historic value of hexagonal-block sidewalks in older neighborhoods. Nearly 4.5 miles of roadways received much needed repairs in the early 1990s.
A Diverse Drive
The Pink Street area lacks the similarity and uniformity found in many other neighborhoods. Although most of the housing stock dates from the 1970s, various architectural styles adorn the landscape. Once a red ribbon that connected the community, the Pink Streets continue to attract interest for their colorful historical past.
Read more deep dives into Florida history.