Click play above to watch the full video of the launch of Sarah Jane Vatelot’s book, Where Have All The Mangoes Gone? at Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg.
When Sarah Jane Vatelot moved to St. Petersburg in 1997, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays had just signed a 30-year contract with the City of St. Petersburg to play baseball at Tropicana Field. The stadium itself had been completed in 1990, and Interstates 275 and 175, which wrapped around it, had been in place for nearly 17 years.
Vatelot, like most of us who came after, had never thought to question how it got there, or why. “It just always was there,” Vatelot said.
It wasn’t until she was a decade into her career and into her graduate architecture program at the University of South Florida that Vatelot began to investigate further. Less than a decade out from the end of the Rays’ contract, the news had just broken that team owners were looking at possible sites for a new stadium in Tampa. The City of St. Petersburg had invited HKS Architects to reimagine the Tropicana Field site under two scenarios: with or without a baseball stadium.
Vatelot was selected to participate in a simultaneous two-day design charette, hosted by local architecture firm Renker Eich Parks, local developer Feldman Equities and local contracting firm Bandes Construction.
As she examined the proposed design by HKS Architects, Vatelot discovered what could have been a typing error, but was representative of so much more: The firm had mislabeled 22nd Street, known locally as The Deuces, the historic African American Main Street.
“What it represents is outsiders trying to solve a problem that is local,” said Vatelot. She and her design team began their reimagination efforts with a figure ground, a black and white drawing in which the white is blank space and the black was buildings. When the figure ground was inverted, Vatelot was struck by the void left in the very heart of the city by the 86-acre site and the interstates contributing to it.
In that moment, Vatelot’s interest was piqued. She wondered how the site came to be, what was there before the stadium, and what was lost. As she tells it, she fell upon Rosalie Peck and John Wilson’s books, St. Petersburg’s Historic African American Neighborhoods and St. Petersburg’s Historic 22nd St. S for context, and all of the pieces started to fall into place.
“I fell into the information and felt compelled to tell the story the way that I found it,” Vatelot said. “All of the information was already out there, I think it was just kind of scattered. So I just drew lines between dots,” she explained. “That’s really all it is.” The product was a thesis, and ultimately a book, Where Have All The Mangoes Gone? Reactivating The Tropicana Field Site On The Threshold of St. Petersburg’s History, Culture and Memory.
St. Petersburg Press launched the Mangoes book Jan. 8 at the Florida Holocaust Museum. Vatelot and Gwendolyn Reese of the St. Petersburg African American Heritage Trail spoke about the history and meaning of the site, what was there before Tropicana Field and what to keep in mind looking forward.
Read the full article on Vatelot’s book here, or watch the video above.