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Council greenlights ‘historic’ gas station’s transformation

Mark Parker



The building at 2439 4th Street S. was built as a Standard Oil station in 1926. It will now become a cafe. Photos provided.

A 97-year-old Standard Oil service station, one of St. Petersburg’s first (if not the very first) auto facilities, received Local Landmark designation and will now become a coffee shop.

The city council unanimously approved the project and the code amendments needed to see it to fruition at Thursday’s meeting. Former council member and mayoral candidate Robert Blackmon is restoring the boxy little building on the corner of 4th Street and 24th Avenue South to its former glory.

The service station was a prominent landmark when it opened in 1926 and served residents and travelers until 1962. Blackmon bought and began rehabilitating the dilapidated site in 2019 in hopes of repurposing it into a boutique drive-through café.

However, his plans encountered several zoning roadblocks, and Blackmon needed adaptive reuse approvals and Local Landmark designation to overcome those hurdles. Thursday’s votes allow the project to motor ahead.

Following the meeting, Blackmon expressed his excitement to see the site – and the surrounding Harbordale neighborhood – continue transforming.

“Local register designation does not mark the end of the road on this project, but the beginning of its rebirth,” Blackmon said. “This added protection ensures that although development has become ubiquitous in our city, the Standard Oil station will be protected and preserved for all time while serving the citizens of Harbordale and all of South St. Pete with a new purpose.”

From left: James Warren, vice president of the Harbordale Neighborhood Association; Robert and Carolee Blackmon, owners; Alfred Wendler, director of operations Blackmon Properties; Attorney Jessica Icerman; and Nathaniel Jae, president of the Harbordale Neighborhood Association.

Blackmon relayed his disappointment to the council when he first noticed the property, and its condition, about 15 years ago. He called it an eyesore on a major thoroughfare that artificially deflated the value of surrounding neighborhoods, particularly Harbordale.

He assumed the minuscule building tucked behind junked boats and vehicles was once a used car lot. Blackmon said his “jaw dropped” after city records indicated it was once a Standard Oil service station.

A city report states that the facility “stands as a tangible reminder of the growing importance of the automobile industry to the young city’s economy.”

The roof collapsed soon after he bought the property, and Blackmon began repairing the building using original materials and specifications. He is using a Bowling Green, Kentucky, Standard Oil station – now on the National Register of Historic Places – as a model.

“We are hoping to get this registered nationally, pending today’s votes,” Blackmon said at the meeting.

The building was condemned when Blackmon bought it in 2019. Screengrab.

Attorney Jessica Icerman, representing Blackmon and his mother, Carolee, noted the building only encompasses 325 square feet. That necessitated the need for a drive-through, which required a text amendment.

Icerman relayed that a covered courtyard fronting the once-condemned building will offer seating and a community gathering space.

Council members approved allowing the Community Planning and Preservation Commission (CPCC) to consider a drive-through option for buildings that receive a Local Landmark designation due to “their auto-dependent use.” The CPCC offered its support in April, and city administrators urged the council to move the project forward.

While the site abuts the Harbordale YMCA and is near other commercial buildings, most of the immediate area consists of single-family homes. Derek Kilborn, urban planning and historic preservation manager, explained that adaptive reuse allowances are a “tool that we have to promote historic preservation” in otherwise prohibited areas.

He elaborated that city officials typically encounter similar issues with former churches and schools now surrounded by single-family homes.

“And so, having this adaptive reuse section allows a little more flexibility,” Kilborn added. “It does give us a pathway to local landmark designation.”

No one spoke against the project during its final hearing. Nathaniel Jae, president of the Harbordale Neighborhood Association, said the reimagined service station would unite the community and preserve its history.

Manny Leto, executive director of Preserve the ‘Burg, said his organization “enthusiastically” supports Blackmon’s plans. Not every redevelopment in St. Pete, he said, must include a 30-story condominium tower.

“These kinds of small neighborhood projects can have a tremendous impact in changing the direction of neighborhoods,” Leto said.

Blackmon said he is using a restored Standard Oil service station in Bowling Green, Kentucky, as a model.

Councilmember Lisset Hanewicz agreed and said national historic designation would put Harbordale “on the map” and bring further recognition to the city. She relayed that a coffee shop opened in a former furniture store in her district and helped unite neighbors.

Councilmember Ed Montanari thanked the Blackmons for committing to an “important” project. He recalled not realizing the location’s significance when driving through the area.

“This is the type of thing that we need more people in the city doing,” Montanari said. “Because this tells the story of the history of St. Petersburg.

“We get a ton of backup information, and usually, it’s boring as can be to read. This narrative and history were not boring.”





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    May 19, 2023at11:19 am

    Very cool project – thank you Robert Blackmon! Can’t wait to become a regular. The square footage shouldn’t be an issue as it’s about the same as an original Dutch Bros drive thru.

  2. Avatar

    Kiera J

    May 20, 2023at9:43 am

    Built in 1926. Very telling of the true history of Harbordale.

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