A 96-year-old, 30 by 20-inch bronze plaque commemorating local leaders who made St. Petersburg’s “Million Dollar Pier” possible is now for sale to the highest bidder on eBay.
The seller, “juel-of-a-deal” on the online auction site, is local resident Chris Gagen. His asking price is $10,000.
Gagen said offers have ranged from $250 (well below his set minimum) to $5,000. The highest bidder thus far lives in Tampa, and Gagen replied that he “would get back them because I’d really like to keep it local.”
“I know Tampa is fairly local, but I did get a call from the president of the St. Petersburg Museum (of History),” Gagen added. “So, I wanted to call him; it would be a nice piece for people to see in St. Petersburg.”
Rui Farias, executive director of the St. Petersburg Museum of History, said he eagerly anticipates that phone call. Although it is out of his price range, Farias stressed he would “love” to display the plaque.
St. Pete’s long pier history dates back to 1889, when an extension of the Orange Belt Railroad helped the city flourish. Recreational structures soon followed, and the first Municipal Pier opened in 1913.
The Hurricane of 1921 destroyed the Municipal Pier, and Lew Brown, editor of the Evening Independent newspaper, embarked on a $1 million fundraising campaign for an enhanced version to bolster tourism. He and his readers raised $300,000 for what he dubbed the Million Dollar Pier.
City bonds provided the balance, and the “modern era” of downtown concrete piers began in 1926. The facility, which stretched 1,452 feet into Tampa Bay, was formally dedicated on Thanksgiving Day.
While Gagen’s plaque does not mention Brown’s name, Farias noted it does list the mayor, vice mayor, city commissioners (now council members), the public works director and the company that built the pier. “Mostly, these are people who probably voted on the funding,” he said.
Farias assumes city officials displayed Gagen’s 1927-stamped plaque inside the Mediterranean Revival-style casino building. He remains unaware of any others dedicated to the facility.
“To me, because of my love of history and because of the fact that’s what we do here, it’s priceless,” Farias said. “To an antique dealer, who knows what it’s worth?”
Gagen, 63, moved to St. Pete in 1989. He works as a financial consultant and frequents estate sales on the weekends.
He has an affinity for local history and has sold dozens of antique and vintage items on eBay. Former city council member and mayoral candidate Robert Blackmon discovered the plaque on the site in June.
However, Gagen now contemplates removing the posting and keeping the plaque as a display piece. He also admitted he would still part with it for the “right price.”
Gagen explained that he found the historic plaque at an estate sale about 10 years ago. He could not recall any details – Farias said that’s common – and declined to say how much he paid.
Gagen would like to see it displayed in a museum or potentially the Doc Ford’s restaurant on the latest St. Petersburg Pier. He also wants to make his money back and profit from the collectible.
“If it goes for 10 grand, I don’t think that’s a huge amount of money for the City of St. Petersburg,” he added. “In a few years, it’ll be 100 years old, so it’s only going to go up in value.”
Farias noted it is common for people to acquire city “treasures.” He said a city worker or contractor told a private collector he could have original light sconces from the Million Dollar Pier during its demolition in the 1960s.
The only requirement was a screwdriver.
“Some people get them, like me, to have in their house and show them off,” Faris explained. “One day, they end up here (the museum). I would say, 99% of our collection here … has been from those types of people donating those things to museums.”
He said the museum does not typically purchase items. Instead, the 101-year-old institution’s officials hope people will donate the artifacts directly or through a third party.
“I don’t know if anyone has reached out willing to buy it and donate to us,” Farias said. “But that happens as well; that’s common.”
While the listing states the plaque is bronze, Farias referred to it as brass. Gagen said it weighs 40 to 50 pounds, and Farias agreed it is a substantial artifact.
Farias said the plaque is worth whatever someone is willing to pay for a unique representation of St. Pete’s history. He believes it belongs in the museum but noted it is now Gagen’s property.
“It’s a great piece; I guess we’ll see what happens,” Farias added. “I know there’s a number of people, including myself, who hope that it ends up here.”