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Preservation Awards honor those who keep St. Pete ‘special’

Mark Parker



Trevor Sieders, owner of New Light Restoration, wins the newly created Maureen Stafford Award at Wednesday's Preserve the 'Burg ceremony. Photos by Mark Parker.

Following a two-year hiatus, Preserve the ‘Burg’s biannual Preservation Awards returned in grand fashion Wednesday night, highlighting the people, businesses and organizations striving to sustain St. Petersburg’s unique sense of place.

The Palladium Theater, which operates under the auspices of St. Petersburg College, served as a fitting downtown location for the event. Built in 1925 – in the Romanesque Revival style of architecture – the former church turned theater and performance space was renovated and preserved by a group of philanthropists in 1998.

After last year’s event was canceled due to Covid, Preserve the Burg’s leadership secured a special host for Wednesday’s return. Emmy Award-winning TV personality Jerry Penacoli, a longtime co-host of WFLA’s talk show Daytime, was the master of ceremonies. When Penacoli moved to the city in 2012, he bought a recently restored, historic house – it won the Homes with a History category on HGTV’s 2020 Ultimate House Hunt – in Old Northeast from celebrated local preservationist Maureen Stafford.

“I was proud to be a steward of that house – it was a magical home,” said Penacoli. “So, preservation has been a part of my life since I moved here … and I’m very happy and honored to be asked to present these awards to you tonight.”

Emmy Award-winning TV host Jerry Penacoli, a longtime correspondent for the entertainment news show “Extra,” served as the master of ceremonies. Penacoli, a St. Petersburg resident, is also a preservation enthusiast.

That would not be the last time Stafford’s name was mentioned at the ceremony, as Robin Reed, president of Preserve the ‘Burg’s board, announced the creation of a new award. The Maureen Stafford Excellence in Preservation award included the only monetary gift of the night – with the recognition and $1,000 check presented to an individual that most exemplifies a commitment to historic preservation in the city.

Reed noted Stafford was a previous Preservationist of the Year award winner whose numerous contributions to renovating and sustaining St. Petersburg’s historic places have made it a more beautiful city for all to enjoy.

Emanuel Leto, executive director for Preserve the ‘Burg, said that seeing such a large group of people come together as the city emerges from the shadow of the pandemic was indicative of the support for the organization’s mission. The ceremony, held inside the Palladium’s Side Door Cabaret, was at capacity as preservation enthusiasts filled the 175-seat space.

Leto explained that the surrounding community creates nominations before a committee votes on the winners. One of the committee members, Rebekah Lazaridis, is a local artist who auctioned off a piece of artwork depicting Central Avenue in the 1940s. She split the proceeds with Preserve the ‘Burg, and Leto said the organization would also incorporate the image into branding used to promote Historic Preservation Month in May.

“This evening is about the winners,” said Leto. “So, we definitely want to focus our attention there.”

The night’s many winners encompassed a wide array of preservation efforts, ranging from a nearly $44 million restoration of a local high school, to a popular sports bar saving an iconic sign from the trash heap, to individuals making a difference in their own unique ways.

Here are some highlights.

Perhaps the night’s biggest winner, at least in terms of the project’s scope, was Pinellas County Schools (PCS) for its extensive restoration of St. Pete High. Although the school formally opened in 1926, its roots date back to 1888. The school is listed on the state and national historic registry, making the project a costly and lengthy process.

By the time renovations were complete in December 2021, PCS had spent $43.8 million restoring SPHS to its former glory. The plan was to preserve and highlight the school’s original architecture and historic features while also providing students with the latest technologies. The project also included a new courtyard and cafeteria and an upgraded football field and classrooms.

“Nearly 200 people turned out for a recent tour of the school, organized by Preserve the ‘Burg and led by school representatives and the project’s architects and contractors,” said Penacoli. “We expect to see that banner (part of the award) hanging in the vestibule of the school.”

Bodega, well-known for its Cuban sandwiches, received the commercial restoration award and also provided food for the event. In 2020, owners George and Debbie Sayegh relocated to a building constructed in 1921, just a short walk away from the restaurant’s former location on Central Avenue. The current establishment was once an auto shop and furniture store, and Penacoli noted the ornate structure blends Spanish and Italian architecture with art deco elements.

Kevin Chadwick, owner of the Floridian Social Club, won for his restoration of a designated landmark. The iconic Central Avenue structure was built in 1924 as a bank and repurposed in 1949 as a movie theater before operating as a live music venue known as the State Theatre.

“Alterations in 2018 through 2020 brought back original 1924 elements and also retained and restored certain 1949 designs, such as the awning above the business …,” said Penacoli.

Kevin Chadwick, owner of the Floridian Theater, presents Penacoli with a t-shirt after receiving his award for his restoration of a designated landmark.

Mark Ferguson, owner of the popular Ferg’s Sports Bar & Grill, won the award for historic sign preservation. Penacoli said the rotating “World Liquors” sign debuted in 1961 as an advertisement for World Furniture. He added that the fate of one of the most recognizable symbols in the city was uncertain until Ferguson bought and refurbished it to read “Ferg’s World Famous.”

“I mean, who hasn’t seen that?” said Penacoli. “It’s so prominent.”

Penacoli explained that the sign was identified in the City of St. Petersburg’s signs of historical significance inventory, allowing Ferg’s to reuse and relocate it without counting against the allowable signage for the property.

Ferg’s was the first local business to relocate a historic sign as part of that program, said Penacoli.

Here are the remaining 2022 Preserve the ‘Burg Preservation Award winners:

Compatible Design – Local Historic District

  • 700 31st N., Allen Campbell, Craig Hepworth and Domain Homes

Compatible Design – Non-designated Historic Neighborhood

  • 750 2nd N., Pam and David Hughey

Maureen Stafford Award

  • New Light Restoration, owner Trevor Sieders

Preservation Craftsmanship

  • Union Trust Bank, All Trades Historical Restoration

Renovation/Restoration – Residential

  • 2710 2nd N., Andrew and Starr Blaser

Adaptive Reuse – Residential

  • American Baptist Church of the Beatitudes

Sense of Place – Community Storytelling

  • The Jack Kerouac House of St. Petersburg

Accessory Dwelling Unit

  • 2500 Burlington Ave. N, Zach Curry

Preservation Publication

  • “Sophie and Zack at Sunken Gardens,” Children’s Education Project; Sunken Garden Forever Foundation (SGFF)

Preservation Education

  • Howard Knapp, Then & Now Posts

Preservationist of the Year

  • Burt and Carol Kline, Historic Old Northeast Neighborhood Association (HONNA)

Preservation Legacy/Lifetime Achievement

  • Howard Fenford Hansen, Howard Hansen

For more information on Preserve the ‘Burg, visit the website here.


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