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Will St. Pete’s oldest gas station become ‘historic’?

Bill DeYoung



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

The boxy little building situated at the corner of 4th Street South and 24th Avenue is nothing much. It’s next door to the Harbordale YMCA, and across the street are well-manicured private homes, alongside the 14-unit St. Pete Garden Apartments. It’s a typical South Side neighborhood, and the bare brick-and-stucco structure with a canopy overhang looks for all the world like it just doesn’t belong there.

It is, however, more than an anachronism, and more than some blemish that needs washing away. It is part of St. Petersburg history.

Constructed in 1924, this was a Standard Oil station, one of the first (if not the very first) gas stations in St. Pete. In the first half of the 20th century, before westward expansion and the great suburban exodus, 4th Street was the city’s main artery, from north to south.

It was likely the last fill-up opportunity for the southward-bound before the long ride across South Tampa Bay aboard the Bee Line Ferry (the Sunshine Skyway Bridge wasn’t erected until 1954).

In 2018 former City Councilman Robert Blackmon lived on nearby Coquina Key, and drove past the ramshackle building nearly every day, grumbling under his breath that someone really ought to do something about it. Blackmon, who had a successful track record of renovating historic and/or distressed properties, knew an eyesore when he saw one.

Out of curiosity, he started digging through property records. “It was a little building with a couple other little concrete block buildings cobbled onto it, maybe 40 or 50 years ago,” Blackmon says. “I found out that it had been added onto like three different times.”

The last known tenant, a used tire vendor, had long since cleared out.

The roof was caving in. The canopy was rotting. The windows that weren’t broken were gross.

Still, there was something about it. Blackmon tracked down the owner and bought the place – all 320 square feet of it – for $125,000.

The city sent code people out to look at the structure. “They said the roof was bad, the exterior condition was bad, the two other buildings were non-conforming. Which was fine, because I was going to tear them off anyway,” Blackmon recalls.

“While I was waiting for a roof permit, the roof actually collapsed. So it had no roof at all for probably six months. The roof that was in there was made of drywall and old campaign yard signs. Tar slapped everywhere. But we put in trusses, and a copper-clad metal roof on it.”

Blackmon’s research turned up just two other existing Standard Oil stations, from that era and of that design. There was one in Plant City, Florida, the other in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Both are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. That put a song in Robert Blackmon’s heart.

Built in 1921, this former Standard Oil filling station in Bowling Green, Kentucky was renovated and re-opened as public restrooms for the adjacent Circus Square Park in 2009. The renovation included reproduction Red Crown Gasoline globes.

“Not only was this place a dump,” he says, “but it could literally go from worst to first. It could go from ‘place that is bringing down a neighborhood’ to ‘showplace of a neighborhood,’ and nobody realizes this.”

The first step towards having the building added to the National Register, explains Blackmon’s attorney Jessica Icerman, is obtaining a designation of “Historic Landmark” from the city. “And under the City of St. Pete’s process, if you have a historic building or property, you can qualify for what’s called a Major Adaptive Re-Use. So we wouldn’t have to go through the re-zoning process to become entitled for additional uses – if we are re-using the historic property.”

Translation: 2439 4th Street S. is in a residential zone. If the City Council, through a recommendation by the Department of Historic Preservation, approves the Historic Landmark Designation and Adaptive Re-Use, Blackmon can transform it into a drive-through coffee shop (his preference).

The roof and windows have been replaced, the canopy rebuilt from scratch. “I’ve been modeling it after the one in Bowling Green,” Blackmon says. The underground gas pumps were long ago removed, he adds, the grounds remediated.

Robert Blackmon

After the add-ons were taken away, pressure washing revealed real bricks around the sides of the building. Blackmon figured they had been painted over dozens of times. Many were still in perfect condition. Some were not.

There was a company name on each brick, which he traced to a long-gone brickyard in North Georgia. “I found a guy on Facebook Marketplace, in Georgia, who said that he had like 2,000 of them,” Blackmon laughs. “I messaged him ‘Hey, can I buy 25 of your best bricks that are closest to this color?’”

The application will come before Council in March; in the meantime, although Blackmon has put the site on the market to rent – to see if there’s any interest at this stage – the brick-by-brick, beam-by-beam restoration continues.

“It was never a smart business decision,” Blackmon says. “It was just something I thought could be cool.”

Whatever happens, he’s learning more about his city’s history every day.

In the code enforcement records, Blackmon discovered paperwork from 1998, documenting the City’s warning to the building’s then-owner. “The City notified the guy and said ‘This this is in complete trash shape. It needs to be torn down. And we’re fining you for the condition.’

“They have all the narrative there in the files. The owner replies back ‘I agree that the building is in awful shape. I’ll give it to you for free and we’ll just call it a day on the fines. How ‘bout that?’

“The City considered the proposal and declined, because they thought it was worthless. I love how this place just barrel-rolled out of a demo 25 years ago, when it was condemned.”

On the corner of Wheeling and Cherry Streets in Plant City, Florida, this vintage 1920s Standard station is now home to a pet grooming business.


















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  1. Avatar

    Mike Clark

    February 18, 2023at2:40 pm

    Buildings like this remind us of ‘old’ St. Pete and should be preserved. Thanks for telling the building’s story and fingers crossed that it finds a new purpose.

  2. Avatar

    Joyce (Cliett) Meredeth Matheson

    February 18, 2023at2:51 pm

    I believe I lived near it. My address was 2534 Bayside Drive South. Just off 4th Street south. I lived there in the 50’s and 60’s. I miss my home town of St.Pete . I’m a 1958 graduate of SPHS.

  3. Avatar


    February 18, 2023at6:13 pm

    Thank you for this article! I wondered who bought it and why. A drive -thru coffee shop would be perfect!

  4. Avatar

    William Gordon

    February 18, 2023at6:20 pm

    Restoring it as an old-time gas station would be even cooler.

  5. Avatar


    February 18, 2023at9:54 pm

    I think that it will be awesome if it is restored and preserved. Great story!

  6. Avatar

    Lauri Frazer

    February 19, 2023at10:18 am

    Thank you Mr Blackman for caring about our history. I love your idea of a coffee shop.

  7. Avatar

    Danny White

    February 19, 2023at10:34 am

    Excellent article! I’ve driven by this quaint structure for decades. I recall when it was a tire shop. I’d love to turn it into a hot dog stand with picnic benches and umbrellas; something nostalgic, community and family friendly.

  8. Avatar

    Marie Rice

    February 19, 2023at10:36 am

    St Pete needs to go out of its way to save historical buildings. It is part of the flavor that will set it apart from other booming cities.I would like to know more about this property from Robert Blackmon. Thank you so much for this article Bill DeYoung.

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    February 19, 2023at10:37 am

    I know we are in awe of the Tesla but it’s good to keep our past close in memory.
    Especially since it’s an important part of our heritage and symbol of our progress.

  10. Avatar

    David Weiss

    February 19, 2023at3:50 pm

    On Amelia Island there exists an old Gas station transformed into a wonderful diner circa 2004? Hats off to Robert Blackmon sponsoring this revitalization.

  11. John Avery

    John Avery

    February 19, 2023at5:29 pm

    In Marshall,NC an old Texaco station has been converted into the “Star Diner” with both indoor and outdoor dining. Thanks for the great article. Preserve the Burg!

  12. Avatar

    Harrell R Harden

    February 19, 2023at10:24 pm

    This is a great idea and my hat’s off to you for preserving our past here on the south side! I’ll certainly support what ever you do.

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