St. Petersburg Coliseum

As iconic as the green benches

Many cultural venues in the Tampa Bay Area from the late 19th and early 20th centuries explicitly appeal to wealthy tourists.

The fabulous Floridan Palace Hotel, built in 1926, and Don CeSar, built in 1928, catered to wealthy socialites who visited the Tampa Bay Area on a seasonal basis. It is essential to understand the tourism industries effect on the growth and development of the Tampa Bay Area. The historiographies of cities like Tampa and St. Petersburg use “playground for the rich” as a sacred mantra. Especially during the era of prohibition, wealthy men and women molded the various entertainment venues of the Tampa Bay Area to appeal to their cultural interests or vices. What about everyone else? The story of Tampa is a story of two cities. In typical Jim Crow Era Southern fashion, the city was divided between a black community and a white community. Blacks largely dominated the demography of East Tampa, but whites populated the rest of the city. Despite being segregated and oppressed, the blacks of East Tampa developed a vibrant culture with a unique identity. Informal bawdy houses and segregated hotels, such as the Jackson House, brought many of the great black musicians of the 20th century to Tampa. These musicians contributed to the black community of Tampa and solidified its identity. Because of this identity, blacks claimed cultural agency independent of the wealthy visitors to the Tampa Bay Area. The immigrants of Ybor City developed cultural agency through mutual aid societies and labor unions. El Circulo Cubano de Tampa (the Cuban Club), built in 1917, is an example of the buildings where newly arrived immigrants organized and found support in each other and those who arrived earlier. Cuban Revolutionary Jose Marti famously visited the Cuban Club in an older building in 1893. The Cuban and Italian immigrants to Ybor City primarily labored in the cigar industry. This made cigar labor unions, such as the Tobacco Workers Industrial Union, extremely potent forces. The Tampa cigar makers' strike of 1931 brought the city to its knees for three weeks! In addition to their unique culture and mutual aid societies, the Cuban and Italian immigrants were seasonal. If Tampa became too hostile, they could go somewhere else. Middle- and lower-class whites also developed an independent culture from the mega-wealthy invaders. If the Floridan Hotel or the Don CeSar was too rich for their blood, they would build their own. Jazz Age dancehalls were an example of unique cultural venues that middle- and lower-class whites experienced in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Youths danced the foxtrot and tango to jazz music. The St. Petersburg Coliseum stands as a vestigial reminder of this time period and culture. T.H. Eslick designed an Italianate dancehall in 1923. This dancehall opened on November 20, 1924. The dancehall was part of the economic boom in the city throughout the 1920’s. This economic boom coincided with the opening of the Gandy Bridge in 1924. Scores of white youths from the lost generation and greatest generation flocked to the Coliseum for Friday night dances. Advertised as the “Best Ballroom in the South” and a “Palace of Pleasures,” the Coliseum was a place of community. When the Great Depression crippled the economy in the 1930s, the Coliseum’s status as a community center became essential to binding together the disillusioned youths of the Tampa Bay Area. Young middle- and lower-class whites would mingle and make lifelong connections for only a quarter. With the new waves of economic boom in the 1950s and 1960s, other cultural venues supplanted the Coliseum. The building fell into disrepair until it was purchased and renovated by the city of St. Petersburg in 1989. Today, elderly people fondly remember those bygone days with Wednesday evening tea dances.

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535 4th Ave N, St. Petersburg, FL 33701 ~ The Coliseum is open for special events.