St. Pete Shuffle 10th Anniversary Party
Fri. April 10, 7-11 p.m., St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club, 559 Mirror Lake Dr. N., St. Petersburg. facebook.com/StPeteShuffle/events.
Twentysomethings, families and retirees gather every Friday evening at the Mirror Lake complex to participate in a sport that used to be strictly the realm of old folks. Children cavort on the lawn as shufflers compete on the courts. Inside the clubhouse, an Old Florida-style rec room houses a charming bamboo-framed floral sofa set, where teens gather to play chess and shoot pool.
The revival of the old-timey Florida pastime began 10 years ago this month with the emergence of the weekly event called St. Pete Shuffle. The club’s 72 playable shuffleboard courts on the northeastern edge of downtown St. Pete had been long neglected until an artist group called The Artillery, co-founded by Phillip Clark, saw an opportunity to bring life back to the picturesque, historic landmark by hosting art shows with bands on Friday nights.
The history of the complex itself goes back more than 90 years ago to Connecticut jeweler Phineas T. Ives, who spearheaded efforts to bring shuffleboarding to St. Petersburg. He persuaded the city to build courts in Mirror Lake Park in 1923. A year later, six friends formed the St. Petersburg Mirror Lake Park Shuffleboard Club, and the first solely shuffleboard club in the world was born. It would become the largest of its kind, a major destination for shufflers with some 5,000 members during its peak years in the 1940s and ’50s. When interest in shuffleboard waned in the late 1960s and ’70s, the complex fell into disrepair. In 2009, the city helped restore it, spending $700,000 in repairs.
In addition to shuffleboard nights, weddings, baby showers, and birthday party rentals take over the club each week. Recent events include the annual Tweed Ride, which drew a crowd of Roaring Twenties-costumed bike riders, despite an unusual late-February storm. Last November, Creative Loafing held its first Crafts & Drafts event at the club.
“After decades of decline, the past 10 years have been a steady growth,” said St. Pete Shuffle Executive Director Christine Page, who recently stepped down as president after serving six years. “I heard that by 2005 there were only 35 club members. Now we have 600 members. We’re open four days a week instead of just Friday nights. We have a weekly league night for club members with 140 players.”
St. Pete Shuffle Fridays are still a volunteer-driven effort, Page said. This week, the place is abuzz with preparations for the 10th Anniversary Party with music by accordionist Nick Boutwell and singer-songwriter Rebekah Pulley, and art by some of the artists who’ve been showing at Shuffle events over the past 10 years — Chad Mize and Clark (who designed the club’s first promo and recent anniversary ad illustration), Daniel Mrgan, Natty Moss Bond, Coralette Damme and several others.
“My favorite big event was the I Love St. Pete show in December 2005,” Page recounted. “It was the first large event organized after the Friday nights started. There was a chalk art contest on the worn-out courts — now restored! Rebekah Pulley played for the first time at the club that night. Eight hundred people came out for the art and music and shuffleboard. It was amazing.”
Founding member Chris Kelly recalled how shufflers came through for him in the early years when he walked around asking for contributions toward purchase of a new PA system. “I ended up in tears, because people were handing me $10, $20 and $50 bills. I was gobsmacked at how the community saw the event as their own, understood and supported what was possible.”
During last Friday night’s Shuffle, New York visitor Laura Duch played the courts in a Mize-designed “Paris, London, Tokyo, St. Pete” shirt gifted from her sister. She mentioned that she’d frequented the Brooklyn club, and added, “I’m amazed that we get to do this for free.”
Correction and clarification: CL did not include the names of all of the founding members of St. Pete Shuffle. According to president Christine Page, the undertaking was a joint effort by Phillip Clark, Mary Eldridge, Chris Kelly, Kristy Knowles, and Chad Mize. Also, the club didn’t raise $100,000 for repairs. The city spent $700,000 on repairs in 2009.