Then you saw it, now you don't

The St. Pete that isn't there anymore, preserved on postcards

click to enlarge THEN: The northeast corner of Fourth Street and Central Avenue, as seen in a card postmarked 1910. - Courtesy Schiffer Publishing Ltd.
Courtesy Schiffer Publishing Ltd.
THEN: The northeast corner of Fourth Street and Central Avenue, as seen in a card postmarked 1910.

Alex Pickett's story on endangered St. Pete buildings focuses on aspects of downtown that are in danger of disappearing. Alma Wynell Deese's St. Petersburg: Past and Present (Schiffer Books, $24.95) offers glimpses of a St. Pete that has already disappeared.

Deese, a retired psychologist, owns a large collection of vintage postcards, which she began after discovering there were no extant images of the Kentucky state hospital where she was working except on postcards (people used to be very proud of their local lunatic asylums). Her collecting bug grew into a serious hobby, leading to books about Lexington, Kentucky and her native Mississippi, and after she moved to St. Petersburg 12 years ago, two post-card histories of her current hometown. The newest volume, published this year by Schiffer Books, is a beautifully assembled look at the city's past as preserved on color postcards and its present, captured in photographs by Raymond Hinst III of Haslam's Book Store in St. Pete and Ryan Abel.

Deese started her St. Petersburg collection with a purchase of 250 cards from a collector who was leaving town. That number grew to something like 700, from which she selected the scenes that populate her richly textured portrait of the city's architectural history.

When she first started collecting images of St. Pete, she was struck by all the changes that had occurred.

"I was new to St. Pete, so to me it was fascinating to see what used to be there. And what really fascinated me more is that people don't seem to realize it.

"We occupy the time period we're in, and we don't have a wider perspective of what went before," she observes. "I don't know if I'm for or against taking things down, but we should be aware of that."

 St. Petersburg: Past and Present is available at Haslam's Book Store, 2025 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, and at other area bookstores.

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