The Penguin Restaurant within the mid 70’s that had a tropical storm rolling over and below. Author’s assortment.
Pinellas County’s most uncommon constructing was hit by the wrecking ball in 1999, however the title stays unchallenged to today.
At 8000 Gulf Boulevard, Treasure Island — close to the southern tip of the world referred to as Sunset Beach — the Penguin Restaurant was a 3-lobed marvel of recent structure, a 250-foot dome constructed of excessive-power concrete sprayed onto metal rebar ribs. Its 7,000 contiguous sq. ft perched on pilings 16 ft above the sand, 29 giant porthole home windows afforded visitors unparalleled views of the shoreline and sundown.
The penguin was a snow-white, clean-sided concrete igloo designed with curves, with out corners or seams, so gale drive winds would don’t have anything to seize onto and tear aside.
The 260-seat Penguin’s specialty was prime rib of beef, which proprietor/chef Winston Hunter sliced from a small motorized cart proper on the desk. Hunter’s Yorkshire Pudding was additionally well-known. Seafood was after all all the time on the menu.
But the meals and the complete bar have been nearly secondary. When you went to the penguin, you went to this bizarre trying spot on the seaside. They parked below the kitchen – inevitably many of the dome – and ran up the lengthy ramp into one thing else fully.
1970’s postcard (element) displaying Hunter and his restaurant of their heyday.
In 1972, Hurricane Agnes destroyed the outdated wood Penguin Restaurant. In the restaurant’s three-decade historical past, storms had repeatedly broken or completely destroyed it.
Architect Ronn Ginn, 89, remembers the day Hunter instructed him he had the assure of a $300,000 mortgage from the Small Business Association’s Disaster Relief Fund with an rate of interest of 1 %, assuming he may make the “new” penguin just about hurricane-proof.
Ginn, who nonetheless works as an architect, says: “It wasn’t designed to be completely different. It was designed to fulfill the necessities got down to us by the SBA.” And tips established by the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration below the auspices of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, changing into the unbiased Federal Emergency Management Agency in 1979 (FEMA) ought to develop.
Hunter, Ginn recollects, “was an incredible buyer. He mentioned, ‘Ron, it is your job. I’m the boss. I’ve been a chef all my life and other people love my meals. I’ll persist with what I do know.’”
And Ronn Ginn liked a problem.
Every seaside group in Pinellas County within the Nineteen Thirties had its personal non-public membership the place the moderately nicely off may swim, play gentle water and sand sports activities, eat, drink, dance and play playing cards; Occasionally they have been additionally rented out for public gatherings of residents and associations. The Penguin Club opened in August 1939.
“The main building of the club consists of a spacious lounge and dining room separated by a semi-circular bar and a large fireplace,” he enthused St. Petersburg time within the Over the Causeways part. “Knotty pine paneling with rustic cypress detailing and a reverse ceiling add coziness to the living room, while the dining room features mahogany stain walls and rich walnut.”
The “well-planned bathhouse,” the story mentioned, “provides accommodation for 100 guests.” Searchlights have been aimed on the seaside for after-darkish swimming.
“Theme nights” have been fashionable – the paper duly reported on each visitor on the Penguin’s “Wild West Night,” bridge, volleyball, and badminton competitions (“winners received prizes for Old Spice perfume”), a Mexican-style wedding ceremony and extra. The members usually went bowling collectively.
The founders have been Hubert McNally and Arthur Barnes, proud members of the St. Petersburg Jaycees. McNally and his spouse Elizabeth had an toddler son, Terrence, who was born at St Anthony’s Hospital final November.
Terrence McNally would develop as much as be the Tony Award-winning playwright of Kiss of the Spider Woman, ragtime, grasp class, love! Bravery! Compassion! and different. That New York Times referred to as McNally the “Bard of American Theater”.
His dad and mom offered the Penguin Club in 1941 and moved younger Terrence to Port Chester, NY
A hurricane severely broken the Penguin Club in June 1944, destroying a sea wall and different limitations, and two months later a fireplace sealed the deal, necessitating an nearly full rebuild.
Five years later, then-new homeowners Stephen and Clara Girard rebuilt the outdated home — by elevating it out of the sand by way of brief wood stakes — after a Labor Day strike nearly wiped it out a second time.
The Girards declared the Penguin a public restaurant in 1952 – now not a personal membership.
Clara Girard offered the penguin in 1959 earlier than leaving on an prolonged go to to Europe; However, by 1963 she was again in full possession mode and had employed Winston Hunter as chef. Hunter’s specialty was prime rib beef with Yorkshire pudding.
Smashed on the again door: The Penguin 1964. Author’s assortment.
The Nineteen Sixties introduced harsher tropical climate and one other devastating hearth, and by the last decade’s finish Hunter had satisfied Girard to promote him the battered restaurant.
Things have been going simply high quality till Hurricane Agnes hit in direction of the top of June 1972. Hunter estimated the injury at round $100,000 – all the flooring had collapsed, adopted by the roof – and he mentioned it boldly Times “We come again. We is not going to be discouraged.”
He had no thought find out how to pull this off. So he went looking for an architect and located Ronn Ginn.
According to the land survey, Hunter owned the whole lot from the highway to the water. The first step was to construct the brand new house nearer to Gulf Boulevard, away from the crashing surf.
The SBA insisted that Ginn’s design needed to face up to winds of as much as 150 miles per hour, face up to each potential tidal wave, and be wheelchair accessible.
Ginn was lately contacted by a South Florida engineer who had developed a brand new type of hyper-power concrete and had used it with nice success within the hurricane-stricken Caribbean. Mixing cement with a chemical additive produced a compound that would face up to a strain of 12,000 kilos per sq. inch, 4 occasions the norm for structural concrete in 1972.
St. Petersburg Times, January 14, 1974.
The moist concrete could possibly be pneumatically sprayed at excessive strain over a metal rebar chest, making a just about impenetrable eggshell floor.
Ginn had his builder drive 55 concrete-crammed metal stakes as much as 85 ft into the bottom. The restaurant flooring ended up standing 16 ft above the sands of Sunset Beach.
At the highest – 60 ft within the air – the concrete shell was 3½ inches thick. It was eight inches at its base the place the ground was welded to the stakes.
There have been no stairs to hold visitors up from the bottom degree car parking zone to the restaurant. Instead, Ginn designed a large dogleg ramp down the aspect of the constructing that met SBA necessities, however which Hunter felt was extra aesthetically pleasing than stairs for individuals who may handle (though he did set up a discreet elevator).
Inside, Ginn says, Hunter needed the whole lot open, finish-to-finish with no pillars to raised drive his cart between the kitchen (the one room with a partition subsequent to the bathrooms), the bar, and the eating space.
It was all a part of the Penguin expertise.
Some guests discovered the huge white caverns of the inside too austere, whereas others, myself included, felt snug within the organically curved area, regardless of returning to the womb and all that psychological stuff… a flat stucco ceiling may have been dropped, curve, um to accommodate the lighting and air con ducts that run between the shells, however I believe Ginn opted for the continuation of the curvature.
Charles Benbow, St. Petersburg Times/July 10, 1974
It won’t have been fairly, however it was distinctive.
“They threw a reporter and a photographer off the aircraft Boston Herald‘ Ginn recollects. “They didn’t think this building could withstand anything. They thought I was a boastful architect, just another boastful architect.”
Architects, he laughs, “don’t blow too hard”. The guidelines and laws they observe are strict and to the purpose.
Only Mother Nature appeared to blow onerous. Never within the quarter century that he has occupied the property at 8000 Gulf Boulevard has the Ginn penguin shuddered or shaken from the pounding of hurricane wind or water.
Hunter offered the Penguin in 1980 as a result of sickness, and it modified fingers and names a number of occasions over the following decade. In 1989 it turned Bedrox, a homosexual and lesbian dance membership (so referred to as as a result of the constructing regarded one thing like the flints; ‘The Flintstones). The new homeowners have painted the futuristic facade pink.
Bedrox. Photo: Treasure Island Historical Society.
Bedrox rolled alongside for some time, drawing the keenness of huge crowds – and the anger of his Sunset Beach neighbors, who repeatedly complained of drunkenness and brawls, nudity and even intercourse on the seaside after darkish.
The membership’s proprietor, Kim Costanza, filed for chapter in 1997 and a sale to the City of Treasure Island was supplied.
Using Penny For Pinella’s taxpayers’ cash, the City of Costanza paid $1,325,000 for the constructing and greater than an acre of beachfront land. “It really needs to be open to the public,” a consulting architect instructed the Tampa Grandstand. “How long it will take to achieve that remains to be seen. It’s just a shell.”
“I hate to see the building itself disappear,” mentioned Treasure Island Mayor Leon Atkinson. “Because it’s such an icon.”
Despite this, it was determined to demolish Bedrox and construct a pavilion open to the general public on the location, full with a gazebo, playground, bathrooms and newly planted beds of sand-protecting sea oats.
On July 26, 1999, the town-designated demolition contractor aimed a 5,300-pound stable metal wrecking ball on the former Penguin. “They didn’t really tell him how strong it was,” Ronn Ginn recollects gleefully, “as a result of they did not know. But this constructing had been there for nearly 50 years. He did not perceive that the concrete we put in there received stronger with age.
“Here comes this huge ol’ crane with a large wrecking ball. Usually you hit one thing like that and it is gone.
“But this big wrecking ball, instead of going through the dome, bounced off.”
Eventually, after all, the curve was crushed and the constructing demolished. The Treasure Island Beach Pavilion was devoted in 2013.