Redington Beach: A town with a colorful past

The swimming pool was the focal point of the property in the early days of The Tides Hotel and Bath Club.

No one can argue that while Redington Beach is a lovely, little beach town, nothing ever seems to happen. For some, the relative quiet may be just what they crave while others may wonder, where’s the glamour, drama and history?

The most controversial matter to surface in recent months has been whether eliminating the town’s crosswalks will make traversing Gulf Boulevard more or less dangerous and will the county’s plan to install flashing beacons and pedestrian islands result in more or fewer accidents.

Yet, this placid bedroom community of mostly year-round residents had its share of colorful characters, events and history.

The Redington touch

First, a little historical background. Redington Beach formerly known as North Madeira Beach was officially established in 1945 with the town limits at the time extending from 155th Avenue to 170th Avenue.

The town’s namesake is Charles E. Redington, a real estate developer and investor who in the roaring 1920s began buying up Pinellas County’s mostly barren, beachfront property with what some said were visions of a Miami Beach type resort colony. Arguably, this goal never quite happened, but he was able to put his imprint on the barrier islands.

Redington, his wife Hazel, and their five children, were lured from Tucer, Ind., to the sunny shores of St. Petersburg in 1925. Before moving here, the Redington family had evidently frequented the area for their winter holidays.

Not long after arriving as a full-time resident, he began buying and leasing property in St. Petersburg Beach, Pass-A-Grille, and Treasure Island and especially in Madeira Beach, Redington Beach and North Redington Beach.

It was said the developer who got his start building roads in Indiana, harbored visions of turning the sleepy hamlet with nothing but miles of empty beach and a few cottages into a Miami Beach type resort.

In 1935, when most of the area was one long deserted stretch of beach, he built his first home on Redington Beach for himself, his wife and their five children. By 1940, there were a grand total of five Redington-built homes on Redington Beach.

The original Redington home at 15572 Gulf Blvd., said to be the oldest beach house on Redington Beach, still stands, albeit, renovated and remodeled over the years by its subsequent owners. The original magnolia wood floors have, reportedly, remained.

In 2000, the exterior of the home also served as the site for six Kmart commercials filmed on site. According to a news article, 20 actors were flown in for the shoot and a deputy from the Sheriff’s Office was put on special duty.

Happy days at The Tides

In 1936, Redington purchased 1,700 feet of waterfront property on which he built at a cost of $75,000, the Tides Hotel and Bath Club at 167th Avenue. The club, which now sits within the town limits of North Redington Beach, functioned as a private, nonprofit watering hole that was initially funded by 100 prominent local-area residents eager for a social center where there was none. A grand opening was held on New Year’s Day 1937. Guests eager to be the first in the new pool reportedly jumped in wearing their party duds.

Pinellas County’s well-heeled denizens made it a hot spot for parties, dances and dinners. Young families could wile away summer afternoons while the kiddies were treated to swimming lesions.

The Tides Hotel was completed in 1940 and consisted of the main hotel, cottages, a motor inn and apartments. The amenities included two swimming pools, a ballroom, two dining rooms and a dinner theater.

The hotel, while no rival of Miami Beach’s famed Fontain-ebleau, did manage to draw luminaries from the world of sports and entertainment, including New York Yankees legend Joe DiMaggio and actress Marilyn Monroe. Bands such as the Dorsey Brothers and Sammy Kaye played in the hotel ballroom in 1958.

In 1956, then Vice President Richard Nixon and his entourage were also slated to stay at the hotel. However, rumors had it the facility maintained a “no Jews” policy that was allegedly posted on the hotel premises.

“The Tides and Club personnel had taken down all those signs – but too late.” according to a 1971 St. Petersburg Times article documenting the resort’s glory days. It seems the future U.S. president was instead whisked over to the Edward James Hotel on Treasure Island.

In the ensuing years, as times and tastes changed, the popular destination began losing both its appeal and its profit. The hotel’s owner died in 1989 and the property was sold soon thereafter. With beachfront property values soaring, a Tampa-based development company bought the property in 1996, razed the existing structure and eventually put up six 6-story buildings on the site of the old hotel. The project, called The Tides Beach Club, was completed in 2000.

Charles Redington along with sons, Charles Jr. and Jack, eventually established a contracting company that operated in St. Petersburg and on the beaches. Ironically, the builder who spent decades developing tracts of untouched Gulf beaches, chose not to remain in Florida during his later years and eventually moved to Tucson, Ariz., where he died in 1970.

No merger

In years past, the town also became somewhat of a hotbed for heated local politics. In 1963, the major issue of the day was a proposal that would consolidate the communities of Redington Beach, North Redington and Redington Shores and would be renamed the City of Redington Beach.

The plan found favor with the three town commissions. The Redington Beach commissioners, according to an early story that ran in the St. Petersburg Times, deemed the merger “a progressive step to a more efficient and economical government.”

The matter was put to a referendum with the provision that all three towns would have to approve the merger for it to become effective.

Voters living in North Redington Beach and Redington Shores voted in support of the merger. The majority of Redington Beach voters, however, did not, and the measure was effectively scuttled.

An article in the St. Petersburg Times, after the vote had been taken, noted that Redington Shores Mayor John L. Sandy expressed “no animosity toward Redington Beach” and was quoted as saying, “If that’s what they wanted, they’re entitled to their opinion.”

Town hall turmoil

Redington Beach commission meetings often trend toward the mundane. The aforementioned crosswalks aside, matters now tend to revolve around replacing flags destroyed by Tropical Storm Debby, how to best dispose of debris left on the beach by the tropical storm and the like.

Events took a stormy turn in 1997 when the commission meetings became exercises in high drama as angry residents claimed several commission members had been appointed rather than elected due to a series of resignations.

In addition, accusations were swirling around then Mayor Julian Cave that he had not been a legal resident of Redington Beach at the time he ran for office.

In an email, Mark Deighton who was vice mayor at the time and is now a commissioner, replied, “Julian was never charged with anything. Some raucous types accused him of misconduct. But there was no substance to it. It was, however, an unwanted source of undue notoriety.”

The situation reached a tipping point when the government was forced to shut down after some rowdy sessions that had to be adjourned after two of the four commissioners abruptly resigned, followed by Cave who stepped down at the next meeting. His absence left only two board members, one of whom was Deighton.

The Governor’s office was required by state law to step in and appoint a commissioner to restore a quorum. An article in the St. Petersburg Times quoted a spokesman for Gov. Lawton Chiles’ office as saying, “This is not normal. We don’t normally see situations like this.”

The Governor’s office appointed Nick Simons, now the town’s mayor, to fill one of the commission seats. An election was called shortly thereafter, according to Deighton, and the remaining seats were filled.

Yes, things may be more dull now in the old town, to the relief of many no doubt, but like an old dowager, Redington Beach, has its secrets and smiles to remember and reflect upon.