INDIAN SHORES — The Civitan Beach House on Gulf Boulevard has been around a long time. It’s been around so long, in fact, that on April 8 it received the recognition of being listed on the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. National Park Service.

Then, the very next day, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman issued a proclamation recognizing the Civitan Club for its 100 years of service.

Lauren Heckert, secretary-treasurer of the St. Petersburg Civitan Club and beach house liaison with the St. Petersburg Civitan Foundation, explained the distinguished history of the organization and its local landmark.

The Civitan Club was originally founded in Birmingham, Alabama in 1917 by some local businessmen to assist in “building good citizenship through volunteering to meet community needs.” By 1920, the first Civitan International meeting took place.

This concept spread and the St. Petersburg Civitan Club was chartered on April 12, 1921 with 40 members. There are now 19 chartered Civitan clubs in the state of Florida.

Heckert shared stories of the club’s early ventures in 1920s St. Petersburg, including buying a pair of swans that were placed in Mirror Lake for beautification, and raising funds to build an artesian well at 1st Street and 28th Ave. N. since “many people lacked access to good drinking water in the city.”

Today the Civitan Club “is a service organization dedicated to assisting local communities, specifically individuals with developmental disabilities.” Some of its major fundraising efforts support Special Olympics, PARC and the Civitan International Research Center, which focuses on interdisciplinary neurodevelopmental research.

The double lot at 18604 Gulf Blvd. in Indian Shores was purchased in 1935 for $1,500 and the beach house was built two years later on the property by Civitan Club members. Heckert said the center block was the original section built in 1937 with two wings completed in 1951.

The Civitan Beach House has a million-dollar view of the surf and sand. As the perfect beach location for weddings, receptions, celebrations of life, birthday parties, and anniversaries, the Civitan Beach House is available to rent as another revenue source for the club.

Heckert led the charge in applying to get the Civitan Beach House on the National Register of Historic Places, a process he says took 14 months to complete. It required submitting a multitude of paperwork first to the Florida Register to have them review documents and photos of the building’s history before proceeding up the ladder to the National Register for further scrutiny.

Civitan International is a faith-based ecumenical organization. MaryAnn Fisher, secretary of the St. Petersburg Civitan Foundation, said, “I believe every mayor of St. Petersburg was a member (of Civitan) at one time or another.”

Pete Meydag, president of the St. Petersburg Civitan Foundation, made a pun in his reference to the club as “an old slice of Florida” since the club used to be known for selling fruitcakes at Christmas time.

Bonnie Ruth, a board member of the club, said, “We used to have a Miss Fruitcake and a Fruitcake Float at parades; we sold thousands of fruitcakes at Christmas.”

The current president of the St. Petersburg Civitan Club, Jan Ward, is a second-generation member. Her father joined the club back in 1948.

The National Register of Historic Places plaque will be revealed at the 100th anniversary celebration of the club at the Civitan Beach House on Sept. 11, 2021. With 45 active members currently, the club is seeking to grow its ranks.

“The three pillars of Civitan are: knowledge, service and fellowship,” said Ruth.

Due to the pandemic, like other organizations, the club has been stymied. “I am antsy to grab enthusiasm out there to get people involved,” said Meydag.