ST. PETERSBURG — The Sunken Gardens Forever Foundation recently announced gifts of $120,000 in support of Sunken Gardens' new history center. The long-awaited history center is being created in the historic former entrance to the Sunken Gardens, which once faced 18th Avenue Northeast.
Located at 1825 Fourth St. N. in the historic Old Northeast neighborhood of St. Petersburg, Sunken Gardens is a four-acre botanical garden that is open to the public. The gardens evolved under the ownership of the Turner family, who purchased the property in 1911. The family later began growing tropical fruit trees on the site of what was once a sinkhole and ancient lakebed. After several ventures, they opened Sunken Gardens as a tourist attraction in the mid-1930s.
"We are thrilled to support Sunken Gardens in its role as an historic gem for the city of St. Peterburg," said Robin Reed, president of the Sunken Gardens Forever Foundation. "We look forward to telling the unique history of Sunken Gardens and its role as a major old Florida roadside attraction that helped put St. Petersburg on the map for visitors."
At a special meeting of the St. Petersburg City Council on Aug. 19, Sunken Gardens staff presented the new history center project and announced the Sunken Gardens Forever Foundation's philanthropic support. The funds will go toward renovation and restoration of the former entrance, which currently houses Sunken Gardens' tropical birds at night when the gardens are closed. As part of the reconstruction project, the birds will receive new overnight accommodations in a different location of the gardens.
Sunken Gardens Forever Foundation has committed $100,000 to support renovation and restoration costs of the building and $20,000 toward historic exhibits. Earlier this year, Sunken Gardens received a $50,000 grant from the Florida Department of State, Division of Historical Resources, to create interpretive panels and short educational
videos depicting oral histories, marketing materials, midcentury TV commercials, documents and historic Turner family photos.
Reed noted that the new Sunken Gardens history center is "well aligned with the foundation's mission: To support Sunken Gardens and preserve its legacy as a historic landmark through education and philanthropy."
Sunken Gardens is owned and operated by the city of St. Petersburg. The Sunken Gardens Forever Foundation provides the "extra" financial support for important garden projects outside the scope of the city's operating budget.
Founded in 2016, SGFF is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization operated by a volunteer board of directors. Its first project was to "restock the flock," raising $40,000 to acquire 20 new flamingos. Its second was the publication of "Sophie & Zack at Sunken Gardens," a children's book that will be distributed to all third graders in St. Petersburg Title I schools over the next several years. The book also is available in Sunken Gardens' gift shop.
The current foundation portfolio of projects in support of Sunken Gardens includes, in addition to the history center, a children's educational garden, and the restoration of some of the gardens' tropical bird habitats. The foundation will undertake fundraising campaigns to support all three projects.