Revitalizing Neighborhoods: Tampa Heights

July 14, 2011 14 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville explores Tampa's first prominent residential suburb and neighborhood - one eerily similar to Jacksonville's Springfield: Tampa Heights.

Tampa Heights History

Tampa Heights is a beautiful community. It is a picturesque neighborhood where stately oak trees, brick streets, and dedicated residents create a small-town feeling. b  The convenience of being close to downtown and Ybor City, as well as easy access to both I-4 and I-275, affords Tampa Heights a uniquely central location.

Its glorious past sets the stage for the renaissance now taking place. Established in the early 1880's, notable 'Heights' residents included Judge Joseph Robles, W.B. Henderson, and Wallace Stoval, founder of the Tampa Tribune. Thomas Puch Kennedy, the son of one of Tampa's earliest pioneers is credited with naming Tampa Heights when he moved just one mile north of downtown to the "Highlands". Thus began downtown residents' first flight into the suburbs. One hundred years ago, Tampa Heights was developed as the first suburb of Tampa. One hundred years later, the neighborhood is experiencing resurgence as downtown's newest/oldest suburb.

While the economic boom gave rise to Tampa Heights in 1883, the yellow fever epidemic of 1887 prompted even more people to move into the area. Many believed the elevation of "The Heights" made the neighborhood a healthier place to live and to raise families. Primarily businessmen and professionals built stately homes in the area south of 7th Avenue. Working-class residents constructed simple framed homes in the area of Palm Avenue to Columbus Drive. The element common to the "Heights" home was the front porch. Wealthy or working class, conversing on the front porch in the evening, was common to all. The 1900 winter real estate issue of the Tampa Tribune evidenced the neighborhood's popularity. Nearly half of the featured residences were located in Tampa Heights.

Tampa Heights' location, and its access to transportation, has always been a central feature of the area. The Tampa Street Railway Company line located its midway point in the "Heights". The trolley from Ybor City, and its cigar-making industry, wound it way out to the suburbs of west Tampa. The advent of the automobile pushed the development of Florida and Nebraska Avenues into major commercial arteries heading into and out of downtown. The community prospered, benefiting businesses and residents alike.

Along with business development, another indicator of Tampa Heights' prosperity was the construction of many beautiful churches and schools. The First Congregational Church relocated from downtown Tampa in 1885 and constructed a massive building at 2201 North Florida Avenue, dedicating the building in 1906 to early pioneer Obadiah H. Platt. When the congregation relocated in the 1950's, the church stood vacant for many years and was badly damaged by fire in the1990's. It was in 1900, that a group of First Baptist Church members founded the Palm Avenue Baptist Church. The massive, three-story, brick church still stands at the corner of Palm and Florida Avenues. A distinctive Tampa Heights structure is The Saint James House of Prayer, constructed in 1922 from rocks dredged from the nearby Hillsborough River. The 'Rock Church' on the corner of Central and Columbus Avenues is easily identifiable. The existing church building that housed Tampa Heights Methodist Church was built in 1910; it was remodeled after a serious fire in 1948.

There were many schools built in the area to serve the growing population. The Michigan Residence (305 East Columbus Drive) built in 1906, now the Lee Elementary School of Technology; Brewster Technical Center (2222 North Tampa Street) built in 1925, was known as the "opportunity school" because of its vocational and career training. Alicia Neve, a prominent Tampa Heights resident, willed her home to the Salesian Sisters in 1938 who founded Villa Madonna School (315 West Columbus Drive). Sacred Heart Academy, at (3515 North Florida Avenue) opened its doors in 1931. Jefferson High School (2704 North Highland Avenue) graduated many Tampa dignitaries, one of which went on to become Florida's Governor Bob Martinez.

Residents, business owners and government officials, who appreciated the history of the area, are investing in its future. The Mayor's Office has worked with the Preservation Board and Tampa Preservation, Inc. to restore the area by creating the Tampa Heights Historic District. A new development is being planned along the Hillsborough River. The "Community Redevelopment Area" will include multi-family and single-family residences along with office and retail space. Its design is to be in keeping with the architecture of the surrounding neighborhood.

Realizing the value of being close to downtown has sparked the redevelopment of Tampa Heights. The prominence of the Mayor's Heights project and the dedication of its Civic Association, has created an atmosphere that has brought renewed interest in the neighborhood, creating opportunities for the future.
Source: of Tampa Heights Neighborhood.htm

Tampa Heights Historic District

The Sanctuary is a $3 million redevelopment of the Tyer Temple Church and School (built in 1913) into 32 loft apartments.  

With its unique wooden belfry, the Michigan Avenue grammar school, today Robert E. Lee Elementary, opened in 1907 (Michigan Avenue was later changed to Columbus Drive).

This structure was completed in 1906 as the First Congregational Church.  By the 1930s, the church had 1,500 members, and mission churches in Ybor City and West Tampa. When most of its membership left the Heights, the church was sold to the Polish-American Democratic Club.
This congregation organized on October 28, 1885, at the home of Caroline A. Pettingell, and was led by Franklin M. Sprague. A white frame church at 1104 Florida Ave. preceded this one. This sanctuary was dedicated in 1906 to Obadiah H. Platt, an early Tampa pioneer. At the time, it was surrounded by orange grove.

The church was active in the community and organized the Cuban Congregational Church and the Union Congregational Church, both in West Tampa. After a decline in membership, the church relocated in 1956. The building was later used by the Polish-American Democratic Club. It was later severely damaged by fire.

Fire Station No. 5. The first fire station on this site was built during the 1890s. In 1925, another was built as a reproduction of the prior design. Its five second-story end windows and arches are identical to the originals. The two fire engines here were responsible for the area from 7th Ave. to Buffalo Ave., and from the Hillsborough River to Nebraska Ave.

The former Tampa Heights Presbyterian Faith Temple still lies abandoned today.  The two-story structure was built in 1923 as the Tampa Heights Presbyterian Church.

Upper North Franklin Street Historic District

Bounded by Palm Avenue to the north and I-275 to the south, this slice of Franklin Street is home to 14 historic structures built between 1915 and 1946.  Once a part of Tampa's premier urban commercial district, this section of Franklin was severed by the construction of I-275 during the mid-20th century.  Future plans recently suffered a setback with Governor Rick Scott's decision to kill high-speed rail.  Tampa's high-speed rail station would have been developed in this area.

Franklin is a street full of firsts.

The city’s first electric lights lined Franklin by 1887. It was the first in the city to be paved, the first to have sidewalks. The city’s first brick building, the Bank of Tampa, was built on Franklin in 1886. In 1885, Tampa’s first streetcar, a steam-powered contraption with passenger cars similar to a freight train’s, rambled up a sand-covered Franklin on a narrow track to a nascent Ybor City. By 1900, electric streetcars traveled up and down the street on 21 miles of track connecting downtown to Ybor, West Tampa, Sulphur Springs and Ballast Point.

As Tampa boomed at the turn of the 20th century, Franklin’s status as the city’s commercial core was firmly in place. Tampa’s first Woolworth’s opened there in 1915; Maas Brothers, Tampa’s first department store, expanded to a six-story building on Franklin in 1921. The Tampa Theatre — the city’s first air-conditioned movie house — opened on Franklin in 1926.

By the middle of the 20th century, however, the prominence of the avenue had faded with the growing allure of wide-open suburban spaces.

The Oceanic Supermarket, operated by the Choi family is the only grocery store in the historic downtown area.  The building also houses a popular local coffehouse named Café Hey.

Oceanic Supermarket is located in the Florida's dynamic city of Tampa. From its humble beginnings as a small dry goods store over the years to an indispensible Tampa establishment providing products from rosewood furniture to fresh fish to imported and locally grown produce, Oceanic has served the not only Tampa's growing Asian community but also the state of Florida with customers coming in from as far as Gainesville and Naples to shop.

In addition to the supermarket, the Oceanic family now hosts a variety of businesses including TC Choy's Asian Bistro, Ocean Video, and Oceanic Restaurant Equipment. Come visit us on the northern edge of downtown Tampa!

Café Hey image by Nathan Bangs at

The Rialto Theater building was constructed in 1924 and featured both live theater and films.  It remained a movie house unitl 1959.

This building was constructed of brick in 1926, based on the design of F.J. Kennard and Son. It served the performing arts until the 1940s with 375 seats, and later became an auto repair shop. After 2000, it was considered for use once again as a professional theater, since the proscenium, fly house and balcony were still in existence in the empty structure.

Tampa Family Health Center.

Tampa Family Health Centers (TFHC) is a not-for-profit organization that has been providing quality and affordable primary health care to residents of Hillsborough County since 1984. TFHC was borne from a grass roots effort of concerned citizens within the community who came together for the purpose of providing accessible, comprehensive, and continuous health care. In 2006, TFHC furnished over 67,000 patient visits for 21,000 residents of Hillsborough County.
At the present time, TFHC operates eight health care delivery sites and one mobile medical van.  In addition to the pediatric, family practice and internal medicine services furnished at all sites, three of the centers operate dental clinics, four have on-site pharmacies and one is equipped with an X-ray department.  TFHC works very closely with schools, shelters and faith-based organizations by providing outreach and educational projects within the community.

Giant Oil's corporate headquarters.  Giant Oil is a multi-branded, multi-state petroleum distributor and retailer of general merchandise to the public through convenience store outlets operating in Florida and Ohio.

Oil, Inc., has built a strong foundation on the belief that hard work, determination and a conviction in one's self will produce growth and success.
Giant Oil, Inc. was founded by owner Basem Ali.  It originally began as a venture in the real estate market in 1995 which ultimately resulted in Giant becoming a multi-branded, multi-state petroleum jobber.

In 1997 Giant acquired our first group of sites and at that time became a distributor for British Petroleum (BP)®.

Giant’s successful acquisitions in Florida have made us one of the largest petroleum jobbers spanning the entire state from the Miami waterways to the Florida-Georgia border. History.html

The Carnegie Library Building. Built in 1915-17 with a design by Fred J. James, this served as the city's main library until 1968. It is a T-plan masonry building with brown and yellow brick atop a rusticated granite basement, topped by a barrel tile roof. Also known as the Old Tampa Free Public Library and the Exceptional Children Education Center, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1991. It now serves as the home of Tampa's Business and Community Services Department.

The Palm Avenue Baptist Church. This church was founded in 1900 by a group of First Baptist Church members who lived in the Heights. Its first minister was Rev. C.N. Nash. The three-story building was erected in four stages from 1901 to 1912, with the oldest portion on the northeast near Palm Ave. The back auditorium was completed in 1912 and the educational front section was rebuilt and remodeled in 1957.

Franklin Street Fine Woodworks designs and builds high-end furniture and architectural elements such as doors, windows and gates.  The brainchild of Carl Johnson and Alison Swann-Ingram, this business also offers woodworking workshops and other classes to the community.  The restoration of this small 1920s-era brick storefront could not have been done without the advantage of historic preservation tax credits.

Tampa Heights Riverfront (CRA)

This 1910-era brick structure once housed the TECO Trolley Barn and later Tampa Armature Works, a heavy industrial manufacturer of motors.  This building would one day be the centerpiece of a 48-acre mixed-used development called "The Heights."  The goal is to create a pedestrian-friendly downtown neighborhood on the Hillsborough River with 2,000 mixed-income residential lofts and condos, and several hundred thousand square feet of shops, restaurants, hotels and offices.  A marina approved for 100 boat slips is also planned.  Developers envision canoe rentals, fishing charters and public art being strategically placed along a winding brick sidewalk paralleling the river.

Stetson College of Law.

Located at the gateway to downtown Tampa along the Hillsborough River, the Tampa Law Center opened in 2004 as a developing hub for legal activity in the Tampa Bay area. Stetson has been approved to offer 50 percent of the classes for the part-time J.D. degree at the Law Center; in addition, the Tampa branch of Florida's Second District Court of Appeal resides in the building. This public-private partnership between a working court and a law school is the first of its kind in Florida.

The three-story, 73,500-square-foot building reflects the same Mediterranean-Revival architecture of Stetson's Gulfport campus. Stetson's signature tower, modeled after the Torre de Oro in Seville, Spain, is replicated at the top of the Tampa Law Center. Eight friezes, which depict significant scenes from legal history, surround a custom-designed candelabra at the center of the atrium named for the late Dean W. Gary Vause, who acquired the land for the Tampa Law Center. Artwork from a number of Florida artists enhances the building's design.

The Wm. Reece Smith Jr. Courtroom, named for a former president of the American Bar Association who has served on Stetson's part-time faculty since 1954, is shared by the law school and appellate court. The two jury rooms can be used in mock trials to compare the deliberations of different panels. In 2008, Stetson opened a smaller courtroom on the second floor for advocacy classes and competition-team practices.

The Tampa satellite library spans two floors and boasts 16 group study rooms. The library includes a core collection that can be used by law students, judges, and alumni. The spacious reading room on the second floor allows students to study in an engaging environment reminiscent of traditional courthouses and attorneys' offices.

A wireless network connects users to the Internet from anywhere in the building. Every classroom and courtroom is equipped with a touch-screen podium that controls access to extensive audio-visual resources.

The Future of Tampa Heights

To learn more about the Tampa Heights Neighborhood Master Plan: Heights Community Plan.pdf

Tampa Heights is bounded by the Hillsborough River to the west, Hillsborough Avenue (U.S. Highway 92) to the north, Downtown Tampa to the south, and Seminole Heights and Ybor City to the east. The land area of the neighborhood is 3.5 square miles.

A Lesson For Jacksonville

Urban Jacksonville stands to learn a lot from the undergoing revitalization process that Tampa Heights is experiencing.  Tampa Heights was developed in the same era as Springfield, Durkeeville, New Springfield and other Jacksonville neighborhoods, and declined with similar changes (interstate construction, white/black flight, a proliferation of social services, severing of street network connectivity, etc.) to its environment.  Unlike Jacksonville's community though, over the last decade, Tampa Heights has attracted a law school through public/private partnerships, reestablished street connectivity with downtown, and witnessed significant commercial infill and revitalization in an area close to several social service operations.  While the Heights still has a way to go, these are just a few examples of revitalization techniques worth considering locally.

Article by Ennis Davis.