Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Return to Treasure Island

"The Surf is coming down because it costs too much to upgrade the ailing building, whose space-age, 1950s furniture has never been replaced and whose mid century look was featured in Architectural Digest. A 30-unit hotel-condo is planned to rise in its place. Each unit could cost near $400,000, as opposed to The Surf's rents of $66 a night." - St. Petersburg Times

The Surf Motel closed on Sunday April 18, 2004. I remember reading about the controversy surrounding its demise online, there was even a website created to encourage support for the Surf. The New York Times reported the story, yet the Surf was demolished and a new condo created.

Built in 1956, the Surf was among a number of Googie Motels on Treasure Island near St. Pete Beach. It had been some time since I had visited this small Pinellas County community, and I was eager to see what had survived since the Surf's demise. I felt a huge sense of relief when I saw the towering monolith of the Thunderbird Motel. The T-Bird must be one of the best neon signs in all of Florida and it appears little changed from its mid-century glory days. Nearby other mom-and-pop beach cottages, motels and apartments appear to be hanging in there.

My favorite is the quaint Sea Jay, which also boasts a wonderful neon sign, one of my all time Florida Faves. The whole complex is like a time machine back to the 1950s with Featherstone pink plastic flamingos, well-maintained shuffleboard courts and an elevated swimming pool. I only had time for a brief survey, but I'm buoyed by the prospect that one Florida community has still retained some vintage charm in the face of the overwhelming bland developments that permeate the rest of the state.

Vintage images from the State Archives of Florida


  1. Love these photos. St. Pete is an absolute treasure trove for mid-century greatness. You might have an interest in my vintage sign photography including some from that area. I have more from around there I still need to post, though.


  2. Fun stuff- looks like you need more Florida signs!

  3. Love the Sea-Jay ! Stayed there a couple times in the late 80’s. It remember the owners being German and their son’s name was Peter.