The Vanderbilt’s may have chosen to live at the Breakers in Newport, Rhode Island, but during spring training, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig chose to live right here at the Flori de Leon Apartments in sunny St. Petersburg, Florida. The Flori, a 55 plus building, sprung up from an empty plot of land to grace the skyline of downtown St. Pete back in 1926. At that time, standing seven stories, she was built only a few months after the Vinoy Hotel, which is located just a couple of blocks away. She holds the distinction of being the first co-operative on the West Coast of Florida and, after all these years remains a thriving co-operative community to this day.
The Flori has seen a lot in her day. She saw the Depression hit the St. Pete area, she witnessed the military take over the Vinoy during WWII, and eventually shut down when it could not overcome its many problems. The Flori witnessed the Vinoy being resurrected in 1990 transforming it into the posh resort it is today. If she could talk, she would probably tell you that she saw Calvin Coolidge drive by on his way to the Vinoy, the very first President of the United States ever to stay there. Also, on any number of occasions, she graciously observed Babe Ruth leave the comfort of her arms to trot on over to the Vinoy for a few cocktails. An authentic run on a bank in St. Petersburg in 1931 took place right under her watchful eye. It was the Central National Bank and there was panic in the streets. By 1933, the Flori had endured any number of floods and hurricanes, all since the wild land boom of 1924 and 1925. During that tough economic era, thousands of bankruptcies and receiverships happened in Florida. Through it all, the Flori de Leon stood tall while many other establishments fell victim to ill-fated timing.
Thanks to one post-war construction boom after another, she may no longer be one of the biggest buildings around, but she is still considered one of the crown jewels in all of St. Petersburg. On the Historic Register, the Flori de Leon is listed as Mediterranean Revival in style and boasts seventy-six apartments, including two internal penthouses and two external ones. In addition to the penthouses on the top floor, there are two large lounge areas, each one with an adjoining outside roof deck. The lounges and the roof decks, with spectacular views of both Tampa Bay and the city of St. Petersburg, are considered common areas and are available to all Flori residents, day or night. Constructed before the advent of air-conditioning, the Flori, with its newly refurbished exterior, was built in the shape of the letter “H” for ventilation purposes. The ground floor of the Flori is equally impressive as the top floor. There are two lovely courtyards, a larger one in front and a smaller one in back, both surrounded by lush Florida friendly landscaping. A water fountain and concrete curved benches by the main entry invite one and all to come appreciate this wonderful old building and its storied history. The Flori, affectionately referred to as, “The Old Girl,” by many of her admirers, has a way of grabbing hold of your heart and not letting go.
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