Saint Petersburg Travel Blog› entry 1 of 1 › view all entries
Sunken Gardens is an important example of a 1930s Florida roadside commercial attraction. It offers a well-preserved example of old Florida in its lush tropical gardens. Sunken Gardens ranks as the oldest commercial tourist attraction on Florida's west coast, and one of the finest botanical gardens in the United States. Sunken Gardens is also significant in the area of architecture and landscape architecture. The original Sanitary Public Market Building was a fine example of Mediterranean Revival architecture later renovated in 1940 as the Coca-Cola Bottling Company by architect William B. Harvard, Sr. The renovation itself was exemplary in its use of Art Moderne stylistic details. Finally, the gardens are a significant example of landscape architecture.
The origins of Sunken Gardens dates back to 1903 when George Turner, Sr. began to convert a five-acre tract of land into a botanical garden. Sunken gardens opened as tourist attraction in 1935 and eventually become one of Florida's top tourist attractions. From the 1950's through the 1970's Sunken gardens was ranked among Florida's top ten commercial attractions.
A plumber by trade, George Turner, Sr. was convinced to relocate to St.
The Sanitary Public Market was designed by architect Albert Lee Hawes and constructed in 1926-27. The building, designed as a walk through arcade, was constructed of structural clay tile and steel.
Due to the financial downturn of the depression, the market closed in 1931 and the building was sold to the American Legion Post and renamed the American Legion Armory. For most of the next decade it was home to wrestling matches, home shows and Legion events. In 1940 the building was sold to the St. Petersburg Bottling Company and served as a Coca Cola bottling plant until 1967. In 1940, the new owners hired architect William Harvard, Sr. to renovate the building. His renovations to the west facade were in the Moderne style and removed or concealed the Mediterranean style of the original building.
In 1967 the Turner family acquired the building and added it to the adjacent gardens to utilize as a gift shop. A faux lava rock entrance with a fountain and pond was added to the south facade facing the parking lot. For many years the building was advertised as the world's largest gift shop.
The Gardens currently contain over 500 species of tropical and subtropical plants amidst pools and cascading waterfalls, lushly planted in a collection of more than 50,000 tropical plants and flowers. They include a Japanese garden, cactus garden, and butterfly garden, and Chilean flamingos. Plants include bougainvilleas, royal palms, water lilie,, shrimp planta, and fruit trees. The garden atmosphere is peaceful and many of the plants are quite large (compared to typical specimens) due to their long history of protection and cultivation.