Preserve the ‘Burg – St. Pete Preservation’s Monica Kile on Building Awareness through T-Shirts!

The St. Pete Preservation Society has played a key role in making the St. Pete we know and love today – or, more precisely, preserving it. It was SPP who helped rally support in the 1980s to save the Vinoy Hotel from demolition. They’ve recently notched important wins by earning historical landmark protection for the Detroit Hotel, built in 1888 and located next to Jannus Landing, and the Lang’s Bungalow Court neighborhood.

Much of St. Pete Preservation’s success is based on a program of education that includes Porch Parties highlighting historic buildings or neighborhoods, educational forums and tours, and the much-beloved Movies in the Park series drawing attention to St. Pete’s unique waterfront parks system. According to SPP Executive Director Monica Kile, these programs have helped St. Petersburgers appreciate their city’s unique built environment, even in the face of constant development.

“We have some pretty distinctive architecture,” says Kile, “Particularly our Mediterranean Revival buildings.” The style was developed in Florida, and intended to evoke the feeling of being on the Mediterranean, without having to travel there. St. Pete also has more than its share of Midcentury Modern homes, a now-revered style associated with the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Without the efforts of St. Pete Preservation, we’d have a much different city. “Think about St. Pete without the Vinoy,” says Kile, Or the Open Air Post Office. They’re built for the environment here, to be open.”

Kile credits a lot of the success of St. Pete Preservation, not to a politician or activist, but to an artist – Carrie Jadus. Jadus, who works out of Soft Water Studios in the Warehouse Arts District, is responsible for the impressive art on SPP’s popular and eye-catching Movies in the Park posters. So much so, in fact, that SPP put them on a series of t-shirts. More recently, the group launched its “Preserve the Burg” campaign, which features not only on t-shirts, but on stickers and posters.

All of St. Pete Preservation’s t-shirts have been strong sellers. Strange as it may sound, successful t-shirts have made it easier for the group to get things done – not just by raising money, but by raising their profile.

“You see people wearing them around town,” Monica Kile explains, “And it lends credibility to an organization, when people choose to put your logo on their chest.”

The message and mission of those t-shirts is simple, says Kile. “We’re trying to maintain the incredible sense of place that St. Pete has.”

St. Pete Threads is proud to be part of expanding the visibility of groups like St. Pete Preservation. Monica Kile and her dedicated team provide an important reminder, as development in our big little ‘burg heats up – preserving the past is a huge part of keeping St. Pete a place we love to live.

Jeff Schorr is the founder of Craftsman House Gallery, located in the Grand Central districtll of St. Pete’s Historic Kenwood neighborhood. Craftsman House sells handcrafted decor and art from nearly 300 American artists, housed in the 1918 Arts and Crafts-style bungalow that served as the original model home for the Kenwood development.

But Craftsman House isn’t just a gallery – Schorr says his real goal is to create community, so when he founded Craftsman House ten years ago, he made a café part of the plan. And once or twice a month he brings in big-name folkies and singer-songwriters to perform in the gallery space – including everyone from Janis Ian to Tom Paxton to Marty Balin of Jefferson Airplane.

Before starting the Craftsman House, Schorr did a lot of work in the clothing industry. He helped start both Grenade Snowboard Gloves, and Tony Hawk’s personal clothing line. Snowboard and skate clothes might not be what you’d expect from a guy now running a serene craft-art gallery, but his attunement to the power of image and quality have carried over as he’s mellowed out.

For Schorr, t-shirts are about getting the word out, and to do that, they have to be comfortable.  “My philosophy is, put it on the best quality t-shirt you can find, otherwise nobody’s going to want to wear it, no matter what the design.”

He used buttery-soft top-tier cotton shirts to create his Craftsman House Gallery t-shirts (sold here on St. Pete Threads), and it’s paid off. Every musician who comes through Craftsman House gets one of the shirts, and they’re so comfortable they can’t help wearing them – which is why the Craftsman House name has been seen on stages across the country, including at the Newport Folk Festival.

In addition to founding his own gallery, Jeff has done tons of work on the ground to improve conditions for artists in St. Pete. This includes the grueling, four-year process of getting Artists Enclave designation for Historic Kenwood, which allows artists to post signage in front of their residences, sell art from their homes at certain times, and gives the neighborhood special flexibility on quarterly events.

And he’s been amazed at the change he’s seen in St. Pete in the decade since he founded Craftsman. Across the Grand Central district there’s been the arrival projects like the Painting with Fire workshop and Grand Central Stained Glass. And though Craftsman House was a bit lonely for a while, way out on the 2900 block of Central, the block has recently welcomed the new Engine Rose  restaurant, PomPoms sandwich shop, and a midcentury antique shop on the same block. All, no doubt, in part a return on his own hard work.

The St. Pete famous, World Tour shirt.

You’ve seen it everywhere, even if you’ve only spent a day or two in St. Pete – “Paris, London, Tokyo, St. Pete.” A mission statement, but also a little ironic and self-deprecating. The so-called “World Tour” design is a bid for St. Pete to stand with the cultural capitals of the world, emblazoned on prints and posters and, especially, t-shirts. Thousands and thousands of t-shirts.

So many t-shirts, in fact, that it’s shocking to be reminded that the design only debuted a year ago. For the launch of St. Pete Threads, we knew we had to snag the man behind probably the biggest t-shirt in our fair city – Chad Mize, who first launched the design from his former Central Avenue gallery, Blue Lucy. So we recruited Chad to sit on our Board of Directors, where he’ll help us pick the next viral St. Pete t-shirt sensation.

Mize says the design was inspired by a similar shirt making big claims about Torrance, California (maybe a bit more of a stretch). Though the World Tour is his biggest hit, Mize has been making t-shirts for nearly 20 years – since before computers were a common part of the process. ”Everything was hand-done,” he says of those early days. “We had to cut out the letters [to set up prints].”

But Mize stuck with t-shirts, because he’d seen how much power they had. “Growing up, I always loved getting a band t-shirt when I went to a concert,” he says. “You can make a statement. It’s something that I’ve always been drawn to.”

Mize has a lot of thoughts as to why the World Tour design has been such a hit. “It’s simple. It’s kind of tongue in cheek, but at the same time, I don’t think it would work for every city. I don’t think you could put ‘Tampa’ on the bottom and have it work.”

The shirt does have a big out-of-town fanbase, with tourists regularly picking up shirts from shops at the Don Cesar and the Vinoy. Then they head back home and spread the word about our bayside ‘Burg.

Mize is happy to be part of getting the word out, and he sees great things for St. Pete. “The art scene is really good, there’s so much going on now. The restaurants and brewing . . .  That kind of stuff helps artists live.”

Since the success of the World Tour shirt, Mize has designed shirts for I Love the Burg, the Vinoy, and the St. Pete Shuffleboard Club, which Mize helped found nearly a decade ago.

He closed the Blue Lucy gallery in December of last year, after a happy five-year run. Now he’s relishing the freedom, curating shows with his trademark poppy sensibility at venues across St. Pete. His next event is at Black Amethyst Tattoo, where the show Elements, featuring artists riffing on the molecules on the periodic table, opens on April 11th. He’s also got a garden-themed show, featuring nearly 50 artists, coming up at Green Bench Brewing.

We’re glad Chad’s part of the St. Pete Threads team, where we’ll all be hard at work making his famous t-shirt’s message comes true.