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The Many Museums of St. Petersburg, Florida

On Florida’s west coast discover the city of St. Petersburg, which boasts 361 days of sunshine. Part of the Tampa Bay area, it offers a solid line-up of museums for those who want to come inside or prefer not to spend all their time at the beach or golfing.

The Salvador Dali
Probably the most well known is the Salvador Dali Museum, located on Bayboro Harbor. The museum’s collection began in the early 1940s when A. Reynolds and Eleanor Reese Morse attended a Dali retrospective at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Within the year, they had purchased Dali’s Daddy Longlegs of the Evening‚- Hope! (1940).

At first their surrealist collection was showcased in their home. As pieces continued to be added, it was moved into a museum adjacent to their business in Ohio. In 1980 the Morses put out a call seeking a permanent home for their collection. By that time works included Dali’s The Hallucinogenic Toreador (1969-70), The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus (1958-59) and The Ecumenical Council (1960) and the Morses had become close friends with the artist.

St. Petersburg’s community leaders seized the opportunity to bring such a collection to the city and in March 1982, a new museum opened. Today, it is the largest collection of Dali’s works outside of his native Spain, consisting of more than 2,100 pieces - 95 oil paintings and 100 or more watercolors and drawings including his large master works: Galacidalacidesoxiribunucleicacid (1963), Portrait of My Dead Brother (1963) and Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea Which at Twenty Meters Becomes A Portrait of Abraham Lincoln (1976).

Even if you are not a fan of surrealism, take the time to visit. The docents offer considerable insight into Dali and his works. The bookstore is every bit as much fun as the museum. And for those wondering about such a collection sitting directly on the harborfront, plans are underway to expand the museum and provide increased protection to these extraordinary works. Look for the building’s design to be truly Daliesque.

Fine Art
After a trip to the Dali, the Museum of Fine Arts’ is a complete contrast. Located in Straub Park, just north of Central Avenue, the traditional museum setting displays works by Cézanne, Renoir, Monet and Rodin. The collection of 4,000 objects covers ancient civilizations to present day.

Feeling a bit hungry? On the west side of Beach Drive N.E. across from the Museum of Fine Art find a variety of shops and restaurants, some with outdoor dining. One block west is BayWalk, an open-air shopping and entertainment complex with a 20-screen theater. Across the street, discover a small walkway featuring Millennium Gateway (2001) by Alex Klahm, courtesy of the St. Petersburg Public Art Commission.

A Smithsonian Institution Affiliate

NOTE: the museum, as of May 2008, became part of St. Petersburg College and was closed, pending a study.
The Florida International Museum, located one-half block west of BayWalk, opened on January 11, 1995, with a blockbuster exhibit showcasing artifacts from Moscow’s Romanov dynasty (1613-1917). This event was followed by the Splendors of Ancient Egypt (1996), Alexander the Great (1997), Titantic: The Exhibit (1997-1998) and Empires of Mystery. The Incas. The Andes and Lost Civilizations (1998-1999). To sustain itself year-round, the museum became a Smithsonian Institution Affiliate in 2000 and has since featured: Baseball As America, Barbie® Doll Celebrates 45 Years, Diana - A Celebration, Ink and Blood: Sacred Treasures of the Bible, Hubble Space Telescope: New Views of the Universe, The Cuban Missile Crisis, and The Beatles! Backstage and Behind the Scenes, among others. Visit their website for the latest programming.

Celebrating History
Behind the Museum of Fine Arts, on the promenade to The Pier - an inverted pyramid-shaped attraction with shops, restaurants, fishing, cruises and an aquarium that sits directly over the water - is the St. Petersburg Museum of History. According to the city, it is one of the oldest historical museums in the state of Florida “having been collecting, preserving and presenting the community’s history since 1920.”

To capture the museum’s ambiance, imagine displays featuring linen postcards with coral colored skies, green park benches, newspaper boys, Old Florida neighborhoods and savvy business leaders such as Herbert Rutland who used free checking, and Friday evening and Saturday hours to encourage banking. Its signature exhibit hangs from the ceiling. The full-size replica of the Benoist aircraft represents the first commercial aviation flight between St. Petersburg and Tampa that was flown by Tony Jannus.

Remembering the Holocaust
The Florida Holocaust Museum’s railroad boxcar recreates a dramatic period in time. This is one of the original cars from Poland. It is placed on actual train tracks that were used to move Jews to places like Dachau, Treblinka and Auschwitz. Exhibits emphasize the importance of tolerance.

Great Explorations

On a lighter note, the Great Explorations, the Hands On Museum welcomes families and children. Their goal is promote learning through creativity, play and exploration. In other words - touch it. Their grocery store showcases consumerism with a little math in disguise. The fire station invites kids to practice safety, while the vet’s office is all about pet care. These are just a few of the pint-size experiences available.

The downtown is easily accessible from Interstate 275 that runs north and south on the eastern edge of the peninsula. Many of the wide multi-lane streets in the down core are one-way. There are a number of parking garages (close to Florida International Museum and BayWalk) and parking lots (behind Dali and adjacent to the history museum), along with street parking (around the Museum of Fine Arts) some of which is metered. If you’d prefer not to drive from place to place, consider taking The Looper, the downtown trolley.

Salvador Dali Museum
1000 Third Street South
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
(727) 823-3767

Museum of Fine Arts

255 Beach Drive N.E.
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
(727) 896-2667

First and Second Streets North
And Second and Third Avenues North
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
(727) 895-9277

Florida International Museum
244 Second Avenue North
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
(727) 341-7900
St. Petersburg Museum of History
335 Second Avenue N.E.
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
(727) 894-1052

Florida Holocaust Museum

55 Fifth Street South
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
(727) 820-0100

Great Explorations, the Hands On Museum
1925 Fourth Street North
St. Petersburg, FL 33704
(727) 821-8992

The Looper

Editor’s Note: Those using Tampa International Airport’s long-term parking garage will find the (Tony) Jannus station named in his honor.