Bay Pines and the Community - Bay Pines VA Healthcare System
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Bay Pines VA Healthcare System

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Bay Pines and the Community

Bay Pines VA Medical Center has served as an important part of the St. Petersburg area since before that was its name—in fact, even before it was ever formally announced. Unified attempts to bring a Soldiers Home to St. Petersburg, Florida are recorded as far back as December of 1902, when Kit Carson Post No. 26 of the Florida Grand Army Republic appointed J. F. Chase, Peter Tomlinson, and C. H. Lewis to a Committee regarding "the Building of Branch Home for the use of Veterans of Indian- Mexican- Civil- and Spanish Wars." Although the Home was not built in Florida at that time, the post’s efforts continued at least until 1904.

newspaper headline - National Soldiers Home Awarded City Will Bring Millian Dollars AnnuallyIn January of 1929, when Senator Duncan Fletcher introduced a bill calling for the construction of a new Soldiers’ Home in the southeast (Senator Fletcher had originally written "Florida," but it was changed to "southeastern states" in the House), the community—including Commander C. E. Beach of the same Kat Carson Post—began to rally to bring the Home to St. Petersburg and specifically the Seminole Point site. When the announcement was made, newspapers extolled the selection as the "glorious news" that will "bring St. Petersburg back" from the Depression. The hospital’s importance to the community was cemented by its position as the main source of employment in an otherwise rural landscape.

Bay Pines' connection to the community extends to two other landmark features in St. Petersburg: the Don CeSar on Pass-a-Grille and the Vinoy Park Hotel in Downtown St. Petersburg. Both were built during the preceding "Boom Era" decade—the Vinoy in 1925 and the Don Ce-Sar (then hyphenated) in 1928—as extravagant resorts catering to the wealthy and famous and both were successful for some time. Their use of Mediterranean Revival styles highlights the similarities, but the true link comes from their simultaneous use during World War II.

postcard of the Don Ce-Sar resort hotelBy the time America became involved in the War, the Don Ce-Sar fell into disrepair following the death of owner Thomas Rowe, who had not written a will despite intending to leave it to employees, when it was left to his estranged wife, and the Vinoy struggled with a decline in tourism. In July 1942 the Vinoy became the first to be repurposed as an Army Air Corps Replacement Center. Several months later, the Don Ce-Sar became a military hospital. Although the Vinoy was re-sold and returned as a hotel after the war, the Don Ce-Sar would remain linked to Bay Pines for another two decades. On April 1, 1946, the Regional offices for the Veterans Administration—previously housed at Bay Pines—were moved to the Don Ce-Sar to increase space for the influx of World War II veterans and remained the Regional offices until 1967.