Thursday, September 15, 2011

C. Perry Snell, Snell Isle's visionary


C. Perry Snell
In the 1920s, dreamers and schemers descended on the Sunshine State bent on making a fortune in the burgeoning real estate market. In the earliest days of the Florida Land Boom, it seemed that one had but to imagine great wealth for it to be so. Parcels were bought and sold, sometimes within hours, at huge profits.

The real estate bubble didn’t last long—a scant five years or so—and when the end came some would-be real estate tycoons were stuck with land bought at inflated prices and no money. But there were developers who, though they had prospered during the boom, were cautious and had not been caught up in the buying frenzy.

C. Perry Snell, for instance, had been in St. Petersburg for a couple of decades before the hubbub began. He had successfully developed residential projects that eventually became known as Old Northeast. He owned land bought many years before that he had not yet developed.

About the time everything was going bust, C. Perry Snell was launching his most ambitious project—Snell Isle. It was to be a prestigious residential area on a parcel close to downtown St. Petersburg and overlooking Tampa Bay.

Oh, Perry Snell was a dreamer, to be sure, but not so much of a schemer. Snell’s projects had been solid, forward looking investments. He is credited with being among those who helped guide the city in creating the huge bayfront park lands that residents still enjoy today.

A brochure from the start of the project (and other related ephemera) is in the collection of rare and unusual items at Lighthouse Books, ABAA. The piece, printed with a full-color cover and some full-color pages inside, vividly depicts Snell’s grand vision, but a close examination also shows the risk Snell was taking with a raw piece of land, parts of which were often under water.  

Snell imagined an actual island created by cutting a canal from Coffeepot Bayou to Smacks Bayou. That canal, of course, was never completed and Snell Isle never really became an island. Still, Snell’s brochure must have stirred thoughts of European splendor:

“In imagination we step into a gondola anchored at the entrace of a lagoon, the entrance flanked by a castle-like building with parapets and a colorful and artistic Venetian landing. The slender, bright bark glides under low arched bridges and pursues its way through narrow canals and lagoons, gliding between rows of charming little Venetian shops flanking the sides of the canal or along a winding lagoon overlooking a parked golf course.”

Another part of the project that never came to fruition: the grand hotel with all the latest amenities that he envisioned for Bay Point. Today the tiny island off Snell Isle is festooned with 31 homes instead.

Nevertheless, much of Snell’s vision of making his namesake project, a premier residential neighborhood, was finally realized through this man's great determination to make his dream a reality.

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