Sands of Time: South Ward Elementary
Photos/Text by Donna Malloy
School's out. South Ward Elementary School closed its doors after serving the community of Clearwater since 1906.
In 1906, South Ward Elementary, 610 Fort Harrison Avenue, Clearwater, opened its doors to little girls in straw hats and young boys in knickers. Although some of the students were formally dressed; others arrived in bare feet. Although the architect is unknown, the building is recognized for its historical architectural significance, according to the National Register of Historic Places. The original building was replaced in 1912 just west of the 1906 structure when it became inadequate. South Ward enjoyed the distinction of being the oldest school in the county continuously operating from the same building. "In 1906…The South Ward School Building was completed. ClearWater Harbor was changed to Clearwater" according to Carrie Gleason in her Brief History of Clearwater.
Now, that distinction has ended. The doors of South Ward are boarded up due to a "lack of enrollment" according to Andrea Zahn, Director of Communications for Pinellas County Schools. What are the future plans for this historic site? At this time, according to Michael Bessette, Associate Superintendent, Facilities and Operations: "the district is in the process of evaluating the future use of this facility. A few community organizations have inquired about the site, but no proposals have been submitted to the district. The school has historical significance which we hope will be preserved in the future use of the building."
Although South Ward Elementary is recognized by the National Register of Historic Places, this is only a distinction. The National Register of Historic Places is an ongoing project of the federal government created to document the nation's most significant historic properties. Although it encourages preservation, it does not restrict
the rights of private owners in their use, development or sale. Historic properties that are income producing and listed with the National Register may even qualify for a historic rehabilitation tax credit.
The National Register does not have the legal power to protect South Ward, as was demonstrated recently with the controversy surrounding the historic Belleview Biltmore, also listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Only the distinction of being part of a Historic District holds any legal weight in the war between historic preservation vs. demolition.
The first step in creating a Historic District starts with "an analysis of the historical significance and architectural merit of the buildings, structures, places or surroundings proposed as historic properties, or those to be included in the proposed district and the significance of the district as a whole. In the case of a proposed Local Historic District, a complete description of the area, including the number of buildings and their ages, a listing of addressed and current property owners of record with the proposed district should be compiled. Then, the city must pass an ordinance for the creation of a Local Historic District or Local Historic Property," according to Westport Conneticut's Historic District Commission.
But even homeowners are hesitant when it comes to declaring their home or neighborhood a Historic District, in fear that they will not be able to remodel their home or that it will cost them more money. The responsibility of a Historic Commission is to insure that certain changes are made in harmony with the structure; the goal is to preserve the historic integrity of the structure as well as contribute to the streetscape. The Historic Commission's purview is usually restricted to those exterior features that are in the public view. And tax credits are also available to qualifying homeowners.
"At a time when entire neighborhoods are being altered beyond recognition, a Local Historical District can be an effective means of safeguarding your street from irreversible decisions," further states Westport's Historic District Commission.
One has to look no further than our own backyard to witness the current defacing of the former three-story Padgett Building on Cleveland Street, which once housed the telephone exchange on the second floor. Hopefully, our city leaders will recognize the inherent aesthetic value of our distinctive architecture and preserve it for the enjoyment of future generations.
The Padgett Building as it has appeared in downtown Clearwater, since 1920. The three-story brick building on the corner of Cleveland Street and E. Garden Street once housed the city's telephone exchange.
The Padgett Building today; renovations are defacing the exterior elevation, altering its historical authenticity.
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