I've lived in St. Petersburg most of my life. After a brief spell in North Carolina, my family moved back to St. Petersburg for good in 1978. And in all that time I've never heard the area around Central Plaza referred to as "Goose Pond."
Even in the 70's, before the YMCA and bus station had given the area new life, Central Plaza had become a rundown collection of shoe stores, jewelers, trophy shops and out of date stores like Belk-Lindsey. The only reason to go to the area by Central Avenue and 34th St. was to go to the Plaza Theatre (the best movie theater St. Petersburg ever had) to see a movie.
Recently, I came across an aerial shot of the area before Central Plaza was built. There were no businesses to be seen and it appeared that 34th St. (aka U.S. 19) did not even exist. It seemed to be a good subject for Looking Back.
While looking for more photos I kept seeing mention of "Goose Pond." I had never heard of it. Never heard a relative mention it. So it seemed a little research was in order. The following story is the most detailed information I could find in the Tampa Bay Times archives. It included a most interesting line, "Mary Kimura and Paul R. McCutcheon Jr. recalled, however, how the Japanese were forbidden to have weapons of any kind, including ax heads, during the war.''
If you have any memories of Goose Pond please leave them in the comment section below. I'd love to hear about a part of St. Pete history that I know very little about.
UPDATE: I received a nice note about Goose Pond from reader Frances Harper.
I grew up in St. Petersburg in the '40s and '50s. We lived on 35th Street and First Avenue South. The Kimuras lived across the street on the corner from us.
My brother brought home snakes, turtles, and alligators from the Goose Pond. We could hear the alligators bellowing at night and there were masses of fireflies! Our cat brought home a baby alligator one time - she had it in her mouth and it was holding on to her nose.
The Japanese gardens were lovely! There were paths to follow with miniature pagodas and other Japanese figurines as decorations.
Mr. Kimura went to Japan after the war and brought back small gifts for all of us.
My grandparents and the McCutcheons were friends - the flowers that Mr. McCutcheon grew were just wonderful! My grandfather gardened, too, and we were close enough to the Goose Pond soil that he had a giant amaryllis garden and a vegetable garden.
There were three houses on our block facing South - about half of the block was pines and palmettos. Across the alley, on Central Avenue, there were four houses and a wilderness where the Burger King is now.
When Central Plaza was built, all of that was gone. There were big piles of dirt everywhere and construction noise. First Avenue had been a dead end at 35th Street - it was widened and went through to Central Plaza. For a while some of area between First Avenue and Central wasn't built on. There was a pet shop and a nursery. There were still remnants of the Japanese gardens.
Now, of course, there is nothing left to show what used to be there.
- Frances Harper
This story appeared in the pages of the St. Petersburg Times on January 3, 2001.
RICH PARADISE RETREATED AS THE FUTURE TOOK HOLD
By Scott Taylor Hartzell
Decades ago, 98 acres of the richest soil in St. Petersburg called the Goose Pond was being paved over for progress
About 48 years ago, a 98-acre paradise was buried beneath a concrete jungle.
Locals called the stretch the Goose Pond. Horticulturists called it "extremely rare" land that possessed every nutrient for plant growth.
"The ground was so rich that it burned," resident Harry Scott, 85, said about the tract that covered Third Avenue S to Fifth Avenue N, from 31st to 34th Street. "There was a lot of smoke."
Produce matured there faster than anywhere known. "You could hardly carry the watermelon from there they were so big," said Robert L. Miller, whose grandfather owned Goose Pond property.
In 1952, the stores and parking lots of Central Plaza covered the fertile land, but before World War I, Japanese-American farmers raised lettuce, green onions and other produce from Goose Pond's mire. Chinese evergreens decorated Oriental dish gardens that featured bridges and lanterns.
The St. Petersburg Times reported that there were a half-dozen Japanese families here then.
Drainage projects later surfaced on all of Goose Pond's 98 acres, where once a lake glistened. Locals hunted ducks, the press wrote, but no one could remember seeing a goose.
In 1925, R.J. McCutcheon, J.F. Utley and Miller's grandfather, M.P. Miller, purchased the Goose Pond for $100,000.
Miller's grandfather and father ran an open-air grocery store and Sunoco gas station there for about 12 years. McCutcheon cultivated and sold plants and flowers.
"I sold gardenias for 25 cents each up and down Central Avenue," said Paul R. McCutcheon Jr., 74, McCutcheon's grandson.
In 1927, municipal engineer John Nolen submitted a $5-million proposal for an airport, civic center and city hall. It failed and the Japanese remained to farm the land they leased.
"I could see them on their knees powdering the soil with their hands into a fine texture," said Robert L. Miller, 79. And when the peat was dry, it smoldered underneath and sometimes ignited.
"The smell was unpleasant," former Times reporter Betty Jean Miller recalled.
"They had to flood the area sometimes to stop the fires," said resident John Thornton, 87.
Farmers bagged their mules' feet in burlap so they wouldn't bog down in the wet muck. Plowing mules also wore "mud shoes," Robert L. Miller said. The wooden flats, 8 inches square and about 2 inches thick, were clamped to the beasts' hooves.
In 1937, Al Furen purchased 23 Goose Pond acres hoping to create a "show place," the Times wrote. Reportedly, limited funds dashed his dream of a shopping center, a sunken gardens and a wildlife sanctuary.
Meanwhile, locals headed to Goose Pond with buckets and trucks to purchase its rich soil. "You could throw a stone in there and it would grow," said resident Sam Hicks Jr., 85.
Mary Kimura, 74, wife of Herbert Kimura, one of the last Japanese Goose Pond farmers, described the area's World War II days. "Greenery," she said. "If you liked to see the land growing, it was the place to be."
Mary Kimura and Paul R. McCutcheon Jr. recalled, however, how the Japanese were forbidden to have weapons of any kind, including ax heads, during the war.
About 1946, the school board purchased 67 Goose Pond acres for $55,000. It later dealt smaller portions away before selling 55 acres to developers for $682,000.
"In the following years, heavy residential construction bulwarked the Goose Pond on the west," the press reported.
Developers bought Furen's holdings around 1951 for $245,000. "Furen offered me a (100-foot by 90-foot) lot" as a $300 down payment on a car in the 1940s, Hicks Jr. recently said. "I said no. Worst move I ever made."
The Evening Independent reported that Goose Pond became a "highly valued tract" when talk exploded in the 1940s about the coming of U.S. 19.
"That was the beginning of commercialization and the demise of farming at Goose Pond," said Paul R. McCutcheon Jr.
Historian Walter Fuller recorded that Webb's City owner Earl "Doc" Webb fought in 1952 to have "the then-barren Goose Pond chopped into conventional blocks" to stop Central Plaza development.
Central Plaza opened in 1952, costing $500,000 in construction and causing the removal of several houses, the Independent wrote.
"The water and cattails vanished under tons of concrete," the Times reported. Mary Kimura didn't recall much sadness then. "We were glad to see Central Plaza."
Resident Bill Emerson, 79, said that there was sorrow, "but there were a lot of people thinking in terms of the city growing. We didn't think of preservation then."
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