Gandy history, from A to Z

By Drew Harwell, Times Staff Writer

Published Thursday, November 19, 2009

On this day 85 years ago, people with bikes and horses and pocket change flocked to the two lanes of the Gandy Bridge. • Nov. 20, 1924, marked the grand opening of Tampa Bay's first bridge, and about 30,000 people showed up for the celebration. George S. "Dad" Gandy a grammar school dropout and one of St. Petersburg's earliest developers, stood with governors from more than a dozen states near a rope of flowers hung across the bridge. • Historians would speak of Gandy's beaming pride that day, and it's easy to see why. At a time when Fourth Street was rutted sand, workers had built the longest toll road in the world. • Though the original span has since been destroyed, nearly 35,000 vehicles use the 2.6-mile bridge to cross the bay every day. Read on for the ABC's of Gandy history.


The barge carrying propane gas smashed into a Gandy support beam in 2006.

Bait fishing

Snook, sheepshead, Spanish mackerel and tarpon

(at right) are caught off the bridge's fishing piers.

Cary A. Hardee

Florida's governor in 1924 cut the rope of flowers to open the bridge. Later that year, he would oversee the state's first execution by electric chair.

'Dreams sometimes come true'

How historian Karl Grismer described the bridge's delay-plagued construction.

Eugene M. Elliott

The high-pressure promoter, called "as clever as he was unprincipled" by one historian, sold $2 million in stock for the bridge's building cost.

Friendship Trail

The second Gandy span, which handled highway traffic from 1956 to 1997, reopened for bicyclists and pedestrians in 1999. The state closed it last year due to structural problems.

'Golden shores'

That's what Gandy called the coasts of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. The bridge, he said, was a "ribbon of silver."

Head of cattle

When it opened, tolls on the original bridge were 75 cents per car, 10 cents per passenger, 10 cents for a bike, 35 cents for a horse and 20 cents per cow.

Illegal racing

The Gandy, like other bay bridges, has been a hot spot for late-night drag races.

Jaime Diaz

In 1993, he dropped his wallet off the Gandy while fishing and dove in to retrieve it. Children found his body on a nearby beach a week later.

Ku Klux Klan

The group hung anti-Semitic signs at Fourth Street and Gandy Boulevard the year of the bridge's opening.

Lubricating oil

9,000 gallons were used in the original construction.


The state promised in 1998 it would plant $200,000 worth of mangroves instead of an artificial reef, which the Army Corps of Engineers required to permit new Gandy construction.


U.S. 92, which bisects Florida, stretches across the bridge.

One thousand five hundred

The number of workers used in the two-year, $3 million construction of the bridge.

Paul L. Bartow power plant

The 1,200-megawatt natural gas plant is clearly visible from the Gandy when facing the St. Petersburg skyline.

Quadruple pile driver

The heavy machine used water jets and steam hammers to place the original bridge's pilings.

Redneck Riviera

Nickname for the stretch where pickup trucks, hot dog vendors and beachgoers in T-backs often line the Gandy Boulevard's "Beer Can Beach" on the Pinellas side of the bridge.

Storm of the Century

The Gandy stayed open during the "super-storm of '93," which battered the Eastern seaboard, killed dozens and caused billions of dollars in damage. All other Tampa Bay bridges closed.


The first dredge in 1922, followed by the Florida and the Reliable, helped form the sand ridge that would become the Gandy causeway.


How a Tampa woman described litter along the Gandy in 1990. Volunteers for that year's Tampa Bay Day removed from the shore two folding chairs, two supermarket carts, 10 tires and two lawn mowers.


The La Plaza Theatre, Gandy's first St. Petersburg development in 1913, showcased variety shows, operas and high school plays.

Williams Park

The site of the bridge's opening night celebration in downtown St. Petersburg.


Event planners in 1998 suggested the old Gandy as a possible site for extreme sports like street luge.

Z.C. Greenway

The former St. Petersburg fire chief coordinated the cleanup of 20,000 gallons of oil spilled in the bay that spread from the Gandy to Pinellas Point in 1970.

Source: Times archives, Florida's Past; People and Events That Shaped the State by Gene Burnett, He Laughed at the Word 'Impossible' by Karl Grismer.

Drew Harwell can be reached at or (727) 445-4170.

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