ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Welcome to 9 Questions with…, a new regular feature in which we’ll get to know some of the Bay area’s movers and shakers a little better. It could be a politician, an artist, a first responder, a bartender—just about anyone, really. This week’s subject is journalist and author Bill DeYoung, whose latest book, ‘Vintage St. Pete: The Golden Age of Tourism—and More’ is out now. Is there someone you’d like to answer 9 Questions? Let us know!
What You Need To Know
- Spectrum Bay News 9's new series spotlights notable members of the Tampa Bay community
- Bill DeYoung is a veteran reporter and author born and raised in St. Petersburg
- Check back every week for a new "9 Questions with..."
Are you a Tampa Bay native? If not, where are you from?
My parents moved to St. Pete from Chicago in 1958, and I appeared shortly thereafter. Which makes me the only Florida native in a family of Midwesterners! I grew up in the St. Pete of the 1960s and '70s, left in 1981 and returned six years ago.
How would you describe your job or claim to fame?
I spent more than three decades working for newspapers in Florida, and one in Savannah, Georgia. My focus has always been the arts—music, in particular—and since 2018 I've been the arts editor of the St. Pete Catalyst. I've written four books, and three of them are centered around different aspects of Tampa Bay history. 'Phil Gernhard Record Man' is a biography of Florida's most successful record producer, who worked out of a St. Pete office and recorded in Tampa. He was kind of the southern Phil Spector—without all the issues (although he did have a few of his own).
What’s your favorite Tampa Bay restaurant?
Do you have a personal Tampa Bay “secret spot” and/or “hidden treasure”?
I often go to John's Pass Village to remember a period in the late '70s when I was in a band that played the bars out there all the time. The bars are long gone, as is the band, but it was such a great era for me, I like to walk among the ghosts.
What is your favorite Tampa Bay tradition?
Having The Pier in the same place for more than 100 years is a strong link to the past, and the future. I like knowing there will always be a municipal pier in that same spot.
What’s one thing many people don’t know about you that you’re willing to share with us?
I was responsible for arranging the construction and installation of the memorial to the victims of the 1980 Skyway Bridge tragedy at the north side rest area. The state had never before acknowledged the event in such a way, which struck me as disrespectful. So I raised the money and we had a dedication ceremony, with about 300 people in attendance, on May 9, 2015—35 years to the day.
If you could change one thing about the Tampa Bay area or your community specifically, what would it be?
St. Pete is in desperate need of a 300-400 seat performing arts venue. This is something I hear time and again from producers, presenters and performers. Clubs are too small and theaters are too big, and too expensive.
What was the most interesting thing you learned while researching your latest book, 'Vintage St. Pete: The Golden Age of Tourism—and More'?
It was a journey of discovery for me to investigate and put into story form many of the places, people and things I half-remembered from my childhood, like the cheesy-but-charming pre-Disney tourist attractions that existed here. The "and More" in the title refers to stories that didn't really have anything to do with tourism, but were absolutely fascinating to learn about, such as the St. Petersburg Operetta and the Treasure Island Music Circus—Broadway-caliber entertainment under Big Top tents in the early '50s! Or Sun Haven Studios, based on Weedon Island in 1931—they actually made three movies there. I've seen two of them; still looking for a print of the third one.
What are you working on next?
I love working at the Catalyst, and ingratiating myself into the arts community. There are so many talented, driven people here, in all aspects of the arts. I continue to write the "Vintage St. Pete" series for the Catalyst, and to date there are almost enough stories for a second volume! I also have another book, completely unrelated to anything Florida, percolating in the back of my brain.