Vina Del Mar Island…”Wine of the Sea”
A gleaming white pearl in a vivid blue-green setting is the best description of the long stretch of sand called Vina Del Mar Island, on the southern end of St. Pete Beach. This island, originally known as Mud Key, was purchased in 1945 from the town of Pass-A-Grille by Edward D. Tessier for $4,000. Tessier translated the name from its Spanish origin, “Vineyard of the Sea.”
The island initially was made up of coral reef, mangrove, and submerged land. It lay idle until 1953, when Robert
E. Lee Co. of Manning, SC began to dredge and fill the land. Surrounding residents protested the noise, fumes, and hassle associated with the dredging. In 1954 the bridge at 21st Avenue was built by Hardee Construction of LA, one of builders of the original Sun-shine Skyway. Tessier died in late 1954, and after a
year-long legal battle, his son-in-law Al Furen, beach realtor Larry Long and contractor Robert Lee emerged as principal owners.
Lots were platted, streets laid out and utilities placed. Real estate agents and builders flocked to start developing a residential community. Frank T. Hurley Realty, Sibley Builders, Apple Construction, Alton Realty, and Fred Berger Realty were some of the main developers as the island grew slowly. In the 1960s, waterfront home sales flourished, with 100 x120 lots going for $3,650! The third section of the north island was completed, sea walls finished, and park land donated by residents Mr. and Mrs. Russell Hughes.
As the streets were paved, names appeared. North and South Tessier were named after the Tessier family. Lee Street was named after Robert E. Lee, owner of the dredging company who helped create the island. The bronze dog figure commemorated on the Vina Del Mar Bridge was Major Lee, the developer’s beloved golden Labrador, who was the first off the barge each morning to roam the freshly dredged up sand. Hughes Street (now renamed as part of South Isle) was named for the donators of the Vina Park land. Mar Street was named after the Spanish word for Sea. Hermosita, “little beauty,” was a name Tessier liked because of its Spanish translation.
Isle Drive, named for the last island section, was created when the adjoining “island within an island” was dredged and pumped in. If you notice, the homes on Isle Drive, Alton, and the Julia’s all have underground utilities – an upscale feature offered by the later developers of the island. Alton Drive was named for Charles Alton, a local real estate broker and son-in-law of William B. Miller, St. Pete Beach’s first elected mayor (after the consolidation
in 1957). Julia Circle North and South were named for Miller’s daughter. Over the years, the island has grown to 550+ homes
with no commercial properties and a beautiful, well-used park. Older homes built in the 50s and 60s are being expanded and remodeled, while new homes are being built to modern standards. While the island is very different from the mosquito-infested mangroves Tessier purchased, it continues to be a treasure among the bay waters - a Paradise where residents still raise families, boat, fish, bike and socialize with their neighbors.
Truly a “Vineyard of the Sea.”