ST. PETERSBURG – From moonshots to Miami Vice, television helped create, promote and define modern Florida. In some rare and elegant instances, that programming survives as a documentary of the earlier time and allows us to see a familiar place anew.
One such instance is the Route 66 episode entitled “What Do You Do In March?” which is set and was filmed at orchestra leader Guy Lombardo’s Port-o-Call restaurant on Tierra Verde in St. Petersburg. The episode, which initially aired on CBS on May 3, 1963, included stars Martin Milner and Glenn Corbett and cameos with Guy Lombardo.
Route 66, inspired by Jack Kerouac’s 1957 novel On the Road, was one of a number of adventuresome-guy shows of the early television era, including 77 Sunset Strip and Surfside 6, also set in Florida. Milner stayed through the run of the show; Corbett was the replacement for the original star George Maharis.
Guy Lombardo’s Resort
The resort did not last, and unwisely the remains of the hotel were finally torn down in 2011. But in its time, it was well-known across the nation, as it was not only the location of the TV episode, but CBS radio broadcasts were originated from the ballroom. There was another local connection; Jack Kerouac actually lived in St. Petersburg during the 1960s, and died at St. Petersburg’s St. Anthony Hospital. His house, not open to the public, is at 5169 10th Ave. N., in St. Petersburg.
Today, Guy Lombardo is not well known by anyone under 50, but in his time he was the sound of Auld Lang Syne and New Years Eve. He sold over 300 million records, and his band was known coast to coast. A comparison of his fame today would be somewhere on the order of the 1930s version of Coldplay, where his music was a unifying force at key civic moments. If you watch the episode, you can see Lombardo.
Milner in the show is a salesman for the development; he is seen showing spec houses being sold around the resort. The spec house is the Monte Christo model; if you look carefully at the video, the house resembles one of the houses that still exists on Madonna Boulevard, in a section called Monte Christo.
The show is a pretty good one, and beautifully done. It even throws in some history, as Robert E. Lee (yes that one) surveyed and helped create Fort De Soto in the 19th century.
The best line? It comes from Linc (that’s Corbett) as he drives the Cadillac convertible on the beach with the beautiful rich socialiate Sidney:
Linc: You know. General Lee built a fort on this island. The original cannons were there. Never fired.
Sidney: Does that depress you?
Linc: Doesn’t do anything for me one way or the other. They were General Lee’s cannons not mine. I just said it because, well you park with a girl you have to say something.
Tierra Verde is in St. Petersburg, just west of the Sunshine Skyway bridge. While the resort is gone, the whole area is worth a visit today, with both a full time residential community and the Fort Desoto park complex, which includes camping, history, beaches and the ferry to Egmont Key, just at the mouth of Tampa Bay.
Before you go to Tierra Verde, sit back and enjoy the episode. It is filmed in crisp black and white, and gives a fascinating snapshot of the times, with shots of crews building the seawalls around the island, and aerial shots of it all before it was developed.
There is no bringing the resort back easily, but it would be great to get a restaurant with that name back on the island. The show did another episode at Weeki Wachee; photos of that are HERE.
Below, the episode:
Episodes of the radio broadcasts from the island are online on YouTube as well; they were broadcast from the radio station WDAE, which still is a strong presence in the Tampa Bay region. Sadly, the station switched frequencies; it was originally at 1250 AM and is now at 620 AM. National audiences got to hear on radio:
“From Tierra Verde, Florida here is the music of Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians. ….CBS Radio through the facilities through the facilities of Florida’s first station WDAE presents the sweetest music this side of heaven.”
Below, take a listen.