The Beaux Arts Coffeehouse was once a mecca for artists and musicians.
Its founder died recently, and no memorial stands to honor him
By ANNE LINDBERG, Times Staff Writer
Published January 29, 2006

PINELLAS PARK - Two nights after Tom Reese died, Billie Noakes and her boyfriend drove to St. Petersburg to see if people were gathering at the site of Reese's Beaux Arts building where local artists and entertainers once expressed their talents.

No one was there. Of course, Noakes thought, they would not gather on Central Avenue. Mourners would go to the original site, in Pinellas Park.

So the couple, longtime fans of Reese, drove to the Pinellas Park Police Station, adjacent to the site of the original Beaux Arts building.

No one was there either.

Indeed, there was little activity - although, by some accounts, Pinellas Park once talked of the property becoming a park in honor of Reese, and cultural events would be held there.

Reese, who died Jan. 19 at age 88 at Bellair East Healthcare Center in Clearwater, was the founder of the Beaux Arts Coffeehouse in Pinellas Park.

A mecca for artists and musicians in its heyday, Beaux Arts attracted the likes of Jack Kerouac, author of On the Road, and Jim Morrison of the Doors when he was a student at St. Petersburg Junior College in the 1960s.

Begun in the 1940s, the Beaux Arts went through several transformations, including an arson in the 1980s that required costly repairs. By 1994, it had so deteriorated that the St. Petersburg Times reported "no one will set foot in the building again." Beaux Arts moved to St. Petersburg some time after the fire.

Pinellas Park bought the building, 7711 60th St. N, for $162,630 in cash, forgiven fines from code violations and leftover artwork. The city then razed it.

Times articles from late 1993 quote a city administrator saying the property would become a park. There was also talk of encouraging poetry readings and other cultural activity on the site. At the time, Reese requested that a plaque be placed on the land recognizing the property and the coffeehouse for its historical significance to Pinellas Park. He wanted it to be called "Reese-Beaux Arts Park."

Yet 12 years later, there is no plaque, no poetry readings on the site. In fact, visitors are hard pressed to find the property because it is part of a larger parklike area adjacent to the police station.

The old Beaux Arts property, city spokesman Tim Caddell said, is to the north and west of the station. A clump of trees there is all that's left of the coffeehouse.

And while it is part of a passive park where kids sometimes play pickup ball, the specific site is partly under the compound for training police dogs. It was also slated to be used when the Police Department expands.

Today, Pinellas Park officials and administrators say they don't remember plans to turn it into a park and memorialize it with a plaque naming Reese and the building. Former Mayor Cecil Bradbury said Thursday no such deal was made. Current Mayor Bill Mischler said he personally has objections to naming things after living people.

But at least one council member, Rick Butler, who grew up in Pinellas Park, said he thinks something might be done to memorialize Reese and his contributions.

"He was dedicated to the concept of having a place for people to come and express themselves freely," Butler said. "There is history there."

Soon after his death, Noakes and her boyfriend stayed under the trees at the original site for "just a very private contemplating...Since we were there, it seemed we should just spend a few seconds and contemplate Tom."