Tampa’s New ‘Theme Park’ Celebrates African American History
By Pam Sherrod
There is, perhaps, no other state whose residents are as experienced or impassioned about building a ‘theme park’ as those in Florida, and now, in the North Tampa neighborhood known as the Central Avenue Business District, residents anxiously await the opening of the Perry Harvey Sr. Park, a revitalized recreational site that celebrates the history of this early African American community.
It was here, back during the period between the 1920’s and 1960’s that Central Avenue was the lifeblood and social center of business and entertainment for blacks in the Tampa area. It attracted some of the world’s most famous jazz musicians, artists who performed in the ‘Chitlin’ Circuit’ which were safe venues for African American performers during that era and included such heavyweights as Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown and Sammy Davis Jr. It was a bustling place where, during these years of strict segregation, and its residents opened their own thriving churches, stores and hotels.
When one drives through the neighborhood today, blighted over the years by changing social patterns, economic strife and abandonment, the sights initially conjure a mixed feeling of awe, sobriety and hope. New condos, commercial enterprises and other bright signs of revitalization bloom like a thirsty flower along the same block of a gutted old church. It’s later learned that this historic religious site is now earmarked for the home of a future museum.
The entire community in undergoing a tremendous change, one, however, which rekindles the rich heritage of its not so distant past. In many ways, it’s an urban social renaissance, and the Perry Harvey Sr. Park is the centerpiece of this movement.
Joining this exuberant expression of the neighborhood’s rebirth are four extraordinary artists whose work was commissioned to be exhibited throughout the park. Establishing the musical theme, are the larger-than-life 16’ foot high statures created by James Simon. Playing music and dancing to a colorful jukebox, they grace the entrance of the park and welcome visitors. These commanding giants were created in clay and cast in a fiber reinforced concrete, yet they have the animated feel of musicians, caught, timelessly in their own music. Even their pets seem warm and friendly.
Welcome to the place where ‘The Twist’ was first danced!
There’s much to see, especially the renderings of another artist, Rufus Butler Seder, whose moving glass art pieces magically depict the scenes of historic events and famous faces, all of which evoke the type of atmosphere in which one can imagine the music that they once performed.
After April 2nd, however, when the site actually opens, one won’t need to image the melody, because music from the 1920’s to the 1960’s will be piped into the park to accompany the dancing drops of water flowing from its interactive water fountains.
The works of two other artists, Michael Parker and Joel Randall, also enhance the grounds. In fact, it is Randall’s commanding stature that honors the man whose life is now immortalized.
The park is named after the late Perry Harvey Sr., who is revered for his tireless advocacy for the African American community and the tremendous ways in which he impacted the Tampa Bay citizens. Harvey, who built a long list of accomplishments, was a founding member of Tampa’s Longshoremen’s Union Local #1402, and would serve as President from 1937 until shortly before his death in 1972. One can see his office building while standing at the entrance of the park that now bears his name.
Harvey worked to improve the working conditions for Tampa’s predominately black dock workers and helped establish a black middle class community by providing jobs for those who needed employment. He was involved in creating the first black-owned apartment building and plaza, which provided residents with a bank, supermarket, restaurant and other businesses.
Perry Harvey was also progressive in the area of education, and sought broader educational opportunities for all children, stressing the need for a head start at an early age. The resulting national Head Start Program is attributed to Perry’s vision and advocacy.
Now, and for years to come, children and their families will enjoy a park that offers a fusion of education, art, music, and a well-designed recreational facilities that includes basketball courts and a skatepark.
Perry Harvey Sr. Park is located at 900 East Scott Street. The project, which began approximately four years ago ”was delayed due to the recession,” says Robin Nigh, a spokesperson for the city of Tampa. Although it is adjacent to the large redevelopment project operated by ENCORE! and it reflects a similar musical theme, she stresses that they aren’t actually connected. They are two separate projects. Nigh agrees, however, that they do nicely complement each other.
In fact, like a melodic melody, they seem to flow right into each other, and it seems only right that there are street signs bearing names such as Ray Charles Boulevard and brand new buildings boasting the symbols of musical notes on its walls.
The signs of a proud cultural history are literary everywhere in this North Tampa neighborhood, even a few blocks away, where one looks up and sees the bright green house that flaunts the signage on the front lawn – Alpha Kappa Alpha – the country’s oldest African American Sorority.
On April 2nd, when the park’s opening ceremony begins, Tampa residents will enjoy food and entertainment within a musical celebration that recalls some of the greatest performers of the past. Now, though, they will continue to be enjoyed in this new home of the greats.
City of Tampa to Host Preview of Perry Harvey Sr. Park Artwork
Tampa, Fla. (March 14, 2016) – On Friday, March 18th at 2:00 p.m. the City of Tampa will host a preview of the soon to be open Perry Harvey Sr. Park. This artwork helps tell a story of the rich African American history in Tampa.
WHO: Manager of Public Arts, Robin Nigh
WHAT: Preview of art in Perry Harvey St. Park
WHERE: Perry Harvey Sr. Park, 900 E Scott St, Tampa, FL 33602
WHEN: Friday, March 18th at 2:00 p.m.
The artwork at Perry Harvey Park is unique and contextual. Four major artworks by four artists work together in an attempt to tell the full and complex story of the abundant contributions of the African American community and Historic Central Avenue.
Gateway Figures by James Simon
Providing a welcoming entryway into Perry Harvey Sr., Park, James Simon’s 16’ high sculptures of musicians with their dog help highlight the importance of music to the history and culture of the historic Central Avenue Business District. Nearby, jukebox dancers dance the twist, a dance with special meaning to Tampa.
A History Walk in LIFETILES by Rufus Butler Seder
Eight optical glass LIFETILE murals depict the rich culture and history of the Central Avenue area. Each panel is themed and consists of a series of images that are layered upon each other, giving the appearance that they move or change as park visitors pass by.
Leaders’ Row by Michael Parker
This artwork addresses the notion of what is a leader, a motivator and an activist; and how can one impact a community? Supported by earth walls, this engaging artwork of mixed media takes one down Central Avenue and highlights a few prominent individuals. ***Note, the artwork is still under construction
Perry Harvey Sr. (statue) by Joel Randell
An over life size sculpture of Perry Harvey Sr. is located in the center of the park.
City of Tampa
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