About Suntan Art Center
Suntan Art Center, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization located at the historic Don Vista Building in St. Pete Beach. Since 1963, Suntan Art Center has been fulfilling its mission to bring quality recreation, education, and opportunities for artistic expression to the citizens of St. Pete Beach and the surrounding areas. From ongoing classes, seasonal and visiting artists' workshops, to exhibition opportunities in our retail gallery, monthly member shows, weekends at the Pass-a-Grille Patio and Saturdays at the Don CeSar, there are plenty of opportunities for artists and visitors.
Suntan Art Center was formed in April 1963, with 29 charter members who had the vision for a dedicated art center in St. Pete Beach, at an empty site in the Upham building at 348 Corey Ave. The owner of the building, W.W. Upham donated the use of the space until a permanent tenant was located. Ten months later, Suntan moved down the street to 5501 Gulf Blvd.
In September of 1969, and after a couple of other temporary moves, Suntan received its 501(c)(3) non-profit designation. It moved back to Corey Avenue, at the NE corner of Blind Pass, where it remained a genuine hub of art activity until 1981.
Suntan moved to its current home, the Don Vista Building (then the Don Vista Community Center) in exchange for “fixing up the place” and $5 per member, to be remitted annually to the City of St Pete Beach. Suntan volunteers replaced the overhead door used by the fire truck with glass windows and a door, turning the fire truck’s garage into gallery space.
Suntan has maintained a presence at the Don Vista ever since, with the exception of 2 years, between 2003-2005, which were spent in Treasure Island during the building’s most recent renovations. Suntan returned in early 2006 with 2 shows per year in the new gallery and one Suntan teacher who taught two classes to three students.
In 2011, work began on a public art project that is now the mural on the east façade of the Don Vista building. Using materials funded by generous contributions from the community, Suntan members and community volunteers worked side by side to create a 22-foot mosaic glass mural depicting life at the beach. After over a year of planning and work, the mural was dedicated in March 2012.
In August 2012, Suntan was honored with the Corporate Support Award, presented by the Florida Recreation and Park Association. The award is presented annually to a Corporation, Foundation, or Business Entity that has made significant and consistent contributions to the parks, recreation and leisure services field, without concern for direct personal or corporate gain or profit through sponsorship, creation or implementation of programs which have advanced the field or opened new opportunities for such advancement, within the last one year period.
The Don Vista building
The history of Suntan's current home, the Don Vista building, is forever intertwined with the infamous pink hotel next door, the Don CeSar Resort. In 1925, work began on the “pink castle” (later nicknamed the Pink Lady) which opened on January 16, 1928. While under construction, the original owner and developer, Thomas J. Rowe, lived in what is now known as the Don Vista building. Upon the opening of the Don CeSar, the Don Vista then became the administrative offices for the hotel, as well as a bank for its guests.
In 1939, Thomas Rowe passed away. Soon after, the start of World War II left the hotel virtually without guests. The property was purchased by the Army in 1942 to be used as a military hospital, as well as an airplane and submarine spotting station. In 1944, it became an Air Force Convalescent center and the gallery portion of the Don Vista building on the east side garaged the facility’s firehouse and fire truck.
In June of 1945, the rehab facility was closed and converted into a Regional Veterans Administration office later that year. In 1953, the Don CeSar fire truck was turned over to the individual towns of Don CeSar Place and Belle Vista Beach for $150 for the purpose of creating their own volunteer fire dept., thus generating a new name for the smaller building, the Don Vista Community Center.
Prior to Suntan moving into the Don Vista, the building at times housed the US Fish & Wildlife Services, and other federal agencies.