Tarpon Springs Becomes Florida’s First Official Traditional Cultural Property

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The National Park Service added the Tarpon Springs Greektown Historic District in Pinellas County to the Register of Historic Places on June 2, 2014. This makes Tarpon Springs Florida’s first traditional cultural property listing. The District had previously been deemed eligible for listing on the National Register by Florida National Register Review Board on February 21.

Tarpon Springs’ Greektown District, which includes hundreds of buildings and about a dozen sponge boats, preserves a strong ethnic and maritime character. It measures about 140 acres, bounded by the Anclote River on the north, Tarpon Avenue and Spring Bayou on the south, Hibiscus and Pinellas Streets on the east; Roosevelt and Grand Boulevards to Spring Bayou on the west.

Greektown is the epitome of a Greek American traditional cultural property. Since 1905—when Greeks first arrived in large numbers—it has been significant for its tenacious continuity of traditional culture, extensive Greek infrastructure, and as the only Greek American community based on the sponge industry. Greek identity is expressed and reinforced through the built environment, boats, occupations, music and dance, social or regional organizations, rites of passage, beliefs, family values, foodways, sacred and secular events, and religious practices. In Tarpon Springs, tourism—the city’s economic engine—is primarily cultural tourism focusing on its Greek heritage and the sponge industry.

Folklorist and City of Tarpon Springs Curator of Arts & Historical Resources Tina Bucuvalas was instrumental in initiating, researching, and writing the nomination, with the enthusiastic support of the Mayor, Board of Commissioners, and Cultural Affairs Director Kathleen Monahan.

In 2012, Bucuvalas became aware that the National Register was seeking Traditional Cultural Property district nominations to serve as a model for ethnic communities. She proposed that Tarpon Springs would provide an excellent template for a district whose significance was based on traditional culture rather than building styles. Former Florida Bureau of Historic Preservation Bureau Chief and State Historic Preservation Officer Barbara Mattick worked closely with Bucuvalas to ensure that the application fulfilled state and national technical requirements, as did Bureau Historic Preservationist Carl Shiver and Historic Preservationist Supervisor Desiree Estabrook.

The National Register of Historic Places, a list maintained by the National Park Service, includes historical, archaeological, or cultural properties (buildings, structures, sites, objects, and districts) considered worthy of preservation because of their local, statewide and/or national significance.

According to National Register Bulletin 38, a property is eligible for consideration “because of its association with cultural practices or beliefs of a living community that (a) are rooted in that community’s history, and (b) are important in maintaining the continuing cultural identity of the community.”