Paul Watkins, Memories of the Beaux Arts Experience

I was fortunate enough to discover Beaux Arts at its original location in Pinellas Park. It was July 1992. I had graduated from Eckerd College with a degree in Creative Writing, and I was looking for a place to read my poetry. I saw the Sunday morning open mic at Beaux listed in the paper and decided to give it a try. I became a regular there, and the people I met at Beaux turned me on to other open mics and coffeehouses in the area.

When I started going there in the summer of 1992, the poetry readings, musical performances and art shows were always held outside in the garden. The building was used only for storage. Inside, it was very dusty, musty and plain looking. No running water and no electricity. I suspect that there had been smoke and water damage from the fires. Tom was living in a small trailer on the property, and there was a very small shack on the property that he rented out. The only time the open mic was held inside the building was when it was raining. We'd move our chairs into the main room on the first floor.

Because of two fires, Tom had many code violations and over the years the fines just piled up. The city kept threatening to close him down and bulldoze the building, and Tom and his lawyer kept finding ways to buy him more time. Finally, in 1994, Tom agreed to sell the building and land to the City of Pinellas Park. I was there on the final Sunday Beaux was open. A few months later, the building was knocked down and carted away. The city had agreed to preserve the gardens but those ended up being destroyed, along with the valuable lion sculptures that were there. Some people think it was intentional - a way of spiting Tom for all the years of frustration he (allegedly) gave the city. There was talk that the old Beaux lot was going to be paved over for a new parking lot for the Pinellas Park Police Department, which is right on the other side of the property but, so far, that hasn't happened. The lot has long since become overgrown. Some of the things growing there are probably vestiges of the old garden but I think most of the things growing are weeds.

Tom opened the new Beaux location in St. Petersburg in 1994 or 1995 and he's still going.

Paul made his performance debut at the historic Beaux Arts Gallery and Coffeehouse in Pinellas Park.