TAMPA, Fla. - The work of late Tampa pilot and photographer Bill Morris gives a view of Tampa’s transformations through time. Many saw his aerial photographs in the pages of the Tampa Tribune, but now his work will live on for generations at the Tampa Bay History Center.
In the foreground of a photograph of downtown Tampa from the early 1980s is a large patch of dirt. Today, that patch is known as Harbour Island. The picture is one example of hundreds that show how a growing city evolved over a short period of time.
"And of course you can see in the background only two skyscrapers at the time," says Rodney Kite-Powell of the Tampa Bay History Center.
He’s unpacking tens of thousands of aerial photographs, negatives, and 35mm slides.
They were donated by the family of the late Bill Morris, who owned Selbypic. Morris died in 2006.
He began taking photos of the Bay Area in the mid 1960s and continued through the early 1990s, acting like a flying time machine over Tampa.
Morris flew over Disney when they were building Epcot. His photos show Spaceship Earth still under construction.
Another photo shows The Big Sombrero, with Al Lopez field next door.
Tampa's residents had no idea what was to come.
"Tampa was just getting started as the city we know it today," says Kite-Powell.
Today, Water Street is changing Tampa. Remembering what the Channel District was before is suddenly much clearer through Morris' photos.
"And you can see really the industrial nature that Tampa’s economy was based on not so long ago," says Kite-Powell.
Morris flew day-in and day-out over the Tampa Bay area, in weather that was not always the best.
"So there’s a wonderful photograph of the new Skyway almost completely shrouded in fog, conditions you wouldn’t think normally you would fly in," says Kite-Powell.
Another photo shows the Don Cesar, decades ago, on a less developed St. Pete Beach.
Another photo shows downtown St. Petersburg's iconic Vinoy after it was saved from the wrecking ball in the late 1980s.
Kite-Powell believes all kinds of people will want to see the collection.
"Even people from here who grew up with those changes will like to see them or new arrivals who don’t know how quickly the area has grown," says Kite-Powell.
If the Tampa Bay History Center can get funding to preserve and digitize the thousands of photos, the first thousand or so could be made available to the public by the end of this year.