TARPON SPRINGS – Last October Tina Bucuvalas, in her position as the city’s curator of arts and historical resources, informed the City Commission that Cycadia Cemetery had been nominated for inclusion on the National Park Service’s National Register for Historic Places.
Last week, the designation was confirmed by Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee.
In a press release, Lee stated: “Cycadia Cemetery is a culturally and historically significant site for Tarpon Springs’ Greek community. Artistic detail on many of the graves is associated with important cultural practices such as sponge diving and music as well as religious beliefs.”
Upon hearing the news, Mayor Chris Alahouzos said, “I’m very excited to hear this historic cemetery has been recognized nationwide for its significance. The cemetery holds a special place in my heart for me and many other Tarpon residents who have loved ones buried there.”
According to the National Park Service’s website, the National Register of Historic Places “is the official list of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation.”
Cycadia Cemetery, at 1021 E. Tarpon Ave, was founded in the late 1800s, and the leafy, 30-acre site features many ornate, unique headstones and traditional Greek funeral accessories, including candle holders, crosses and other items.
This distinct cultural focus allowed Cycadia to be classified as a Traditional Cultural Property, or TGP, due to its direct association with ongoing Greek-American cultural and religious funerary practices and grave markers, according to Bucuvalas, who was responsible for initiating the petition, conducting the research and submitting the nomination to the National Park Service.
“In order to have comparative information for the nomination, I also visited a number of cemeteries in Greece and in various parts of the U.S.,” Bucuvalas said via email, noting she received assistance from Ruben Acosta, the National Register liaison in Florida, as well as letters of support from U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, Tarpon native Metropolitan Nikitas Lulias of the Greek Orthodox Church and Tampa Greek Consul Dimitrios Sparos. The City Commission unanimously approved drafting a letter in support of the effort during that Oct. 2 meeting, as well.
“It is apparent to me that, outside of the few Greek Orthodox cemeteries directly associated with churches, Cycadia Cemetery is the most culturally Greek cemetery in the U.S.,” Bucuvalas added.
“It not only represents a wide range of Greek funerary traditions, but the grave monuments also delineate the unique nature of the Greek community of Tarpon Springs, which has the highest percentage of residents of Greek heritage in the U.S.”
During her time working for the city, Bucuvalas spearheaded successful campaigns to have the Greek-town district and the Rose Cemetery, a century-old resting place for the city’s African American community located across the street from Cycadia, placed on the National Register.
Though she now serves as director of Florida Cultural Resources, while remaining active in the community, Bucuvalas admitted seeing Cycadia placed on the register was the perfect cap to her city career.
“This was a very positive way to end my employment with the city--along with the release of the documentary of the Greek community, ‘Dancing As One: The Greek Community of Tarpon Springs,’ in March,” she wrote. ”I consider Cycadia Cemetery as the final piece in having the Greektown Historic District on the N(ational) R(egister), though it is not contiguous with the rest of the district.”