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Perry Snell’s historic apartments getting new life

By Susan Taylor Martin
The Snell Isle Apartments, built in the 1920s to temporarily house wealthy home buyers, recently sold for $2.25 million to a St. Petersburg company that plans to restore them "to their former glory.'' [Courtesy of Tourtelot Realty]

ST. PETERSBURG — A Kentucky druggist named C. Perry Snell moved to St. Petersburg in 1900 and began buying up land. To lure rich northerners to his new development on a nearby island, he hit on a novel idea: he would offer them a place to stay while their mansions were being built.

The Snell Isle Garden Apartments opened in 1926 at the height of the city’s first building boom. The 14 apartments were arranged around a lovely Spanish-style courtyard and expensively furnished. Each included a Steinway piano and had its own tiled porch or patio.

The apartments survive to this day, even as St. Petersburg roars through another boom and dozens of original Snell Isle residences have been knocked down to make way for McMansions. So when the longtime owners recently decided to sell, they hoped Realtor Willliam C. Tourtelot could find a buyer who shared their sense of history.

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"My company was honored to manage this property for 15 or 20 years because the owners’ family lives all over the country," Tourtelot said. "They’re up in years now and finally decided they weren’t going to upgrade the units themselves though they’ve maintained them well. So we were hoping to find a buyer that wanted to upgrade the property so it would last another 100 years."

Tourtelot listed the apartments at 222 Snell Isle Boulevard on Aug. 15. Within the first two weeks, he had inquiries from "40 to 50 people" and offers from seven. Predictably, most of those were builders drooling over the chance to buy almost an acre in St. Petersburg’s most exclusive neighborhood.

"I was very fearful that if we didn’t find the right person, it probably would have sold at the same price or more just for the land," Tourtelot said. "Out of those who were competing for them, there were only two that were almost exactly alike in that they just love old buildings."

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By the end of August, Tourtet had a contract that pleased both him and the sellers. Late last month, Snell Holdings, LLC of St. Petersburg closed on the apartments for $2.25 million — the full asking price.

"We’re going to slowly restore it back to the original state," said J.P. Martin, a principal in the company. "It’s a legacy property that’s going to get passed on."

The Snell Isle Apartments, as they are now called, contain 10 one-bedroom units of 800 square feet and four, two-bedroom units of about 1,110 square feet. All are occupied and appear in remarkably good shape for their age.

Tourtelot has seen an old aerial photograph of Snell Isle showing only a few structures on the island — the apartments, the St. Petersburg Woman’s Club and the clubhouse of what is now the Vinoy Renaissance Resort & Golf Club. All predate the 10,000-square foot Mediterranean-style mansion Perry Snell built for himself on the point where Coffee Pot Bayou meets Tampa Bay.

When the development bearing Snell’s name officially opened in 1925, less than 40 of its 275 acres were above the high tide line. Even so, he quickly sold over $7 million dollars’ worth of lots there — and their new owners had an opulent apartment to retreat to while a swampy island was being transformed into one of Tampa Bay’s most prestigious addresses.

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate