OLD SEMINOLE HEIGHTS — When Cathy and Tim Simon bought their 1915 bungalow in 1996, Cathy used to joke that it was the only house in this handsome old neighborhood of historic homes that "didn't need any work."
But then the couple discovered that the house was hiding some long-forgotten architectural gems: A covered fireplace, concealed 10-foot ceilings, even a nearly destroyed original mural painted on the ceiling of the dining room.
Now, more than a decade later, the "three-bay" A-frame style house, with its big front porch and steeply pitched tin roof, has been restored to its original beauty.
"We've done almost everything ourselves," says Cathy, executive director of the synagogue Congregation Rodeph Sholom on Bayshore Boulevard.
By that she means stripping woodwork, ripping out drywall, even putting a new roof on the garage.
The Simons will open their house to the public from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sunday for the 10th Annual Old Seminole Heights Home Tour. More than 100 homes have been spotlighted on the tour over the years, including the Simons', who opened their doors back in 2001, although the renovation was nowhere near complete.
This year's event features 11 homes, including many classic bungalows with histories dating back to the early 20th century, as well as one new home. The neighborhood includes two National Register of Historic Places districts and one locally designated historic district.
Organizers say it is the best attended annual home tour in the area, drawing 1,200 to 1,500 visitors each year. The cost, as far as home tours go, is reasonable — $10 in advance and $12 the day of the tour.
But its continuing popularity may have less to do with its modestly priced tickets and more to do with the passion of the homeowners, many of whom have restored some of the most beautiful homes in the Tampa Bay area.
The fact that the tour is in its 10th year — and thriving — is significant says tour organizer and neighborhood resident Eric Krause.
"It just shows the continued growth and improvement of the neighborhood. Residents have a lot of pride in what they've done and they've brought it to a totally different level."
The Simons, who share their home with their two "pound puppies," Alli and Sadie, recently renovated the old, 1970s-style kitchen to include old-world, dark wood cabinets and stainless steel appliances including a Sub-Zero refrigerator and a gas cooktop. The mural on the dining room ceiling was reconstructed by a local artist who used a remaining sample of the old, badly damaged mural to re-create the original in its entirety.
Their large front porch, outfitted with a porch swing and rocking chairs, is a favorite place to hang out and relax and host neighborhood gatherings, Cathy says.
"The whole neighborhood just likes to take turns picking a porch to spend time on," she explains.
And the tour just highlights the joys of living in a closely knit historic neighborhood and taking on the work yourself — even if it seems daunting.
"I want people to see that they can do it — and that they can afford to do it," Cathy says. "It doesn't cost much of anything to take down drywall or strip woodwork. It takes lots of work, time and effort. We're very proud of what we've done. And we're staying here forever."