On the way to the grocery store, a little girl wondered what the inside of an old Victorian house looked like. From the outside, she could see the big wraparound porch and the rounded tower, like a giant doll house. But inside? She never tried to fill in the blanks herself, never tried to imagine it. "I just watched it from afar," said Annie Samarkos, now 47. Decades later, after she raised three little girls of her own, she noticed a for-sale sign in front of the house. So she walked in. "Wow," she thought. "Look at that staircase."
The grand wooden staircase led upstairs, to big bedrooms with high ceilings. In the dining room, a sparkly chandelier dangled. The sitting room featured a carefully carved fireplace that showed off natural whorls and swirls of old wood.
Samarkos returned four more times to see the house. Then she put in a bid — a low one, knowing a higher offer had already been placed.
"If it's meant to be," Samarkos told herself, "it'll end up in our hands."
She waited. And waited.
When the house remained unsold a year and a half later, Samarkos finally called the real estate agent to ask about it. The higher bid couldn't go through.
Finally, the house was hers.
Built in 1910, the house at 32 W Tarpon Ave. once served as an annex to the larger Tarpon Inn. After the main part of the inn burned down in 1927, the house converted to a private residence.
Later, it became a bed and breakfast known as the Spring Bayou Inn.
When Samarkos bought the house in "as-is" condition in September, it looked like someone had abandoned it. Like someone had to abandon it, she thought.
The eight-room house had originally gone on the market in February 2011 for $609,900, according to the Multiple Listing Service. Its asking price fell over the months to $389,900.
It eventually sold to Samarkos in a short sale for $175,000, according to MLS data.
"This poor little house needs help," Samarkos said. "It just needed someone."
It needed her.
Towels still hung in the rooms, and mattresses had full linen sets. She threw all of it out, but she kept finding things inside drawers, including locks of baby hair tucked safely inside a plastic bag.
It took 600 cotton balls to painstakingly clean the stains off the wood floors. It took an hour to polish one tarnished pole of an ornate golden bed frame. She rubbed dust out of every carved crevice of furniture and vacuumed it off the green velvet upholstery of regal chairs.
A former insurance underwriter and frequent bed and breakfast visitor, Samarkos tackled each task without letting herself consider how daunting the entire project could be.
With fresh turquoise paint on the outside and new wallpaper inside, The 1910 Inn is ready to open and already booked for Epiphany. Located in downtown Tarpon Springs and blocks away from the Sponge Docks, it joins three other bed and breakfasts in the city.
"A lot of the work that (Samarkos) is doing in there, she's doing because she's from Tarpon," said Sue Thomas, president of the Tarpon Springs Chamber of Commerce. "It is her city and she cares. That makes a huge difference."
Samarkos' daughters are the fifth generation of women in her family to live in Tarpon Springs. Her husband, Charles Samarkos, is descended from the famous local sponge divers known as the Samarkos Brothers.
Given the 1910 Inn's location and historic feel, the chamber predicts a great demand for the four rooms and two seasonal apartment rentals.
"I want (customers) to be relaxed and peaceful," Samarkos said. "This is a world away. This is a step back."
The inn is serenaded daily by the ringing of church bells at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral and the clock tower from old City Hall. Its black-and-white kitchen has a retro feel, matching the cozy and quaint atmosphere upstairs.
When the fire marshal came to inspect the inn, he marveled and admitted he had wanted to buy it himself.
"Everybody knows this building," Samarkos said. "Everybody loves this building."
But nobody has loved it as she has.
Times staff writer Drew Harwell contributed to this story. Stephanie Wang can be reached at (727) 445-4155 or [email protected]