TAMPA — From the back room of his father’s Tampa grocery store, Val Maestro Antuono built what would become one of the country’s biggest manufacturers of five-cent cigars.
Befitting his stature, Antuono also built one of Tampa’s biggest houses — a Spanish- style mansion that stretched a full block between Bay to Bay Boulevard and Santiago Street. The loggia, with tiles identical those in the Ybor City’s Columbia Restaurant, was itself larger than most homes of the day.
Antuono died in 1941 but the house he built in 1925 has survived with many of its original features including the tiles, hand-painted ceiling beams and stained glass windows. And now it’s for sale, for $2.995 million.
"We’re downsizing and don’t need this big of a house because it’s just us," says Kay Hubbard-Cruz, who with her husband, Ray Cruz, bought the nearly 6,000-square- foot home in 2005. The distance between the four-car garage, an addition, and the farthest room is so great that "I lost 10 pounds walking when we moved in," she says.
The house, which sits on the equivalent of six lots, is surrounded today by magnificent oaks and lush tropical foliage. Early photos, though, show nothing but spindly pine trees in what was then a sparsely populated area of South Tampa.
Born near Naples, Italy in 1874, Antuono emigrated to the United States at 12 and joined his father and a brother who had settled in Tampa.
After dropping out of school, he spent 14 years making cigars. Then he borrowed $150, bought a bale of tobacco and started a little factory in the family grocery store. As business grew, he moved, first across the street, then to a loft at Franklin and Jackson Streets in downtown Tampa.
In 19010, he bought the West Tampa building of Pendas & Alvarez — the very place he had begun his cigar-making career. His C.H.S. brand became nationally known.
Antuono never forgot his Italian roots. In 1929, he arranged an exhibit of that country’s art and history at the South Florida fair. For several years, he was Italy’s vice consul in Tampa. And in appreciation of the opportunities it offered to citizens of Italian descent, he presented the city of Tampa with an Italian-made ceramic medallion that became its official seal.
When Antuono died at 66, hailed as an "Outstanding Tampan," nearly three dozen mourners served as honorary pallbearers. Flowers came from families with such locally well-known names as Gandy and McKay.
In more recent years, the house Antuono built has undergone some changes — several doors have been converted into windows and an area where horses once trod is now a swimming pool. But much is original and overall the house "is in great shape," Hubbard says. "It’s where you come when there’s a hurricane. The walls are a foot and a half thick."
In addition to six bedrooms and four full bathrooms, the house is a warren of other rooms, large and small, that especially delight kids. They also make it a great spot for Halloween parties: Some scenes for the 1972 horror movie My Brother Has Bad Dreams (original title: Scream Bloody Murder) were filmed there.
Contact Susan Taylor Martin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.