Babe Ruth's penthouse is for sale

ST. PETERSBURG — Jim Thompson has a few enticing talking points when it comes to describing his downtown apartment.

There is the awe-inspiring view across the city to the west and the bay to the east. It's within walking distance of downtown shops and restaurants. And if you want to expose yourself to different cultures and regions of the world, many of the neighbors, particularly during the winter months, are from other states and countries.

And oh, yeah.

Did he mention that George Herman Ruth, the legendary baseball icon most commonly known as Babe, once lived in this apartment?

"It's just amazing," Thompson, 74, said. "I just rehabbed it a bit, but it's about the same as it was."

Ruth, known for being a flamboyant socialite almost as much as the powerhouse behind 714 career home runs, resided at the Flori-de-Leon apartment building penthouse on Fourth Avenue N in the late 1920s through the mid 1930s when in town for spring training with the New York Yankees.

In fact, Thompson said Ruth and Lou Gehrig, another Yankee legend but a more reserved man, switched penthouses at the Flori-de-Leon to better accommodate their lifestyles.

Thompson said Gehrig lived in Ruth's penthouse first, but wanted to live in the other one because it had a private elevator, which would allow him to avoid people.Ruth switched to the apartment that forced him to pass more people when coming and going.

"The Gehrigs were real quiet people and wanted to stay away," Thompson said. "But Babe would almost run you down to give you his autograph."

Thompson is putting the 1,420-square-foot, two-bedroom, one-bath penthouse back on the market for $275,000, after listing it last year unsuccessfully at $339,000. Built about 1925, the Flori-de-Leon co-op sits at 130 Fourth Ave. N and is inhabited by folks 55 and older.

Thompson, who bought the penthouse five years ago, is selling because he moved his Central Avenue antiques shop to Tampa and has moved closer to his new location, but he's leaving this one antique behind.

Thompson, who has been in the antiques business for 14 years, said the ambience of Ruth was still noticeable. For instance, when doing some basic renovating, he found cigar butts behind a concrete wall where Ruth and perhaps some of his movie star or professional athlete guests had smoked and dumped the stubs in a hole in the wall. Thompson said this was common as Ruth was the life of several parties hosted at the apartment for legendary guests.

Sue Cooper-Street, a Realtor at Plush Realty who is serving as Thompson's contact for potential buyers, called the penthouse "a piece of history."

Whether someone is interested in the Ruth penthouse or not, Thompson said living in downtown St. Petersburg is an experience that other Florida cities can't offer.

"If you want Old Florida, it's right here," he said. "There are bungalows, there aren't really many high-rises, and there are residential areas all the way up to downtown. You don't get that in Orlando or Fort Lauderdale."

Eddie R. Cole can be reached at ecole@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8779.

Babe Ruth's penthouse is for sale 06/28/08 [Last modified: Monday, June 30, 2008 1:20pm]

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