Cecily Gresham calls herself a holdout. She and her husband say they will keep their one-story, waterfront home on Coffee Pot Boulevard just as it is, even as the eight other houses on their block are replaced or enlarged.
Two homes have been torn down to make way for four much bigger ones. Another has been renovated and increased by 1,000 square feet. Of the three remaining one-story homes, one sold in September and is in the midst of extensive renovations. One sold in December. The other one is on the market. New owners will choose to tear those two down and rebuild or do major makeovers.
Thus is the circle of life for homes on Pinellas County's limited waterfront lots. The look and character of a block can completely change in a decade or less.
"Old houses have problems. Old houses have little rooms, little closets and little kitchens. But we love our old house," Gresham said of the 1930 Spanish Mission home she shares with husband, Curt. "We laughed when they were building the house next door. We said, 'If you keep building like that our house is going to look like a really itty-bitty house.' "
The Greshams' eye-catching stucco home with a 22-foot ceiling at its peak is by no means small, at about 2,400 square feet. But the four new houses that were built to the south have 4,000 to 5,200 square feet.
The Greshams bought their home just 14 years ago but have been there longer than anyone else.
"We're kind of the historians of the block. As they get ready to tear stuff down, we go and scavenge stuff," she said. The fountain by their pool is made of 144 tiles brought back from Portugal. That belonged to their next-door neighbor before her house met the bulldozer. The stone bench, statue of a young girl and lances used to support awnings all came from the house two doors down before it was razed.
"That was a really sad day when they tore down his house," Curt Gresham recalled. "I've always said I'd sell to somebody who would keep our house before I sell to somebody who would tear it down."
"But we're not selling," Cecily Gresham chimed in. "We will never move out of this house as long as we can maintain it." Curt Gresham, who helped build the rocket nozzle for the Surveyor 1 exploratory spacecraft that went to the moon in 1966, still does most of the maintenance himself. The rooms are pretty small, though most have a view of the water through windows surrounded by painted tiles. The home also has tile floors, stained-glass windows, and a cypress balcony, ceiling and beams.
Curt Gresham loves that an old house has history. A neighbor who was in her 90s when they moved in told him she went to a party at their house years ago. Guests were thrilled to see a circus performer grip a rope that hung from one of the cypress beams with her teeth and spin around and around.
The recent deaths of two longtime owners on the block triggered those home listings. One 2,300-square-foot home built in 1957 sold in September for $509,000. Major renovations have started.
Next door, a 2,300-square-foot home is on the market for $534,800. It was first listed for $729,000. The sales flier shows the seller, the owner's estate, is eager. It reads: "Please don't hesitate to make any reasonable offer. This unique property is ready to sell fast."
Another 1,702-square-foot house on the block sold for $440,000 in late December. The sellers bought it in 2008 for $750,000.
Alona Dishy, the Realtor who listed the property, said she isn't surprised that the last of the small houses on the block are selling. Even in a down housing market, the demand for waterfront properties is higher than the supply.
"There is very little out there," she said. "What you're finding now, though, is it's not the speculative builder buying and tearing them down; it's people who want to live there."
"Waterfront lots are really nonexistent," agreed Pinellas County property appraiser Pam Dubov. "You can find the same thing up along St. Joseph Sound in the Ozona and Crystal Beach areas. And some of the little fingers that reach out into the Intracoastal Waterway along Belleair and Belleair Bluffs, if you drive down some of those streets you'll see older ranch-style homes basically dwarfed between larger homes."
Dishy isn't sure the house she listed will be torn down by new owners.
"It has a big room (on the front) with a lot of light and a beautiful courtyard area," Dishy said. "I would grab it if I could keep buying houses."
Whatever the outcome, the Greshams say they don't mind if they end up living in the only "original" house on their block.
"It doesn't bother us at all that other people have built these big houses. Fortunately we are on the corner, so we're not right in the middle of them. The only thing I guess I would like to have is a big new kitchen," Cecily Gresham said. Her kitchen is about 70 square feet. "Maybe when I go to 'the home' I'll have a huge kitchen."
Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at (727) 893-8785 or [email protected]