ST. PETE BEACH
The fabled winter estate of Anheuser-Busch's silk-stocking pioneer, for decades a beachfront playground for the likes of Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe, splashed onto the market Tuesday with a $6.9 million price tag after years of legal strife.
The opulent compound of late beer and baseball baron August A. Busch Jr. was one of Pass-a-Grille's most whispered-about estates, with three separate homes built in the early '50s on a coastal tract the size of a city block.
The Busch estate was the brewery mogul's home base when he wanted to visit downtown St. Petersburg for spring training games of the St. Louis Cardinals, his baseball team, or his sprawling Tampa zoo and theme park, Busch Gardens.
But with its expansive boat house and marina for luxury yachts, the beach complex also became a party hub for a bevy of the rich and famous. The estate, an owners' history shows, hosted presidents (Lyndon Johnson, Bill Clinton), musicians (Frank Sinatra, Mariah Carey), sports stars (Babe Ruth, Arnold Palmer) and TV legends (Ed McMahon, Walter Cronkite).
Tales of the home's excesses still play out across yellowed newspaper clippings. In 1961, a Busch representative sought the city's approval to extend the dock farther into Little McPherson Bayou for an 80-foot yacht. In 1982, Busch's friends, planning his 83rd birthday party, arranged for a surprise visitor to the beach house: a tiger from Circus World.
After Busch's death in 1989, the compound was sold to Tampa beer distributor Arthur Pepin, who resold it to developer John DaSilva in 1997 for $1.1 million. DaSilva, who had worked at the estate as a boy, had grand plans to primp and promote it as a getaway for business clientele, as he argued Busch had done decades before.
But the corporate compound's use within an enclave of beach bungalows rankled neighbors, and city officials rebuffed the plans, bringing in historians who classified the estate's legacy as more of a personal hideaway.
In 2000, DaSilva sued St. Pete Beach, which four bitter years later opted to settle, paying DaSilva $100,000 and approving his plans. The compound found new life as a corporate and family retreat, the Birds of Paradise Boutique Resort, which on vacation-rental sites was listed as "the Grandest Private Waterfront Estate in Florida," and rented for $2,000 a night.
Over the past 15 years, however, the sun-drenched compound has spent much of its time in court. A bank that loaned more than $10 million to DaSilva, whom records also list with the last name DeSilva, filed to foreclose in 2010, records show. In December, the outstanding debt was taken over by Tom Frederick, a founder of Zeno Office Solutions, the Tampa firm that sold last year to Xerox for an undisclosed amount.
The nine-bedroom compound, with industrial coolers and commercial washers and dryers, first went on the market in 2008 at $19.9 million. The compound is now listed by RE/MAX Realtec Group agent Mark Ganier at $6.9 million.
"A new page of history is being turned on this nationally renowned estate," a vacation-rental listing says. "The start of a day here is truly the beginning of an adventure."
Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 893-8252 or [email protected]