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Advocates fear Tampa Bay's oldest house, built in 1842, could be torn down

The house on E 8th Avenue on the outskirts of Ybor has been vacant for years. Preservationists are scrambling to save it.

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times

The house on E 8th Avenue on the outskirts of Ybor has been vacant for years. Preservationists are scrambling to save it.

TAMPA — From time to time, Jim Singleton checks the value of his home against a rundown, yellow Georgian house down the street with a relatively secret but significant history.

Sunday, he punched in the address of 3210 E Eighth Ave.

He couldn't believe it: It was listed for sale for just $25,000.

Built in 1842, still with stately columns but now with a sagging deck and a dilapidated interior, the home on the outskirts of Ybor City is the oldest home in the Tampa Bay region.

Singleton began making phone calls and sending e-mails, worried someone would snatch it up and demolish another piece of history.

"I'll stand in front of a bulldozer before that happens," he said.

Ten blocks from the eastern edge of Ybor City, the old home has been empty for years. In 2001, its owner let homeless men live there. Its history would seem to deteriorate also, if it were not for those with deep roots like Patrick Manteiga, editor and publisher of La Gaceta newspaper.

He has known about the house since his father moved the paper's office just around the corner from it, to Seventh Avenue and 33rd Street, in 1982. The Manteigas had heard the house was once a downtown courthouse or annex moved there at the turn of the century.

"We just don't have much of this history anymore," he said.

The building actually had been a downtown Tampa boarding house, built at the end of the Second Seminole War.

It once housed Dr. Sheldon Stringer, who was appointed by president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, to be the surgeon of Gen. Joseph Finegan, the commanding Confederate officer in Florida, Singleton said.

In 1914, the building was moved to its current site, once known as the town of Gary, to make way for Tampa City Hall.

Gary, platted in 1903 and incorporated in 1915, had four cigar factories, two large fertilizer plants, a citrus packing house and celery farms. It was the last stop on a trolley line that ran from downtown, and home to Spanish, Cuban, Dutch, Polish and German residents. It was incorporated into Tampa in 1923.

Urban renewal in the 1960s and construction of Interstate 4 drove a stake into Gary's heart, and over the years its history has been blighted, then erased.

In 1993, the renowned Spanish Park Restaurant was bulldozed after 94 years. Fire destroyed a 91-year-old church in 1994.

And last year, the 1913 Gary Elementary School was demolished despite desperate efforts to preserve it.

Now, the oldest house in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando, Polk and Manatee counties, according to the Florida Bureau of Historic Preservation, stands vulnerable.

Owner Ronald Mack said he wants to sell quickly — and has reduced the price to $22,000 — and declined to comment further. It is assessed at $65,000.

Tampa's zoning laws would allow an investor to buy the property, tear the house down and build three units on the site, according to Hillsborough County property appraiser valuation director Tim Wilmath.

"We don't have that many structures with a rich history," former Tampa City Council member Linda Saul-Sena said. "The loss of the school was a blow to the community, so saving that would be important."

"It's definitely worth saving," said Fran Costantino, president of East Ybor's neighborhood association.

Saul-Sena and other preservationists met Wednesday to discuss how the home could be saved. The cash-strapped city doesn't have money to buy it for preservation, Saul-Sena said — but what if federal money was used to remodel it for housing?

Singleton, the neighbor who has kept an eye on the house for decades as if he were guarding history, remembers hearing about it as a child in the 1960s.

The 53-year-old electronic technician said he would buy it if most of his spare cash wasn't going toward restoring his 100-year-old home.

A history buff, Singleton has studied as much as he can about the house. It was built with wooden pegs, not nails. It probably housed well-known military officers before the Civil War.

"It has to be saved at any and all costs," Singleton said.

Times researcher John Martin and photographer Edmund Fountain contributed to this report. Justin George can be reached at jgeorge@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3368.

Hillsborough County's oldest homes

3210 E 8th Ave.1842
1408 W Burger St.1850
1810 S Lenna Ave.1860
1707 N Gordon St.1878
10605 Hackney Drive1880
402 Wense Ave.1880

Source: Hillsborough County Property Appraiser's Office

Advocates fear Tampa Bay's oldest house, built in 1842, could be torn down 09/09/10 [Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 11:20pm]
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