ST. PETERSBURG — She had admired the old house perched high and forlorn above Roser Park. Some thought the space it occupied was better off as a parking lot, or perhaps inhabited by a new, modern structure. But those who lived in the scenic community disagreed — Jennifer O'Brien most of all.
She bought the old house. Now, almost 20 years and thousands of dollars later, O'Brien is parting with the historic home.
Built in 1921 for a doctor and his wife, the house is said to be a rare example of Prairie-style architecture in St. Petersburg and the state. The fight to save it accelerated creation of Historic Roser Park, the city's first historic district. The community later would become the first in the city to be designated a national historic district.
O'Brien spoke recently about her decision to sell what is referred to as the Green House. It's where she and her husband spent seven happy years, she said, but after he died tragically in the Caribbean in 2004, she couldn't remain.
"I knew immediately that it was time to do something else, not because I didn't love the place. I felt that moving on would help me with the grieving process. … But I didn't do anything right away,'' she said.
She eventually bought another house and in recent months spent about $100,000 preparing the Roser Park home for sale. Her timing was off. A few weeks ago, foreclosure proceedings were begun against her historic home.
"Like many others,'' she said, "I took a terrible beating on investments that, combined with declining real estate values and a bad job market, was a triple whammy.''
An artist and designer, she recently showed off the two-story house at 745 Eighth Ave. S, pointing out the upgrades, including high-end, energy efficient European appliances and glass tiles in the kitchen and bathrooms.
The renovations had been basic when she bought the house in 1990. She had to install a new roof, repair plaster and stucco, and restore the house from three apartments to its original single-family status.
At the time, Roser Park was struggling to retain its historical integrity, with the Green House — so named because it originally belonged to a Dr. Thaddeus Green — an important symbol of the effort.
Ron Motyka, a longtime Roser Park resident, said the fight to preserve the community's legacy began in earnest in 1978, when nearby Bayfront Medical Center and All Children's Hospital were gobbling up parts of the community.
"We felt that this area was very special and it deserved protection,'' the retired Bay Point Elementary School teacher said. "We were poor and needed the protection because we were being bought up and we were falling apart. We would have been decimated by what was happening.''
In 1990, the City Council voted to allow Ronald McDonald House, then owners of the property, to demolish the Green House. The council also gave Roser Park residents six months to save the house, if they could find a buyer. That's when O'Brien stepped in.
O'Brien paid $54,900 for the home and spent almost $50,000 on renovations. She kept the original bathtubs, restored the original windows and used some of the original light fixtures. "And what I didn't have access to, I used a lot of salvage materials from homes of the same period and scale that would work with the Prairie architecture,'' she said.
O'Brien, 51, who headed the former St. Petersburg Planning and Historic Preservation Commission during the 1980s, had different objectives with the recent work. "My goal was to do a high-end, turnkey renovation and make it very appealing to a professional person or family — functional, comfortable and very green,'' she said.
The four-bedroom, three-bath, 2,200-square-foot house has a basement — unusual in Florida — and a rooftop deck that overlooks the neighborhood. O'Brien, who made news last year when her bull terrier Zansi received a kidney transplant, refers to it as the "happy hour porch.''
The house sits on about a tenth of an acre overlooking Booker Creek, which runs through the center of the 150-home historic district that prides itself on its unique elevations, diverse architecture and involved residents.
Its annual art festival in the fall draws about 8,000 visitors, said Larry Biddle, president of the Historic Roser Park Neighborhood Association. There's also an annual Easter weekend house tour and Christmas street party.
The recent housing boom brought people eager to buy into the neighborhood with its brick streets, hex block sidewalks and rusticated block retaining walls. Many, like O'Brien, invested large sums to restore historic homes in the neighborhood developed by Charles M. Roser, who created the Fig Newton.
There are "some great houses for sale'' these days, Biddle said.
O'Brien has listed hers for $549,000, hoping that someone will fall in love with it the way she did.
"She saved that home,'' Motyka said. "She has polished it. I know it will have another good owner in the future who is going to come along and say, 'I'm so glad that this home was saved.' ''
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this article. Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2283.