New life for historic pink house in Clearwater

CLEARWATER

It's so adorable, like a big dollhouse.

Ol' Pinkie, as owner Trina Sears calls it, the house with the historic yet bumpy past, now has a single family living in it for the first time since the 1970s.

Two weeks ago, Sears rented out the two-story bubble gum-colored structure to Lisa Hurston, 43, and her fiance, Ed Becker, 56, and his teenage son.

"I wouldn't rent it, wouldn't rent it,'' she said. "It had to be the right person.''

She agreed to buy the house more than three years ago for $1 and spent $120,000 to move it from its previous location on S Fort Harrison Avenue to a lot at 622 Belleview Blvd.

After it was remodeled, the unthinkable happened. On the day she was to sign mortgage papers, the house went up in flames. The fire, caused by a faulty electrical system, essentially gutted the center of it.

"I remember the fire,'' said Amy Brannen, a neighbor. "I remember when the tub fell through. It was a horrible sound.''

The cast-iron bathtub, which had survived the fall, was later stolen.

After that, the city pushed hard to have it torn down. Nothing much had survived inside, except for an 1866 ironing board, which pulls down from a cabinet attached to a wall, wooden beams in the kitchen and most light fixtures. Visitors can still smell smoke near the sink.

Sears fought to keep the bulldozers away and finally succeeded. Then she started restoring the house from scratch.

She installed several new windows and pine floors made of wood from old Southern barns she bought in Georgia. She also painted the walls. The process took two years.

Sears also owns or co-owns three other old houses on Belleview Boulevard, where she is trying to create her own little historic area.

Rehabbing old homes is now Sears' life. Previously, she was a production coordinator for some widely know television series: WKRP in Cincinnati, 30-Something and Seinfeld, where she shared an office with Jerry Seinfeld.

After eight years in television, she moved to Clearwater to get away from the earthquakes and traffic of Los Angeles.

But Sears never watches TV.

Instead, the history buff spends her time saving old things, such as the pink house which has had several incarnations.

Built by railroad tycoon Henry Plant in 1896, the carpenter Gothic structure, first located where the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa's golf course now stands, is thought to be the second-oldest house in Clearwater. The first person to occupy it was Louis Ducros, the first official Belleview Biltmore Hotel photographer.

In the early 1900s, the house was moved to 1324 S Fort Harrison Ave., and years later Rocco Grella, an original member of John Philip Sousa's band, moved in.

In the 1970s, the house was bought by Kay Sloan and Jim Thornton, who turned it into antique furniture and crafts boutique called the Strawberry Walrus.

It also has been a tea room.

"I went to South Ward Elementary and stopped by almost every day,'' Brannen said. "We used to sit in the parlor which is (now) Lisa's bedroom.''

It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, about the same year it was painted pink.

In 2004, Brent and Jill Heath of Clearwater bought the house for $10 and planned to have it moved to a tract on Clearwater-Largo Road to be a studio for Jill Heath's photography business. But the plans fell through and the couple later left the area. A short time later, Sears entered the picture.

The house is supposedly haunted, perhaps by its past occupants, Sears said.

Sears said the spirit or spirits open windows and enjoy throwing a closet rack on middle of the floor.

One hired man quit abruptly because "the ghost threw his tools all over the place,'' Sears said.

Hurston and Becker said they haven't seen anything unusual in the house so far.

"It's so peaceful,'' Becker said. "I love it at night. There's a serenity about it.''

Eileen Schulte can be reached at schulte@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4153.



FAST FACTS

Ol' Pinkie basics

• Built in 1896 by Henry Plant

• The house is 1,459 square feet

• It has two bedrooms and one and a half baths

• It burned in 2006 and took two years to resurrect.

New life for historic pink house in Clearwater 11/15/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 18, 2008 3:20pm]

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