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Old house gets new home in Pinellas history park

CLEARWATER

On Monday, the chimney came off. The shingles did too.

On Tuesday, the stoop was removed. And by Wednesday morning, Mark Roesch and his employees at Above All Structural in Largo had jacked up the 99-year-old wood-frame bungalow, inserted steel beams underneath and attached wheels to the beams.

Wednesday night was when workers began the delicate job of moving the 1915 Turner house from Clearwater to Heritage Village in Largo, where it will become the 29th historical structure in Pinellas County's living history park.

At 11:30 p.m., neighbors gathered on the sidewalk near the house at 801 S Fort Harrison Ave. in Clearwater — some dressed in bathrobes and slippers — to watch as workers began moving the bungalow owned by members of Clearwater's pioneer Turner family.

As the house, pulled by a Mack truck, began to roll, Noelle Dionne stood in her white bathrobe snapping pictures.

"I've watched the work all week,'' Dionne said. "The house seemed kind of hidden, behind trees. I really didn't know anything about the person who lived there or the house's history and I wish I did.''

The last person to live in the two-bedroom house was Geraldine "Geri'' Turner.

When she died last Feb. 14, she left her childhood home to Pinellas County. She also left the county $100,000 to cover the cost of relocation.

"We're excited about this," said Paul Cozzie, director of Pinellas County Parks and Conservation Resources. "We have been looking for this type of bungalow — a Florida vernacular bungalow — for a long time. I expected it to come from St. Pete, where there seem to be more, but we got this surprise.''

The house, 75 feet by 35 feet, creaked and wobbled as workers maneuvered it down city streets late Wednesday night. The route took the house north on Fort Harrison Avenue, east on Court Street, south on Missouri Avenue and west on Ulmerton Road to Heritage Village at 11909 125th St. N in Largo.

One of the biggest challenges for the movers was the house's height.

"We ended up disassembling the whole roof because of the height,'' Cozzie said. "Along the streets, the traffic lights have new mast arms that are 17 feet high.

"If we kept the roof on, the house would have reached 22 feet high, and, of course, we can't take down the mast arms."

Geri Turner's parents, Amber and Alfred Cleveland Turner, were the original owners of the house. Alfred was manager of the golf course for the Belleview Biltmore Hotel and was a son of Arthur Campbell Turner, who owned Clearwater's first general store, the A.C. Turner Store. Arthur also was the county's first treasurer and publisher of the West Hillsborough Times, the predecessor of the Tampa Bay Times.

Alfred and Amber Turner had another daughter, too — Amber Vivian Turner, who lived in the house until her death in 2004.

Ardith Rutland, a maternal cousin of Geri and Amber Vivian's who grew up on nearby Corbett Street, recalled spending ". . . many days inside that house. Geri's mom, my Aunt Amber, babysat me,'' said Rutland, 82.

Rutland remembered the sisters as being close to each other growing up. Both were longtime schoolteachers in Pinellas County. Since neither Geri nor Amber Vivian had children, it made sense for Geri to leave the house to Pinellas County, Rutland said.

"I know that history was important to the family, and that house really has a lot of history. We had a lot of parties there. Another cousin lived just down the street, and we'd go between the two houses during parties.''

According to local historian and author Michael L. Sanders, who wrote the book Clearwater: A Pictorial History, there was a time when bungalows like the Turners' dotted downtown Clearwater.

"As a boy in the 1950s, my family (lived near) where Eagle Lake Park is today,'' he said. ". . . On the drive to downtown Clearwater, there really weren't a lot of houses along the way, but when we'd drive into downtown, we'd see bungalows all along Fort Harrison.

"The importance of saving this house is that it is the last existing house in that area of old Clearwater and it represents a way of life that no longer exists,'' Sanders said.

Paige Noel, Heritage Village's project management specialist and volunteer site coordinator, said it was noteworthy that Geri Turner not only left the house to the county, but also a large sum of money.

"The chance of that house being torn down was very real,'' Noel said. "It was in a state of disrepair, and there is work to be done on it, but because of the money, the work can be done and this house is a window into Clearwater's early history. The Turner family, with the A.C. Turner Market, was key to bringing commerce to the area.''

The Turner house will be placed next to the Walsingham House at Heritage Village. It will be restored and the public eventually will be able to tour the house, with its two bedrooms, a double fireplace, a wide front porch and a large attic.

While it is being restored, volunteers will sift through more than 100 boxes of belongings they took out of the bungalow in the last several weeks.

"The items go back to the early 1900s," Noel said. "They really can help shed light on what life was like back in another time of our history.''

Piper Castillo can be reached at pcastillo@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4163.

Old house gets new home in Pinellas history park 01/24/14 [Last modified: Friday, January 24, 2014 6:56pm]
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