They don't make dollhouses anymore like the one Marie-Gay Lodge owns, but for the first time in 13 years the house is on public display. • Lodge lives at Belleair Towers in Clearwater and the three-story, 118-year-old dollhouse will be shown daily until Dec. 27.
"When Marie-Gay first approached us about showing the house, we thought it was an incredible opportunity to have a piece of history here," said Doug Ronco, 54, co-manager of Belleair Towers. "Especially with it being in 90 percent original condition."
Stop by and peek at the porcelain figurines sitting out front on a bench. Lodge says they're welcoming visitors to a tea party.
Walk around and look inside to see the German handmade furniture and elegant miniatures that decorate each room.
A gift from Lodge's grandfather to her mother and aunt in 1891, the toy has weathered the years to become an authentic glimpse of history.
"The house takes six days to put up," said Lodge, 89. "My daughter flew in from Italy. My son and his buddy drove from Cincinnati to help me put it up.
"He had to start with the platform, attach the grass with rubber cement. The curtains go up next, then furniture and finally the chandeliers."
Of German descent, Lodge's grandfather had the dollhouse and furniture handmade in Essen, Germany. Miniature details abound, from a coal shuttle and ice cream churn in the kitchen to an ornate birdcage and pair of spectacles in a bedroom.
Oriental rugs line the hall stairway and various-sized porcelain dolls are dressed in the finest clothing of the era.
Miniature treasures stand or hang everywhere. Authentic marble busts stand tall. A miniature family Bible is open on a stand.
Even the dining room table has two leaves and four hand-caned chairs.
Upstairs bed linens are fashioned from the tucked part of Lodge's grandmother's half-slip. Tiny hand-painted replicas of works by Renoir, Cezanne and Manet hang on the walls. A few years back — Lodge isn't sure how many — she commissioned a local miniature artist to paint them for the house.
Lodge does remember the last time the house was shown.
In 1997, the Belleview Biltmore Resort and Spa, then the Belleview Mido Resort, showcased the house as a part of the hotel's 100-year-old celebration. At that time, Lodge's dollhouse was a mere 105.
Over the years, the house, furniture and each miniature has been carefully stored, but the house is not relegated to simply a showpiece. Lodge's mother and aunt played with the house, and when Lodge was a child and asked to play with the house, her mother said yes. But there was a condition.
"My mother replaced the valuable furniture with pieces from a Washington, D.C., Woolworth," she said. "The only piece of furniture remaining from that Woolworth is an upstairs bookcase."
Married for 65 years, Lodge has three grown children, but none of them has daughters. Because Lodge wants little girls to play with house as she did, her plans are to pass the antique to a cousin in Maryland. He has four granddaughters.
So the house will travel as it did when Lodge brought it to the Belleair from Washington, D.C., in 1959 when her husband, Richard, was transferred to open the Honeywell facility on U.S. 19. The Honeywell engineer also served as a commissioner and mayor of Belleair in the 1970s.
Last January, Lodge moved into Belleair Towers without her beloved husband of 65 years. He has Alzheimer's disease and is being cared for at the Villas of Belleair.
"My husband built the platform, set up the landscaping and lit the house with electricity," she said. "The facade was covered with a mock-brick design, but that's gone.
"I spoke with a man from the Smithsonian who said not to repaper the house or it would lose its authenticity, so I left the wood. My prized miniatures are the family Bible and the vinegar and oil decanters."
The 10-room mansion is out of storage only for the holidays.
It stands in Room 105, just off the lobby, decked out with the original red velvet and Belgian lace curtains. A miniature antique iron fence surrounds the lawn and a light screen covers the back.
On the roof, Santa stands ready to slip down the chimney. At 3 feet tall and 4 feet wide, the house rivals a small Christmas tree and glows as brightly from the light of tiny chandeliers.
"The house is adorable," said Phyllis Ronco, 48, co-manager of Belleair Towers. "It's fascinating to look at all the intricate parts. Some of the men enjoy it more than the women.
"They talk about all the work that went into making the house and each little piece. I think children and people of all ages will enjoy it."