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Luigi "Lou" Costantini | 1915-2009

Lou Costantini, creator of Beach Park, dies

BEACH PARK— Like a lot of teenagers, Lou Costantini felt compelled to defy his parents.

But Mr. Costantini's case was a neat little twist on the cliche. His parents pushed him to become a professional musician. He rebelled and became an accountant.

Eventually, his decision to flout his parents' wishes helped shape Tampa as we know it today. Mr. Costantini's career in accountancy brought him to Tampa, where he became a contractor. His company built some of the first homes in Sunset Park and Beach Park and developed the area known as the Fingers. Scores of families are still living in homes created by Mr. Costantini and his colleagues at International Construction Co.

Mr. Costantini died of natural causes on Thanksgiving, after some weeks of declining health. He was 94.

He grew up in Lynn, Mass., the son of Italian immigrants. He was a gifted violinist from an early age and was invited to join a symphony orchestra.

But he was a practical young man and wanted a career with a less uncertain future. He had no second thoughts about laying down his violin.

"I never heard him play," said his daughter, Terri Naylor. "I said to him, 'How can an artist not perform?' and he said, 'I'm not an artist. I'm an excellent mechanic.' "

A devotion to precision had helped make him a superior musician, and it also made him a successful accountant, Naylor said.

His career choice wasn't the only time he defied his parents. Before he became an accountant, he worked as a milkman and fell in love with one of his customers.

But she wasn't Italian, so his parents disapproved. The young couple eloped and remained married for 64 years until Dolly Costantini died a few years ago.

The couple came to Tampa in 1950, when Mr. Costantini helped start International Construction. His title was secretary-treasurer, but he was the only person in the company who took the test to get a contractor's license, so he officially became a contractor.

The couple and their three children lived in one of the first homes in Beach Park, and Mr. Costantini resided there the rest of his life. He knew everyone in the neighborhood, at least in the early years, because he had built their homes.

He eventually became president of the Home Builders Association of Tampa, as well as the Sertoma and Commerce clubs.

He was a longtime member of Palma Ceia Golf and Country Club, and in his working years, he played twice a week. It wasn't unusual for him to get up early, mow the lawn and play 18 holes before work.

"He played more after he retired," Naylor said. "He was playing golf until a year and a half ago. He always wanted to shoot his age, but he never did. His game would have had to get better or he would have had to live longer."

His other passion was playing cards, and he played gin at the country club several times a week with the same foursome.

Mr. Costantini's health and his state of mind remained generally good until he was in his 90s. He did his own yard work until he was in his late 80s and someone stole his lawn mower. Even then, his family had to persuade him to hire a service.

"I'd go visit him and I'd ask him how he was doing and he'd say, "Lousy!' " his daughter said. "I'd ask him what was wrong and he'd point to his (nurse) and say, 'I played gin with her and she beat me.' I figured if you're in your 90s and losing a game of gin was what made it a bad day, you were doing pretty good."

In recent months, though, his age had caused him to live intermittently at the home of his certified nursing assistant and with his family.

Besides daughter Terri Naylor, Mr. Costantini is survived by daughter JoAnn Busuttil, son Bob, six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Marty Clear writes life stories of Tampa residents who have recently passed away. He can be reached at mclear@tampabay.rr.com.

Lou Costantini, creator of Beach Park, dies 12/10/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 10, 2009 3:30am]

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