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If this beach dweller could talk ...

In youth, the Butler was utilitarian. Then it had a midlife crisis. In the '70s, appropriately enough, it sprang back with a communal, free-spirited vibe.

Amid the dark hallways and old doors of the Butler House are nine distinct islands of living and one unique history.

If the walls could talk, the stories they would tell.

This nine-unit condominium on Pass-a-Grille was built in 1913 to house servants who worked at the hotel next door. The Butler House withstood the 1921 hurricane and a fire that destroyed the hotel the next year.

From 1922 to 1973 there were several owners of the building, at 107 26th Ave., and in the '70s it became a condominium complex but kept the original decor.

Billy Moore and his friend Craig Wadsworth remodeled and updated the Butler House in the '70s. Moore, who lived there for 10 years, said renovations included upgrading the 1913 wiring and 1921 boiler and installing a new plumbing system. He said they converted 16 hotel rooms and shared bathrooms into eight one-bedroom units. Wadsworth later turned the attic into the ninth unit, a two-bedroom apartment.

"It was condemned and in pretty bad shape," Moore said. "It turned out great and we had a great time with it. Everyone who lived there was into the spirit of the Butler House ... Butler House is a model of turn-of-the-century Florida."

Frank Hurley Jr., a friend of the Butler House tenants and a local historian, said the building's name has a few legends behind it. Some believe a butler's ghost frequents the establishment, and others believe it is named for the hotel workers who lived there, Hurley said.

Both legends, he said, are wrong. The residence is named for Harry Butler, who owned the building from the 1940s to the 1970s.

"The personalities of the owners and the personality of the buildings, they match," he said. "The building is colorful and has interesting people."

Marjorie Friedman is one of the Butler's seven current residents. Friedman, academic director of the English Language Services Centers at Eckerd College, moved from Miami about six years ago and when she saw Pass-a-Grille knew it was where she wanted to live. She has rented or owned one of the Butler condos for those six years.

She said her current apartment used to belong to a cocaine dealer who is now serving a life sentence in a federal penitentiary. She said her condo contract is signed by the U.S. marshal.

"I view it as sort of luck," she said. "Most people have been here forever. It has a very colorful past. . . . Every once in a while people will come by and say "I used to live here.' It is quite the building."

Charli Holtz's apartment includes an old-fashioned bathtub with feet. Holtz has lived at Butler House for 11 years and says the building has the feeling of a commune: Everyone knows each other's lives.

A calico named Lefty that belonged to a resident used to hang out in everyone's apartments, Holtz said.

"As an artist, all I ever wanted was a studio on the beach, and I got it," she said. "We all take care of each other, and if you're sick, we help out. I just had two weeks off and people asked me where I went. But I don't have to go anywhere. This is a vacation, a resort."

Tim Krafcik has lived at Butler House for 22 years. He owned Lefty. Krafcik is the only president the Butler House Condominium Association has ever had. Though he sometimes wishes he lived somewhere cooler, he said it is a good place to be. His place was destroyed in a small fire in the early 1990s and now has a more modern look.

In the 1970s one tenant's husband was a promoter, so the Butler House parties sometimes included celebrity guests such as Bill Murray, John Candy, Alice Cooper and Jimmy Buffett, Krafcik said.

"If you want to live on the beach, it is the place to be," he said. "I am pretty close to all of them. Most (of the tenants have) been here over 10 years . . . I call it a laid-back beachfront property. There are only nine units as opposed to the 25 multistory apartments. Sometimes you have condo meetings where everyone is there, and that is rare in large condos."

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