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House by spa seeks landmark status

Safety Harbor may make 76-year-old Virginia Tucker Manor, which was once the showplace of the town, its first historic landmark.

The stately Virginia Tucker Manor built in 1923 on Tampa Bay is set to become the first city historic landmark.

The Colonial revival home just north of the Safety Harbor Spa at 311 N Bayshore Drive was among 178 buildings identified as historically significant in a 1994 consultant's study. This is the first time any of the property owners has applied to the city for the historic landmark distinction.

If the request is granted by the City Commission, the building will be protected from demolition and exterior changes detrimental to its historic character.

"It's a beautiful building and this is the first time we're going to use this process," said Ron Rinzivillo, the city's associate planner. "We're excited about this type of application. We hope we have more."

Aside from its architecture, described in the study as "an elaborate and classically designed example of the style," the home is important to city history for a number of reasons, said Amy David, director of the Safety Harbor Museum of Regional History.

"First of all, we have so few of our old structures still surviving, and that is very important," David said. "Also, it belonged to an important family to this area. Tucker and her father and her husband were all very influential in the development of the spa, therefore the development of the town."

Virginia Manor has changed hands numerous times over the years, most recently in December when Superior Consultant Holdings Corp. bought the building from a law firm for $795,000 and moved its Clearwater offices to Safety Harbor. It has not been used as a residence since 1962, said Isabel Holmes Charnock, 85, the adopted daughter of Virginia Tucker.

In its heyday, Virginia Manor was the showplace of the town, with its classical columns, grand staircase and azaleas blooming in the front lawn, Charnock said. She grew up there, along with Tucker's six children and other relatives.

"We had a wonderful time in that house," said Charnock, who still lives in Safety Harbor. "It was a huge thing. The staircase wound beautifully from the downstairs to the attic. You could slide down that bannister."

Tucker was the daughter of Col. William Bailey, the first private owner of the land and springs where the Safety Harbor Spa is now. Tucker attended a private Charleston, S.C., girls school, said Charnock, who like other children called Tucker "Granny."

"She was a highly educated Southern lady who was extremely musical and who spoke and wrote French absolutely correctly," Charnock said. "Every afternoon Granny would hold court, you might say, and serve fruitcake or poundcake and wine or milk. We had a wide circle of very lovely people."

She built the Bayshore home after the 1913 death of her husband, Capt. James Tucker, the namesake of the former St. James Hotel on Main Street, also built by the aristocratic widow. Tucker also oversaw the construction of a $5-million building in the 1920s that is the base of the Safety Harbor Spa facilities, David said.

She operated it as a "sanitorium," a health facility that attracted visitors from around the country.

The Bayshore home isn't as big as Tucker had planned, Charnock said, because the builder made a mistake.

"He made what should have been the inside dimensions the outside dimensions so it ended up a little smaller than it should have been," Charnock said. "However, it was still a marvelous house."

City officials created the historic landmark process in the early 1990s as a way to encourage preservation of the city's cultural resources. It is separate from the National Register of Historic Places, a national listing that includes one Safety Harbor building, the Leech Johnson house at 333 Bayshore Drive.

Superior Consultant Holdings Corp., a health care consulting company, is renovating the inside to restore some of its historic elements, said Steve Jaskowski, the company's director of facilities.

"We're trying to do as much as possible to restore her to her old glory," Jaskowski said.

The company pursued the historic landmark designation after it was suggested by a city official, Jaskowski said. The Safety Harbor Planning and Zoning Board will vote on the designation Wednesday. If approved, it would go before the commission for final approval.

The company benefits from the historic designation because it allows for more flexibility in meeting city building and fire codes. Current codes require a sprinkler system in the building that Superior will not have to install because it would ruin the structure's ceilings. As part of the renovations, the company is removing dropped ceilings that were installed by previous owners.

"It sounds like we're trying to circumvent the rules but we felt with the structure to put in a sprinkler system . . . it would detract from what we're trying to do," Jaskowski said.

The company was interested in the property because of its proximity to the Safety Harbor Spa, where all new Superior employees spend a week for orientation, Jaskowski said.

In the fall, Superior plans to have an open house to show off the restored building. About 19 employees will work in the building starting later this month.

_ Safety Harbor reporter Deborah O'Neil can be reached at 445-4159 or at deborahsptimes.com.

Virginia Tucker Manor

BUILT: 1923 as a family home

ORIGINAL OWNER: Virginia Tucker, whose family owned the land and springs where the Safety Harbor Spa is now

ARCHITECTURE: three-story Colonial revival, modeled after her family's Lyndhurst Plantation home near Monticello, FL

SQUARE FEET: 6,200

ORIGINAL ROOMS: six bedrooms, six bathrooms, formal dining room for 20

CURRENT OWNER: Superior Consultant Holdings Corp.

PURCHASE PRICE: In December, Superior bought the building for $795,000

The Colonial revival Virginia Tucker Manor was built in 1923 by the daughter of Col. William Bailey, the first private owner of the land and springs where the Safety Harbor Spa now sits.

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