When you're driving around and see a sign that says, "Historic house salvage & antique sale," you just have to stop, especially for the salvage part. We did last weekend. The house itself, on Morrison and Moody at the edge of New Suburb Beautiful, did not disappoint. A big white Dutch Colonial with a giant grandfather oak out front, it is a fine-looking house, and it is being torn down.
It looks like the kind of American family home that was built when families were still families. You could imagine the family in 1925, when it was built, standing proudly out front on the steps posing for a photo. Old houses in good neighborhoods like this one are at a premium. So, why is a house like this being torn down?
When the tear-downs first became prevalent in South Tampa, I talked to a builder who has done some very nice and expensive houses here, and he said, basically, if it looks too good to be torn down, it probably won't be.
This house looks too good to tear down.
Inside, the oak floors shine. The house seemed to be in good condition, except for an unfortunate addition and remodeling done maybe in the 1970s that gives the living room a sort of rec room feel. But the addition could be torn down instead of the house. It would take some work and money, but the end result would be a really lovely place to live.
Last weekend, inside the house, people were about to strip it clean. There were "sold" stickers on the mantel, the pedestal sink in the bathroom, an old double kitchen sink. People were buying the bricks in the patio outside.
A big sign on the lawn announces "The Charleston" townhouses that will be built on the property and the lot behind it, where a down-at-the-heels old yellow frame house now sits. Eight townhouses are planned to sell for about a half-million dollars.
One of the people buying up pieces of the house was Mary Lou Boon. Her late husband's parents, Oscar and Louise Boon, lived in the house for many years.
"We had a lot of good times in this house," she said, "and it's just a shame a house as well built as this should be torn down."
She met his parents in the house during World War II, when she was Malcolm's wife-to-be. They convinced the young couple to get married nearby at Hyde Park Methodist Church. After the war, they came back here to live and raise six children.
Mrs. Boon's daughter wanted to buy the house, to save it, but with her own three children and the work that needed to be done, she decided against it. The house has been out of the family for decades.
"We bought windows and doors, all the things we could, just for mementos," Mrs. Boon said. The French doors will go in her daughter's house; she will put a few small windows in her apartment. She picked up some bricks.
"We wanted the doorknobs," she said, "but they wouldn't sell them without the doors."
There is no protection for historic houses in Tampa that are not located in a historic district. In this case, the Hyde Park historic district stops a few blocks away at the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway overpass.
New Suburb Beautiful is one of the city's neighborhoods that has blocks of priceless old houses; it's the historic feel of the neighborhood that makes it special. There has been some talk about a creating a historic district here, but so far it's still talk.
The owner of the Dutch Colonial, Manny Elkind, says he bought the house with the idea of restoring it, but then he bought the property behind it and decided to do something different. He and architect Jeff Connor have pored over books on Charleston and chosen aspects of the Charleston style to incorporate into their plans. He says he wants to make the huge grandfather oak a focal point, maybe by putting a fountain around it.
It sounds like the project will be really nice, and it won't be out of place. Just a block off Howard, there are a lot of condos and townhouses.
As for the Dutch Colonial, it's a goner.
_ Sandra Thompson, a writer living in Tampa, can be reached at tampasptimes.com. City Life appears on Saturday.