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Mansion a home again

The historic Rutland Mansion is about to become a home again after a number of years standing empty and a short stint as a school. Its new owners also bought the Coquina Key shopping center.

"I bought it, and I plan to live in it," said Philip Farley of the 1925 mansion at 5030 Sunrise Drive SE. "My family and I will live in it and make it our home for the rest of our lives."

Farley said he and his wife Michele have three children, ages 1, 4 and 6, and they all consider the mansion, "the coolest place ever."

Pinellas County property records show a July sales price of $2.3-million for the mansion and a construction date of 1925, although some date the seven-bedroom house to 1913. It was built as a private residence on Little Bayou in southern St. Petersburg on about 14 acres. During Prohibition it was a country club. Then it was purchased by department store owner Hubert Rutland. His family and his daughter Betty Bussey's family lived there for the next 50 years.

The mansion has nearly 10,000 square feet. In addition to seven bedrooms, it has five full bathrooms and two half baths. Outside is a guest house, carriage house with an apartment, potting room and studio. In addition to sitting on waterfront property, the house has an Olympic-size swimming pool.

"We are not doing that much to it," Farley said. "It's a question of painting." Hardwood floors are being refinished.

Both interior and exterior will be painted. Farley said he was not sure of the exterior color yet. He said he was talking to the Bussey family and looking at photographs that show what the house looked like in its heyday.

"We are very excited about making it as great as it was," Farley said.

He and his family came to St. Petersburg from Chicago, where they had been for seven or eight years, Philip Farley said. Michele Farley used to live on Sunrise Drive and rode by the mansion, her husband said. Philip Farley lived in Tampa previously.

After the Rutland family sold the house and acreage, it went through a couple of owners before it was bought by developer Robert Swain of Clearwater in 1998. He bought it for a residential project, eventually selling the mansion and several acres surrounding it. On the rest of the acreage, he started a townhome development. But it stalled when Swain declared bankruptcy.

Three partially finished buildings sat open to the elements for years, to the distress of the surrounding neighborhood that had not wanted the site developed. Finally, the city demolished the buildings and another company came in and is finishing the townhome project. (The development, now called Banyan Bay, is rising rapidly.)

During this time, the mansion was bought by Annette Martino who also ended up in a bankruptcy proceeding. Early last year it looked as if the mansion would be sold on the courthouse steps in Clearwater to satisfy bankruptcy debt. In 2002 Angela Sweet started a faith-based school in the house without obtaining proper permits.

Now comes the Farley family.

Philip Farley, 39, said he made a living buying real estate but had only a few properties in St. Petersburg.

"I don't plan on doing much here. I want to spend a lot of time close to home. I may go back to work when I'm older," he said in a telephone interview last week.

Coquina Key Plaza, 4350 Sixth St. S, is only a short drive from the mansion. Farley said he wants to make the shopping center a place that will better serve the surrounding residential area.

"I think it could be great," he said. And its condition now? "Not great."

It is a neighborhood shopping center anchored by Eckerd drugstore, Save-A-Lot grocery and Family Dollar department store. It has a couple of other clothing shops, a hardware store, restaurant, animal hospital and coin laundry, among other businesses. Several of the smaller shops are empty. On its edges are a SunTrust bank and a gas station now used as a produce market. One free standing building next to Eckerd is being remodeled for Washington Mutual.

Farley would not disclose how much he paid for the shopping center, and the sale is not yet recorded in Pinellas County records.