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Tug of war ensues over teardowns

The stately Mediterranean Revival near the golf course was the first of its kind in Temple Terrace, and good enough for D. Collins Gillette, the city's first mayor, to call home.

But should Gillette's ghost ever seek a nostalgic visit, it would be hard pressed to satisfy the itch. The white stucco house on N Riverhills Drive, better known as the McCartney House, no longer exists. Its Spanish tile roof and Spanish mission portico lost out to a demolition crew in the mid 1990s.

Dozens of original Mediterranean Revival houses lend Temple Terrace a historic grace that most of Hillsborough County lacks. Local historian Grant Rimbey counts 65 Mediterranean Revival homes in the city. There used to be 85, he says. As demolitions continue at a slow but steady pace, he and others fear that the city's architectural heritage is in danger.

Temple Terrace doesn't have a historic preservation district, Rimbey says. Nothing on the books prevents a landowner from obtaining a demolition permit practically on the spot.

McCartney House owner Richard Harmon paid $37.50 for his demolition permit, according to documents that show the teardown job cost $8,000.

Rimbey, a South Tampa architect who lives in Temple Terrace, says: "It's so easy to do."

In an effort to protect the surviving Mediterranean Revival structures, he and others are pursuing a two-pronged approach.

They hope to create a historic district. That could take at least a couple of years, so in the meantime, preservationists are pushing for a 90-day hold on demolitions so the city can review the requests.

A historic preservation district is not a new idea for Temple Terrace. But after conducting a survey in the late 1980s, the city's historic preservation board could not agree on a set of rules. Some board members thought the district would restrict property owners too much; others, not enough, according to Michael Delk, the city's community development director.

Rimbey, frustrated that the demolitions continue, said Temple Terrace needs a new survey. Florida College's decision to tear down the old chauffeur's lodge on the campus it purchased in the 1940s energized supporters of a district.

Temple Terrace Historical Inc. sought help for the survey this year from the Florida State Department. Other projects won out, but the group, which applied for a $15,500 matching grant, will apply again this year, he said. The goal is to qualify the area for the National Register of Historic Places while laying the groundwork for a local ordinance combining penalties with incentives to preserve.

Over the years, the college has demolished other buildings off Riverhills Drive and cemented over the swimming pool at Club Morocco, a hangout for the wealthy who populated and visited Temple Terrace in its heyday.

Spokeswoman Reeba Cook staunchly defended the college's actions.

"Some of them were uninhabitable," she said. The maintenance of those buildings would just have been (cost) prohibitive. They were basic wood latch (construction) with stucco over them. We have maintained the ones that we could.

"The chauffeur's building was so bad, there were portions of the building we didn't allow anyone to go in," she added.

Tell that to Rimbey, who thinks the old buildings make the city special. Without a historical district, that vision remains in danger.

Preservation rules will become even more crucial if people continue to build expensive homes in Temple Terrace. Many of the demolitions occurred when people decided they preferred the land under a Mediterranean Revival house to the house itself. The two structures that went up where the old McCartney House once stood have a total assessed value of $902,000, according to the county property appraiser's office.

Rimbey doesn't want to tempt fate.

"We could probably have a district in place a year to a year and a half after we get the grant," he said. "The key is getting the grant."

Josh Zimmer covers Temple Terrace and the University of South Florida area. He can be reached at (813) 269-5314 or zimmersptimes.com.

To make it harder to raze homes like this, Temple Terrace Historical Inc. seeks a matching grant to qualify the area for the National Register of Historic Places. It also wants to see a local ordinance combining penalties with incentives to preserve.

Golfers play near Florida College, whose decision to tear down the old chauffeur's lodge irritated supporters of a historic district. Over the years, the college has demolished other buildings off Riverhills Drive and cemented over the swimming pool at Club Morocco. The buildings weren't worth saving, a college spokeswoman said.

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