By KRISTEN HARE
Times Staff Writer
For most of his life, Jake Holehouse followed his dad into crumbling buildings and sagging houses and thought: “My God. Why aren’t we knocking this down?”
At 709 Gulf Way, the roof fell off the building and crushed two cars. In a house on 12th Avenue, bats came flying out of the basement.
But look around Pass-a-Grille now, and it’s easy to see the impact of his dad’s belief in rescue and revival.
Ron Holehouse, an insurance agency owner and developer, died on Dec. 20, from multiple myeloma. He was 68.
In his lifetime, Holehouse worked on 280 properties in St. Petersburg and Waynesville, N.C.
“Out of those 280, he never built anything from the ground up,” his son said.
Ron Holehouse moved with his parents and nine brothers and sisters to St. Petersburg from Buffalo, N.Y., a year after he’d graduated high school in 1969. While putting himself through St. Petersburg College, he worked as a bartender at Shadracks on Pass-a-Grille’s tiny 8th Avenue.
He soon became a partner in the fledgling bar but spent evenings and weekends renovating homes in St. Pete’s Old Northeast.
It wasn’t until visiting one of his sisters in Naples in the late 1980s and seeing the value of beach properties there that Holehouse started to imagine possibility and profit in Pass-a-Grille.
Man, he said in his distinctly deep voice, there’s a gold mine here that nobody’s looking at or thinking about.
Pass-a-Grille back then was dumpy, Jake Holehouse remembers, the beach bungalows decrepit. His dad loved them.
In 1990, Ron Holehouse bought 1401 Gulf Way through a foreclosure. He worked with Barry Flaherty, a general contractor, to rehab the apartment complex one unit at a time. They tore out layers of material that had built up like barnacles.
Holehouse knew where to spend money, Flaherty said – new plumbing, new electric, high-quality materials. He didn’t do anything halfway.
He turned that apartment complex into the Inn on the Beach, a postcard-perfect bed and breakfast that he ran for 25 years. He jokingly called it “the Ron just down from the Don.”
In 1996, he bought a condemned house at Gulf Way and 12th Avenue.
“It was an absolute dump,” Jake said.
His dad gutted the 1915 home, restored the original pine floors and plaster walls and lived in it for 20 years.
In 2000, Holehouse bought the building at 709 Gulf Way that had been vacant and owned by the state for 10 years. It’s now home to the Brass Monkey upstairs and both Grace Restaurant and Paradise Sweets downstairs.
He worked with the city of St. Pete Beach to ensure special zoning standards preserved Pass-a-Grille’s historical footprint. Always upbeat and armed with analogies, he sat on the zoning board, the historical board, the board of adjustments and mentored young leaders with a fatherly push.
“It always takes one person to have confidence in a community,” said Melinda Pletcher, a commissioner for St. Pete Beach and a longtime neighbor.
Pass-a-Grille was -- and still is -- a quirky, diverse place, she said. But it needed reinvestment and respect.
“Ron didn’t just do that with one property,” Pletcher said. “He did that with several properties.”
He saw potential where few others did.
Except now, you can see it, too.
Senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Want to know more about Ron? Head over to Instagram and @werememberthem and see one way his son will remember him. Know someone who has recently died whom we should write about? Send suggestions to Kristen Hare at [email protected].