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Preservationists say it's time to find a use for Tampa's historic Guida House to head off deterioration

A heart-shaped driveway, now overgrown with grass, greets visitors to the historic Guida House. Built in 1951, the house was taken over by the city of Tampa in 1984 and made part of MacFarlane Park. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
A heart-shaped driveway, now overgrown with grass, greets visitors to the historic Guida House. Built in 1951, the house was taken over by the city of Tampa in 1984 and made part of MacFarlane Park. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Aug. 2, 2019

TAMPA — Historic preservationists worry that the Guida House is deteriorating into a West Tampa version of the historic Jackson House.

Jackson House provided African Americans room and board downtown during segregation and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, yet a nonprofit group is struggling to keep the fenced-off building from falling apart.

The Guida House is also on the National Register of Historic Places — for its unique mid-20th century architecture and a namesake who was known as Mr. West Tampa.

Like the Jackson House, the Guida House has been vacant for decades, raising concerns about the future of the structure.

"It is in a tropical climate and no one is living there," preservationist Linda Saul-Sena said.

READ MORE: Watch: Beams were installed to shore up the historic Jackson House. Now, they may hasten its fall.

Fans of the Guida House, at 1516 N. Renfrew Ave. inside MacFarlane Park, say there should be more preservation options available than for the Jackson House. One reason is that the Guida House is owned by the city of Tampa.

"What good is it doing vacant?" said Tampa City Council member Guido Maniscalco, whose represents the West Tampa district where the Guida House is located. "We need to find a use for it."

Tampa tried to help once before, issuing a request for proposals 10 years ago. Nothing came of it.

"The economy was different then," Maniscalco said. "I think it's time to champion this."

A wall mural just inside the front door shows how the Guida House's exterior looked in its prime — before the windows were boarded up, iron railing was removed from the second floor, an outside brick kitchen was abandoned, and grass grew over the heart-shaped driveway.

The city estimates it would cost $1 million to bring the building back to code, Maniscalco said.

"If you had to build this house today it would cost more than that."

Perhaps, Maniscalco said, the city should seek grants or find a non-profit that can restore and use it.

He would like to see the 5,000-square-foot, two-story structure used as a community center or a West Tampa museum.

Preservationist Saul-Sena, who was a City Council member during the earlier effort to save the house, thinks its heart-shaped driveway could make the location a popular wedding venue.

"The city has really dropped the ball," she said. "That house should not be empty."

The Guida House was built in 1951 by George Guida, a well-to-do contractor and bank founder who also owned a home improvement shop. Guida lived there with his wife and children.

"The house was an advertisement for his store," Saul-Sena said. "It was a display for what was possible."

The Guida House is an example of the art moderne or streamile moderne style, defined by curved walls that give buildings a sleek look, said architecture historian and preservationist Del Acosta.

"It was a grand house in its day," Acosta said. "People used to take drives just to see it. It was like what Derek Jeter's home in Tampa is today."

Jeter, the retired New York Yankees all-star and CEO of the Florida Marlins, finished his 30,000-square foot mansion on Davis Islands in 2009. Since then, neighbors have estimated, as many as 200 cars and boats a day cruise by the estate.

According to the Guida House's listing on the national historic registry, politicians held campaign gatherings there and Guida opened it up to weddings and fundraisers for nonprofit groups.

"That's why he was known as Mr. West Tampa," Maniscalco said.

The city purchased the house and the land in 1984 and made it part of MacFarlane Park.

Some 20 years later, the nonprofit Tampa Preservation Inc. paid for the work needed to prevent moisture from seeping in and damaging the original wallpaper, tiles and terrazzo floors.

"It's like walking onto the set of I Love Lucy," Maniscalco said. "The bones are still strong. The house is in good shape."

Still, he said, look at the Jackson House and you'll see what happens when time catches up with an unused structure, he said.

READ MORE: Laser scanning may help preserve historic Jackson House, digitally at least, before it collapses

The Jackson House stopped taking boarders in 1989. Since then, preservation has stalled despite the interest of the family who built it, the city and the non-profit Jackson House Foundation Inc.

The University of South Florida has recorded 3D images of the Jackson House for future restoration efforts and to preserve it digitally, at least, in case it cannot be saved.

"We don't want the Guida house to become a safety hazard," Maniscalco said, "and get knocked down one day because we let it sit for 50 years."

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com or follow @PGuzzoTimes.

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