LUTZ — Travel back to a low-rise time. Breathe in the Paris Hilton perfume. Sip the Vodka Red Bull. Wrap a skull scarf around your neck. There’s no Instagram, no TikTok; Facebook remains a sliver of itself. The notion of party privacy gulps its last gasps, poolside.
There. You have awoken in 2009. The country is barely climbing out of a recession and a little hoopla sounds tempting. If you are a young adult in Tampa Bay, you might open your eyes behind aviators at the House of Hennessy, the storied Super Bowl home with a whole pirate ship. This rural estate once hosted everyone from Cuba Gooding Jr. to DJ Khaled.
What a time to be alive. Now, what a time to let it go.
Boom boom pow, back to today. Kerin Clarkin stood in the foyer Saturday at his 12-hour marathon open house, a lush spread of fruit skewers and lemon spa water on the bar. He was expecting a DJ later, an obvious flex when the pool has a built-in DJ booth.
He and Madison Fair are the Realtors listing the property at 19165 Geraci Road for $2.5 million. Just like in the house’s bustling heyday, promotion and word of mouth are crucial to success. Clarkin runs a TikTok called FunTampa where he’s posted footage of the house. Meanwhile, Fair cold-called dentists and lawyers to drum up interest.
Families and investors filtered into the open house asking about land surveys, a sober antithesis to the house’s shots-shots-shots heritage.
Clarkin, 42, ran bar marketing back then and remembers the tales of Sunday at the so-called “Lutz Mansion.” Clarkin came of age partying in the Hamptons, which sounds fancy until you do the math on a dozen friends cramming into one weekend house. It was the same idea in Tampa — as much as it could be, anyway.
“In 2009, Tampa wasn’t on the map for anything special,” Clarkin said.
And not much of what happened behind mansion walls was caught on film, or at least not posted. Now, Clarkin pointed out, you have to brace for exposure everywhere. Even doorbells are watching.
Select photos and videos from the House of Hennessy era survive online. There they are, revelers in oversized suits and tube tops, monokini-clad pole dancers on the pirate ship, celebrity guests showing off Hennessy Celebration Hi-Tops, a party favor.
“You need to be here,” says the erstwhile Fresh Prince partner DJ Jazzy Jeff in a promo video. “It’s incredible.”
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How did athletes and rappers find this far-flung Hillsborough County acreage? Eric and Lisa White, owners of Whitewater Pools and Spas, did not return my call, though the receptionist was friendly and knew exactly the house I was talking about.
I pieced together the history through archives:
The Whites built the five-bedroom, 4,700-square-foot home on a dead-end road near Cheval in 2007. They created the ultimate showcase pool, 120,000 gallons with a 45-foot water-shooting ship and an alarmingly lifelike sculpture of a captain. The hull is a secret, air-conditioned hideaway with a couch and TV. Ahoy?
In 2009, the Whites put the house on the market. When it didn’t sell, they decided to rent it for events. A Super Bowl 43 sponsorship with cognac brand Hennessy drew 1,000 guests. Soon after came Sunday afternoon Extreme Rehab Mansion Parties with 93.3 FLZ broadcasting live. That sentence exudes 2009.
And you guessed it, an anonymous complaint quickly came to Hillsborough County Code Enforcement. Zoning citations followed. The party promoters moved things to a Days Inn on Dale Mabry Highway.
These days, international basketball player Kyle Swanston owns the house. He downplays the old Hennessy connection. He is sponsored by — wait for it — Tito’s Handmade Vodka. He’s had a few bottle service parties at the house but found event permitting too cumbersome.
Swanston renovated the property, which Fair said was rocking partially carpeted walls and gold ceilings. He added $100,000 in new appliances and wired the electricity through an iPad. It now has a crisper, whiter look inside, but the swashbuckling pool remains intact. The home is listed on Airbnb for $2,000 a night.
Orlando couple Joseph and Theresa Madison wandered around the open house. They run Destiny Homes and Hotels and said they buy properties to both live in and rent to other businesspeople. The home’s raucous past was not a selling point for them. But they could see it being a new kind of leisure oasis for a client’s family.
Parties will always find a way in a place like this, locked in the DNA of nighttime mood lighting. The fêtes will look different, more 2022. Peony-drenched weddings. Remote work vacations. Photo shoots for Instagram. Lower-key affairs without radio stations and promoters. More digital, more exposed, more cautious.
This house will always carry a few trade secrets, though, reminders of that 2009 analog energy, the fog machines, the tiny serving trays of cocktails. Here’s one for the road, party people.
Inside, there lies a bottle of Hennessy passed down from owner to owner. Cheers.
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