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In St. Petersburg, home is a 2-decade labor of love

This grand home was poorly maintained when it was purchased in 1998.
The home of Donna and Felix Fudge in the Historic Old Northeast District area of St. Petersburg.
The home of Donna and Felix Fudge in the Historic Old Northeast District area of St. Petersburg. [ Photo by Brian James ]
Published Dec. 5, 2021
Updated Dec. 5, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG — In the early days of their marriage, Donna and Felix Fudge lived in her native Wisconsin. But he thought it was too cold, so they moved to St. Petersburg, where he grew up.

When it came time to look for a house, she thought most of the ones they saw were “too pink.’' She wanted something more traditional.

They found what they were after on 14th Avenue N between Fourth and Second streets. Two stories, with purplish brick and a green tile roof, the Georgian Colonial-style house had been built in 1924 by a wealthy New Yorker for use as a winter home. But at the time the Fudges bought it in 1998, the neighborhood was rundown and not yet part of the Historic Old Northeast District that is now among the most upscale areas of Tampa Bay.

Figuratively speaking, “it was on the other side of the railroad tracks,” Donna Fudge says. The house itself had good bones but had not been well maintained.

The setting for our December fashion shoot, the house has since been restored to its original glory and then some. The Fudges doubled its size, adding a bedroom, a billiard room, a laundry room and a great room with a fireplace and lofty ceiling. But it was a process that spanned almost two decades, and at one point they moved out for 2 ½ years.

The kitchen in the Fudge home is ready for Christmas.
The kitchen in the Fudge home is ready for Christmas. [ Photo by Brian James ]

Felix Fudge, a real estate broker, was determined that the addition look exactly like the original part of the house. He spent months trying to match brick samples. The glazed terra-cotta roof tiles were no longer made, so he scoured the country for salvaged ones. He also worked in close consultation with city staffers, including Bob Jeffrey of the Development Services Department. Fudge so admired the imposing Doric columns on the front of the house that he wanted to use the same columns all the way around. But Jeffrey told him not to, saying it would “be too much’' and look out of place.

“He was absolutely right,” Fudge says. He also bowed to advice not to expand a balcony.

Almost every object in the house has a story. The gilt horsehair plaster tiles in a den and the great room came from a chapel being demolished on the grounds of a Wisconsin Catholic school Donna Fudge attended. Her father laboriously unscrewed dozens of the tiles, then drove them to St. Petersburg. Much of the woodwork in the den originally was part of the chapel’s altar.

In the kitchen, the stove is flanked by carved wooden cabinets that came from a massive French Hunt Cabinet. A full-length antique mirror in the living room was found in New Orleans in 1940 by Felix Fudge’s mother. Outside by the pool, a metal patio table and swimsuit drying rack once served as radiator covers in the Wisconsin chapel.

The house is filled with comfy furniture and family photos, including those of Fudge’s grandfather, who owned a hardware store; his father, a dentist; and the Fudges’ three sons. Tucked in a chest is a scrapbook that Donna Fudge, a lawyer who represents health care providers, keeps with clippings from when she worked her way through college as a model for Kohl’s, Target and other retailers.

Although the house is now among the grandest in the Old Northeast, her husband says it still isn’t finished. He would like to enlarge the master bathroom, using bricks and tiles left over from the previous expansion.

“I guess we take pride in stepping up and saving the home,’' he says. “It is simpler and cheaper to tear down and build up, and certainly way quicker. A passion of Donna and mine is to restore versus tear down.”

Donna Fudge welcomed Bay magazine into the historic home in St. Petersburg.
Donna Fudge welcomed Bay magazine into the historic home in St. Petersburg. [ Photo by Brian James ]