The guys who grew up in the “Kellogg mansion” have thought of it often since hearing the 96-year-old home at 129 Buena Vista Drive S in Dunedin Isles will likely be demolished.
Tim Matthew, 69, remembers the place had saltwater spigots in all the bathrooms and no air conditioning when his father, Bill Matthew, bought it in 1964. Bill Matthew, who made his money making deals to buy and sell newspapers around the country, spent the next two years installing central air, and the next four decades repairing, maintaining and updating the rest of the old house.
“He was constantly doing something to it,” Tim Matthew said. “Just regular maintenance on that house was running him $100,000 a year. … But the older he got, the wealthier he became, and the more eccentric the house became.”
It was Bill Matthew who added the mosaic tile work, and commissioned the painter Don Ringelspaugh — whose work helped make the Kapok Tree restaurant so over-the-top — to paint murals throughout the house.
The disco he added had a remote control that opened up the ceiling, said another of his sons, Sidney Matthew, 70, of Tallahassee. That allowed guests to party under the stars.
The home is under contract to sell to a Pinellas County physician who plans to knock it down and build a new home for his family, though the guest house, which contains a full bar decked out in dark wood, a game room and a bedroom, might be saved and transported to a new property if a deal comes together.
Some of the home’s history had been confused. Many of the more eccentric flourishes seen in photos from recent years were added decades after Kellogg’s time, starting in the ‘60s, though the footprint of the house has remained the same.
The bedroom Bill Matthew remodeled, which was believed to have used wood harvested from Thomas Jefferson’s estate, Monticello, actually used wood from land known as Pantops, owned by Jefferson’s father. Sidney Matthew did have a friendship with Sean Connery, he said, but James Bond’s rumored overnight stay in the Dunedin guest house never happened.
When Kellogg mansion was new
The Kellogg mansion was built over several years, starting in 1925, as the personal home of Edward Frischkorn, the Detroit businessman who originally developed Dunedin Isles and dreamed of building it into a city within the city.
The founder of the Kellogg’s cereal company, W.K. Kellogg, purchased it from Austin Selz, a shoe-manufacturing executive from Chicago, in 1934.
Kellogg, who was already in his 70s, spent only two winters at the Dunedin home, in 1934 and 1935. His other Florida winter was in 1933, when he rented a place in St. Petersburg.
The Kellogg biography, The Original Has This Signature, states that the “palm-lined shores of Florida beckoned” to the wealthy philanthropist, but in the rare, self-printed memoir An Intimate Glimpse of a Shy Grandparent, Kellogg’s grandson said Kellogg came to Florida in those years partly out of spite.
Kellogg was angry with how the University of California was managing an expansive Arabian horse ranch he’d donated to the campus. The Pomona, California, ranch included Kellogg’s mansion where he’d wintered every year since 1926, but he refused to stay there for several years, his grandson writes, “lest this be interpreted by any remote stretch of anyone’s imagination as an endorsement of the university’s stewardship.”
The book says Kellogg enjoyed Tarpon Springs, where he observed sponge divers through a glass-bottom boat, and was a frequent guest at the Sarasota home of John Ringling, of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
The brief Florida chapter contains one other story from Kellogg’s time at the Dunedin home, when Kellogg decided to hold a telephone conference call with the far-flung Kellogg’s cereal empire to share Christmas greetings.
“While this is a matter of routine today,” the book states, “then it was a pioneering effort.”
The phone company installed special equipment, including a black box mounted in a phone booth off the foyer. The Dunedin home connected with Battle Creek, Michigan, London, Ontario, Australia and Mexico City, but the grandson became “so carried away with the worldwide scope” that he propped his foot on the black box and ripped it out of the wall, disconnecting everyone on the call.
“WHAT HAPPENED thundered W.K. from upstairs,” he wrote.
Kellogg gave the house to his foundation in 1935, according to records shared by the Kellogg Foundation.
On Dec. 31, 1942, the foundation leased the property to the U.S. Marine Corps, and it became part of a base for Marines testing and training on Roebling amphibious vehicles.
The house, according to a 1943 Dunedin Times story, served as the nonmarried Marine officers’ quarters.
The tanklike Roebling vehicles, made in Dunedin, were sometimes known as “Alligators.” Before they were used in combat in the Pacific and Europe, Marines piloted them from Dunedin Isles for practice landings on Honeymoon Island.
The foundation sold the house in August 1946 for $63,500 to William I. and Caroline Nolan. Bill Matthew bought the house from Ethel King, a real estate broker from Hernando County.
“She couldn’t handle the place by herself, or the expense of it,” Tim Matthew said. “It sounds a lot like what’s going on now.”
James Nielsen, an ophthalmologist in Clearwater, purchased the home from Bill Matthew’s estate in 2003. Nielsen died in January. His widow wrote to the Dunedin City Commission asking that it not vote to designate the home as historic.
“My husband and I have enjoyed this property to the fullest, but it is time for another family to have and enjoy,” the letter said. “If this home is given a historical designation, the pending sale (and likely any foreseeable future sale) will not happen. This will negatively affect the value of my home.”
The likely buyer of the home, David Wenk, previously told the Tampa Bay Times that to his knowledge, the current owner had a financial need to sell.