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A historic Tampa home might be razed, but former owners want to stop it

The Davis Islands home used to be owned by the descendants of former Florida Gov. LeRoy Collins.
The property at 418 Blanca Avenue at Davis Islands in Tampa seen on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021.
The property at 418 Blanca Avenue at Davis Islands in Tampa seen on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Nov. 2

TAMPA — The former owners of a Davis Islands home say they had a caveat before selling last August.

“Don’t tear it down,” said Carol Jane Smith, the granddaughter of former Florida Gov. LeRoy Collins.

Her family was emotionally attached to the home at 418 Blanca Ave., which they’d owned since 1974.

“It’s where I was raised,” Smith said. “More importantly,” it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. “That house is part of Tampa history.”

Smith said Ramon and Marylin Perez of Homeworks Builders promised to renovate and not raze the house, but her family did not have that contractually stipulated.

Now, Smith believes the new owners are going back on their word.

The property at 418 Blanca Avenue at Davis Islands in Tampa seen on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021.
The property at 418 Blanca Avenue at Davis Islands in Tampa seen on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

The new homeowners have not requested permission from the city of Tampa to knock down the historic home, but are asking to split the property into two lots so they can build two new homes.

Smith believes a request for demolition is the next step.

“The new lot line would go down the middle of the house,” she said. “So, of course it will be torn down.”

Smith said her family has recruited historic preservationists to help save the house.

“I am alerting all of my colleagues,” preservationist and former Tampa city councilwoman Linda Saul-Sena said. “Do not tear down history.”

The Tampa Bay Times left a voicemail and emailed Ramon and Marylin Perez. They did not respond. Their attorney, John Grandoff, declined to comment when asked if his clients would raze the structure.

Architectural historian Del Acosta agreed the home should not be demolished.

“We are losing our architectural and cultural history each time we lose a historic building,” he said. Still, “it might be too late to save it.”

National historic status is symbolic and cannot stop an owner from demolishing their building. But local historic landmark status can.

Under city statute, permission to demolish any building that is 50 years or older needs an okay from the Historic Preservation Commission. During the public hearing, residents can lobby against the demolition and request it is protected as a local landmark. The commission can recommend that City Council rules on the request if they believe it fits local designation criteria.

Recently, residents attempted to have the Seminole Heights Baptist Church declared a local landmark against the owner’s will. The commission decided it did not fit local landmark criteria. The church was then torn down.

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“It’s tough to force local landmark status on a property owner,” Acosta said. “I am not sure it has ever occurred.”

Typically, a building’s owner seeks such designation to protect it from being demolished by a future owner.

According to its listing on the national registry, the house at 418 Blanca Ave. is historic due to its architecture.

“It was also one of the first homes ever built on Davis Islands,” Saul-Sena said. “That means a lot.”

The 3,400-square-foot home was erected in 1928 “to resemble a large Spanish farmhouse,” according to the national registry and “is significant for being yet another example of the many variations of the eclectic Mediterranean Revival style found in Davis Islands residences.”

It was designed by Franklin O. Adams, “who was the supervising architect” for much of Davis Islands as it was planned, the national registry says.

The Blanca Avenue home’s original owner was John T. Bize, whose father was president and chairman of Citizen’s Bank. At that time, the bank was “Tampa’s leading financial Trust Company,” according to the national registry.

By the early 1930s, according to news archives, the home was owned by William Godron, the brew master at Ybor City’s Florida Brewery, which was then the largest such business in Florida.

In 1937, it was purchased by Frank Mendell, “the president and secretary-treasurer of a local department store,” according to the national registry. He occupied the house until 1974. It was then bought by LeRoy Collins Jr., the son of the former governor and the director of the Florida Dept. of Veterans Affairs.

Collins Jr. died in 2010 when a sport utility vehicle struck his bicycle. His wife Jane Collins continued living at 418 Blanca Ave., but Smith said it became difficult for her 86-year-old mother “to take care of a 100-year-old house. She resigned herself to the fact that she had to sell.”

The Hillsborough County Property Appraiser’s website says they sold it for $4 million.

“We could have gotten a lot more if we marketed it as raw land,” Smith said. “But we didn’t want anyone to tear it down.”

Ramon and Marylin Perez touted their experience renovating old homes, Smith said. Their Homeworks Builders website lists a home on Martinique Avenue on Davis Islands as an example.

Smith said they verbally promised to restore the home and then reiterated that vow in a letter.

She would not share the letter with the Times, but read a portion of what she claims it says. “We would be buying the home to renovate and resell. We started our business doing renovations on historic homes in Hyde Park ... we are well educated on what types of challenges 418 Blanca will bring.”

Smith understands it will be difficult to stop the owners from demolishing the home. She still hopes they reconsider.

“It is so sad,” Smith said. “It will be like demolishing history.”