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Home of Davis Islands developer for sale at $4.5 million, could be razed

The Tampa house is at 116 W. Davis Blvd. on a half-acre lot.
 
This Davis Islands home at 116 W. Davis Blvd. is now for sale for $4.5 million. It was built for David P. Davis, who developed that downtown community.
This Davis Islands home at 116 W. Davis Blvd. is now for sale for $4.5 million. It was built for David P. Davis, who developed that downtown community. [ Courtesy of Smith & Associates Real Estate ]
Published Jan. 16|Updated Jan. 16

TAMPA — While developing the downtown Tampa island community that bears his name, David P. Davis had a home built for himself there. But Davis died mysteriously just months after the residence was completed.

His historic Davis Islands home at 116 W. Davis Blvd. is now for sale for $4.5 million. The 4,059-square-foot two-story house has five bedrooms and three bathrooms plus an apartment above the garage.

“It is rare to find a home in one of Tampa’s most historic neighborhoods that embodies so much history with a legacy that stands as a symbol of the original developer’s vision and ambition for Davis Islands,” said B.G. Holmberg, a real estate agent with Smith & Associates Real Estate, which represents the property.

But the future owner could also knock it down.

The real estate listing mentions that the property can be “divided into two lots, presenting an exciting opportunity for prospective buyers to undertake an extensive renovation or redevelopment.”

The Mediterranean Revival-style house is on the National Register of Historic Places, but that’s a symbolic designation that does not save a structure from demolition. Local historic landmarks are more difficult to raze. The city could force that designation onto the home, but that has never successfully been done.

“It needs a lot of work,” Holmberg said. “There are some structural issues and windows that are rotted. It would take somebody with a lot of imagination and a lot of money who wants to absolutely restore the house.”

David P. Davis was the developer of Davis Islands.
David P. Davis was the developer of Davis Islands. [ Courtesy of Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System. ]

Davis was raised in Tampa but left as a young man to pursue his fortune in real estate, first in Central America and then in Jacksonville and Miami, according to tampapix.com, which details the history of the city through photographs.

He returned to Tampa in 1924 to develop Davis Islands, which was hailed “as the largest development on Florida’s west coast,” tampapix.com wrote. “That development, Davis Islands, made him nationally famous.”

Davis initially lived at 32 Aegean Ave. on Davis Islands and his office was a short walk away, now the location of a Seaborn Day School.

Construction of the home at 116 W. Davis Blvd. began in August 1925 and cost $40,000, according to the National Register of Historic Places. The Tampa Tribune reported the house was ready for occupancy in May 1926.

David P. Davis' home at 116 W. Davis Blvd. on Davis Islands in 1926.
David P. Davis' home at 116 W. Davis Blvd. on Davis Islands in 1926. [ Courtesy of Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System. ]

In October 1926, Davis set sail for Europe on board the Majestic, which was the largest ship in the world and a sister to the Titanic, the Tampa Bay History Center’s Rodney Kite-Powell wrote in a Tampa Bay Times column in 2006. Davis went overboard and drowned during that journey.

“Questions remain,” Kite-Powell wrote. “How did he end up in the water? Was it by accidentally falling out of a stateroom window, being pushed out, or jumping to end his own life? … What pushed him, figuratively, over the edge will likely never be known.”

Howard Philbrook then took over development of Davis Islands and bought Davis’ home, the National Register says.

In 1929, the house was sold to August Van Eepoel Jr., a prominent dairyman whose father, August Van Eepoel Sr., was mockingly called “that crazy Dutchman” for introducing milk pasteurization to the area in 1921. The Van Eepoel family remained in the house through 1947.

“It has a lot of history,” said Tom Van Eepoel, the family historian. “I hope the new owner is someone who is interested in its history and will preserve it.”