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Indian Rocks Beach marries history with holiday


Times Staff Writer

INDIAN ROCKS BEACH — In one morning, Billy Bie could walk out the back door of his house, do a cannonball into the Intracoastal Waterway, climb up the ladder, get back on land and go horseback riding.

"We rode the horses on the beach,'' "said Bie, 83.

Bie and his five siblings grew up in a boathouse at 81 Gulf Blvd. In 1938, Billy, the youngest, was 4. Ellen, the oldest, was 15. Their father, Norman, a businessman and World War I veteran, realized there was money to be made selling beachfront real estate, and he decided to move with his wife, Rita, and kids from Tampa to Indian Rocks Beach. He bought the boathouse for $300.

"We were only the 11th family to move to the island,'' he said.

On Saturday, Billy and his wife, Shera, will open up the family home as part of the Indian Rocks Beach Homeowners Association Holiday Home Tour. The program also includes several beachfront homes and cottages.

Billy and Shera, who were childhood neighbors and just one grade apart at Anona Elementary, plan on sharing their family memories throughout the evening.

"And we will be making sure people know where to walk. We don't want anyone going for a swim,'' joked Billy Bie.

The boathouse was built in 1912 by Harry Ulmer (think Ulmerton Road) for his boat, the Miss Largo, in 1912. Local lore has it that the structure was also used by liquor running boats during prohibition.

"That's what we have heard but we know nothing about that,'' Bie said.

When Norman Bie bought it in 1938, the first level was a simple wooden catwalk with three boat wells. However, he enclosed much of that level to create his real estate office as well as close off another area for a bedroom. The original second level was one large enclosed room with an open porch. For three years it served as one large living area for the family until Norman was able to build partitions to create a separate living and dining room.

"My mother-in-law cut and hung sheets to give each person their own space,'' said Shera Bie. "Eventually they got the floor on top though.''

The tour will also include a cottage owned by Mary Rose Holmes, a founding member of the Plein Aire Cottage Artists. About 20 years ago, Holmes along with Helen Tilston and Violetta Chandler began meeting to paint scenes surrounding the area's beach cottages, many built in the early 20th century.

"We started off thinking the cottages were going to be torn down due to condo development, and we did not want them forgotten,'' said Holmes. "We just kept painting and painting, and we would also do things like go to commission meetings, not for politics, but to talk about variances and not allowing the cottage land to be permitted for condo use. We did not want to see them disappear. Now, here we are, and so many cottages still exist.''

For their advocacy, the women have been recognized by several historical groups, including the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation, and currently Lynn Marvin Dingfelder, a Tampa journalist, is working on a documentary of their story (part of the proceeds for the tour will go towards the documentary, according to a news release).

Contact Piper Castillo at Follow @Florida_PBJC.