Couple stays true to 1920s look in restoring home of man who helped build Davis Islands

Published August 8 2018
Updated August 8 2018

A piece of Tampa history almost disappeared in 2010.

The architecture of the house on Davis Islands had landed it on the National Register of Historic Places. What’s more, it was home to one of the community’s founders.

Still, the building at 36 Aegean Ave was in such poor shape that real estate agents suggested demolition.

"A tree was growing into the dining room," said Brian Whitney, who now owns the property. "It was a tear down for sure."

But Whitney bought and restored the place because he was fascinated by its history.

Now, the house is for sale. But before it changes hands, Rodney Kite-Powell, curator at the Tampa Bay History Center, stopped by this week to thank Whitney and his wife Melissa for taking on the project.

Counting the four bedrooms and three-and-a half bathrooms, plus a full guest house, the structure stretches across 3,701 square feet. It is listed for sale at $1.3 million.

But when it comes to historic importance, Kite Powell said, the property is priceless.

"We cannot lose our history," he told the Whitneys while touring the house. "You did the right thing in saving it."

The Whitneys were under no obligation to save the home or even preserve the 1920s look. Designation on the National Register means only that the federal government has determined a place illustrates and interprets the heritage of the United States.

The designation does not forestall demolition or modernization. Only historic designation through the city of Tampa provides such protection locally and the city has not granted this status to the Aegean Avenue property.

The Whitneys paid $315,000 for the house and spent another $450,000 for the restoration. The roof needed repairs and the original arched windows had to be restored.

They were able to save the original wood-support archways throughout the house, as well as the front door, the stucco walls and the fireplace. Just about everything else in the interior — such as the stairs and wooden floors — had to be replaced. The couple remained faithful to the 1920s look in making the changes.

"We wanted it to look as it did when the first owner was here," Whitney said.

The first owner was Lauriston "Lauri" Moore, who moved to Tampa from Jacksonville in 1924 to work as secretary-treasurer for D.P. Davis Property — the company developing what would become Davis Islands.

A year later, Moore’s home was complete. His boss D.P. Davis lived two doors down at 32 Aegean Ave and their office was a short walk away, now the location of a Seaborn Day School.

Davis had the vision for creating the suburban community south of downtown Tampa that bears his name. But it was Moore who turned the vision into Davis Islands.

"D.P. Davis wasn’t there for the whole development, but Lauri was," Kite-Powell said. "So his connection with Davis Islands is far greater than D.P. Davis’ connection."

By 1926, with financial woes threatening the project, engineering company Stone & Webster agreed to buy and finish Davis Islands.

The new regime kept just two employees — a secretary and Moore, who was named island manager.

"Lauri ran the island for 20 years," Kite-Powell said.

During that time, he oversaw land sales and the creation of a permanent bridge, a pool and a tennis club, making sure all homes were designed with the Mediterranean Revival look that defined Florida developments in the 1920s — the state’s first modern real estate boom.

"The island’s guidelines said you had to build something in that scheme," Kite-Powell said.

The style includes the red tile roofs, arched windows and wrought-iron balconies that landed Moore’s home on the national registry. Its architect, Martin Luther Hampton, designed more than a dozen structures that have made the list. They include another four on Davis Islands — a house at 36 Columbia Drive, the Bay Isle Commercial Building, the Palmerin Hotel and the Spanish Apartments.

Of Hillsborough County’s 93 entries on the National Register, 23 are on Davis Islands. The list includes entire historic districts like those in Ybor City and West Tampa, two places that also carry locally protected designations.

A district counts as one place on the register.

Kite-Powell suggested it is time to consider giving historic status to the northern end of Davis Islands, where the Moore home and the community’s other early homes are located.

"Davis Islands is frustrating from a preservation standpoint because it isn’t protected," Kite-Powell said. "We’re lucky (the Whitneys) wanted to save Lauri Moore’s house."

Contact Paul Guzzo at [email protected] Follow @PGuzzoTimes.