BELLEAIR — In the late 1880s, railroad tycoon Henry B. Plant began transforming the Tampa Bay area into the tourist mecca it is today.
He ran the first tracks to Florida’s West Coast, enabling visitors from New York, Boston and Chicago to travel by train to the shimmering waters of the Gulf of Mexico. He built grand hotels, including what was hailed as the world’s largest wooden structure, the 400-room Belleview Biltmore in Belleair.
As the area developed, many visitors became residents. Fine Victorian-style homes sprang up near the Biltmore, including one that is now on the market for $650,000.
Shady Oaks, among the oldest houses in Pinellas County, sits on a double lot with eponymous trees and a vast sweep of lawn. Built around 1900, the nearly 3,800-square-foot house has undergone renovations and upgrades over the years but still has its original hardwood floors, decorative molding and imposing stairway.
"It’s very historic, it’s very charming and it’s in a great neighborhood,'' said Hasib Azizi, the listing agent with Premier Sotheby’s International Realty.
Local lore says Shady Oaks might once have been owned by Morton Plant, who took over his father’s railroad lines in the South and was a noted financier, sportsman and philanthropist. During a trip to the area, Plant’s son was seriously hurt in an automobile accident but there was no hospital nearby. He brought a surgical team in by train and pledged money toward the construction of what is now Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater.
Morton Plant did have a house in the Clearwater-Belleair area but one biography says he built it in 1905, several years after Shady Oaks was constructed. Another story has it that Shady Oaks contained office space for a development company owned by the Plants, but that has not been verified either.
Even if no Plant ever set foot inside, the house with its gables and orange-turreted roof remains a picturesque throwback to a more elegant era. It is less than a half mile from where the Belleview Biltmore once hosted presidents and movie stars. (The core of the Biltmore was recently remade into the 45-room Belleview Inn, a boutique hotel surrounded by upscale new carriage homes.)
Shady Oaks has been on and off the market since 2013, about a decade after its current owner bought it for $350,000. If the cost of restoring the house to its original glory proves prohibitive, the land alone is worth the price, Azizi said. In a town with some of the biggest home price increases in the Tampa Bay area over the past year, the double lot offers "potential income possibility for development,'' according to the listing.
"If someone wants to tear it down and build a McMansion, they can do it,'' Azizi said. "If they want to keep this beautiful house, that’s a good thing, too.''