In the 102 years since it was built, the old Rutland Estate has been a private home to some of St. Petersburg’s most prominent families, a ritzy golf course supper club, an illegal school and a top-shelf venue for charity events.
Now, it can be yours for $8 million.
The estate takes its name from Hubert Rutland Sr., a prominent early St. Petersburg businessman who once called it home. It has more recently been called the Rutland-Farley Mansion, since real estate developer Philip Farley bought the property in 2004.
The nearly 10,000-square-foot English Tudor mansion sits on 4.5 acres right overlooking Little Bayou south of Coquina Key and extends from the waterfront to 4th Street South. With more than 400 feet of shoreline, it’s one of the last homes in the city with that much waterfront access.
“That’s a lot of waterfront,” said Realtor Matthew Erickson one of the listing agents with Engel & Völkers. “There’s nothing today that I know of that has that much waterfront in St. Pete.”
The mansion has been so well-restored, a description of the property in a 1935 St. Petersburg Times story about its sale could be used to describe it today:
“The estate is one of the city’s most luxurious and extensive residential properties … the English-type home contains 15 living rooms. On the second floor are seven bedrooms and two smaller rooms. The master rooms each (have) a private bath and the two smaller rooms have an adjoining bath.”
The house is still listed as having seven bedrooms, 12 baths and six fireplaces. The balcony and grand staircase overlook the entrance hall and sconces, gargoyles and paintings were restored to past luster. The home’s ornate interior predates another St. Petersburg landmark, the Vinoy Hotel, by nearly a decade.
The property includes a four-car garage topped with staff quarters, a double-lane lap pool, a pool house with outdoor terraces, an outdoor kitchen, a bocce ball court, a putting green, a custom pizza oven and an outdoor fireplace. The dock includes a lift that can support a 50,000-pound boat.
The entrance off Sunrise Drive S brings visitors through an ornamental wrought iron gate and up a circular-patterned red brick driveway that wraps around a spring-fed fountain and koi pond.
Farley bought the estate 16 years ago for $2.3 million. The real estate developer came to St. Petersburg from Chicago and bought the nearby Coquina Key plaza around the same time. Since then, he’s been involved in a number of development projects including Urban Style Flats, an apartment community near Tropicana Field that went from a home for seniors and the disabled to trendy apartments catering to young professionals in the Edge District. Recently, he purchased the warehouse that housed Brocante Vintage Market, now called Vintage Marche, in the Warehouse Arts District to create a mixed-use space that would include artists’ studios and retail.
Farley bought the estate to be his family home and raise his children who were then 1, 4 and 6. Farley told the Tampa Bay Times that his children are now grown and have gone off to college, which is part of his motivation to sell, but he’s in no rush.
The house has been on the market for about two months, but agents Erickson and Carlina Sarabia said it’s not unusual for a property like that to take two years to sell. That’s especially true since Farley and the Realtors said they want to preserve the mansion. Erickson said they’ve already turned down offers from developers interested in the land but not the history.
“The dirt’s worth more than the house. That’s why we get developers,” he said. “We want to do the right thing for our client and help our client get his best return and at the same time do the right thing because we’re in this community. We believe that somewhere in the world there is a buyer who wants a signature estate that they can put their name on.”
A house nearly as old as the city
County property records date the house to 1925, but newspaper reports indicate it was actually built in 1918. Monica Kile, executive director of Preserve the ‘Burg, said that’s because a fire in 1925 burned city records. She said homes that predate the fire were assigned the construction year 1925.
“Preserve the 'Burg views the home as a historic resource worthy of keeping as part of our community and one that could qualify for local historic designation,” said Peter Belmont, the organization’s advocacy chair.
While the estate carried the family name for more than 80 years, the Rutlands weren’t the original owners. For the first decade and a half, it changed hands a number of times.
According to a 1918 edition of the Times, the mansion was originally built for R.B. Worthington at a projected price of $50,000. In 1920, it was sold to William C. Muir, a Pennsylvania oil magnate, for $100,000. A 1920 Times story said the home was “one of the finest on the west coast of Florida” and that it and its furnishings cost around $130,000, or somewhere in the area of $2 million in today’s dollars.
Muir only held it for a year before selling to Charles Hall and the Victory Land Company. In 1921, Hall told the Times he planned to turn the home into a yacht and golf club for what was once the Bayou Bonita Country Club. For the next eight years, the home was known as Bayou Hall. The estate’s putting green is the only remaining link to its golfing past.
In early 1929, R.C. Villas, a man who was a winter visitor to St. Petersburg, bought the home from Hall.
The Rutland Estate
On Dec. 27, 1935, the estate’s sale from Villas to Rutland made the Times front page. Rutland was, at the time, a well-known businessman in the city. Ad’s for his clothing store on Central Avenue and Fifth Street appeared in the newspaper almost daily.
Rutland had come to St. Petersburg in the early 1920s. Despite the Great Depression, his company and land holdings grew through the 20s and 30s as St. Petersburg became a bustling city. In the 50s, he moved into banking where he was an innovator, the first to bring free checking to the area. His St. Petersburg Bank & Trust Co. and Central Plaza Bank & Trust Co. opened multiple locations and added to Rutland’s large fortune.
He also purchased one of downtown St. Petersburg’s most iconic buildings, the Snell Arcade, and renamed it the Rutland Building. It since has returned to its original name and was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
All the while, his mansion on Sunrise Drive — along with his Manatee County ranch, which was then the largest property in that county — became known as go-to spots for social gatherings. Rutland’s Times obituary said more charity functions had been held in his home than any other in west Florida.
Rutland’s 1935 purchase had included an additional 20 acres of surrounding land that stayed with the property until the late 1990s. The Family sold the house and land in the 80s after the partriarch died. Once again, it changed hands a number of times until it was bought by developer Robert Swain of Clearwater in 1998.
Swain sold off most of the surrounding land for development. Preservation activists fought to keep the mansion and most of the original acreage intact.
In the years that followed, the mansion fell into disrepair and legal turmoil. A Canadian con artist convicted of multiple healthcare scams in the late 90s, Annette Martino, owned the house after Swain and almost lost it in bankruptcy proceedings. After her, Angela Sweet moved in and started a faith-based school in the house without proper permits, amassing a mountain of code violations.
The future of the home seemed uncertain until Farley purchased it. He began a renovation process that added modern amenities, like electric vehicle charging, while taking care to maintain the home’s classic touches.
The Farleys not only returned the home to its former opulence, they also restored its social status, hosting parties, charity events, weddings and more at the distinctive property along St. Petersburg’s shores.
But, Farley said, its mostly been the home where he raised his children.
“We’ve used it for charity events and have helped multiple organizations raise money,” he said, “but other than that it’s just been our house.”
And as the mansion gets marketed around the world, he said he plans to hold out for someone who wants to make it their home. If that person isn’t out there, he said he just might keep it.
Times Senior News Researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.