The fate of the so-called “Kellogg mansion” was sealed.
The sale of the nearly century-old landmark home on Dunedin’s Buena Vista Drive closed in June for $4 million. The long-filed demolition permit to knock it down was recently approved.
After multiple stalls and starts, the mayor of Dunedin, the seller and the home’s buyers signed a contract allowing the city to first take a number of fixtures, statues and other pieces the owners say are worth at least $100,000.
After that, it was all to be knocked down, even the smaller guest house, which preservationists briefly considered moving to a new property.
That plan wasn’t a completely satisfying ending for those who wanted to save the quirky home once owned by W.K. Kellogg of corn flakes fame, and which served as a Marine officers’ barracks during World War II. But it was practical, and as preservationists conceded, better than nothing.
The city could auction the salvaged items to fund the Dunedin History Museum and future preservation projects. The new owners got a guarantee the city would not designate the Kellogg home as historic, preventing them from knocking it down to make way for a new one on the waterfront property.
Then came one last curveball. When new owner Christa Carpenter, a lawyer who bought the home with her husband, physician David Wenk, arrived at the Kellogg house after getting the keys, she found it stripped of the valuables promised to the city.
Wrought-iron door frames and chandeliers were removed from entryways and ceilings. Statues and fountains in the backyard were uprooted, including a 1,500-pound sculpture of a Greek god. The cage door was gone from the old elevator.
Carpenter said her closing agreement with the home’s seller, Dane Webb, stated furniture and personal items could be removed, but fixtures had to stay.
Webb, reached by phone, would not comment, but in emails to Carpenter and the city, the owners of Tampa Bay Salvage said they had permission from “a person we believed to be the property owner” to carefully remove and sell the items, and thought they were doing so legally.
Carpenter called the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office and reported a burglary. She later filed a motion in Pinellas County court asking that a judge order the items returned.
Tampa Bay Salvage returned some items to the property on Friday, but Carpenter said she expects it all back. A hearing is set for Monday.
“What we feel is that it’s honestly just a terrible misunderstanding,” Tampa Bay Salvage owner Josh White said. “My wife and I are heartbroken about the allegations brought before us, when all we’ve ever tried to do is preserve the historical artifacts of the past. ... We’re usually the good guys.”
An itemized list of 77 missing objects included candelabras, door knobs, doorbells, leopard, elephant and tiger head fixtures, flower urns, dog statues and a large block of marble.
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After Carpenter demanded the owners of Tampa Bay Salvage return the items, the company offered to partner with the city on the salvage operation. Carpenter turned them down.
“I was planning on donating every single thing to the Dunedin History Museum. They were going to get 100 percent,” Carpenter said. “I’m upset that I’ve been made to fight to have the right to give a gift. ... I wanted them to make a lot of money.”
Tampa Bay Salvage says it spent $10,000 on labor and machinery to get the items off the property.
Meanwhile, the city of Dunedin and the museum are waiting to begin scanning the interior of the home to create a three-dimensional exhibit that preserves the mansion virtually, and to begin auctioning the donated items.
The city is not a party in Carpenter’s court filing, but supports it, Dunedin City Manager Jennifer Bramley said.
”We figured out as a community, a way to preserve (the Kellogg home) for future generations through the virtual exhibits, through the auctioning to the benefit of the history museum,” Bramley said. “We’re still working toward that end, but this has made it a lot more difficult.”
Carpenter understands some people are still upset about the demolition of the unique house, but said renovating it into a livable home or museum wasn’t realistic.
“If it was going to be saved, that needed to start 50 years ago,” Carpenter said. “It’s got asbestos, structural issues. It would take a million, two million. It’s an unfortunate situation.”
Carpenter led a Times reporter on a tour through the home this week.
In the carriage house, the round bar still stood with rich leather padding. The walls were covered in murals and visible mold. The air in the main house was musty, and the flower-laden wallpaper was starting to chip and fall off.
Upstairs, an arched window let in natural light. The view of the private dock jetting into the Gulf remained beautiful. Carpenter said the demolition will likely start in a few months.