ADVENTURES IN HISTORIC RESTORATION
Several years ago I purchased a Victorian house in Tampa Heights, a historic neighborhood near downtown Tampa, Florida. This is the story of the restoration of this charming house.
The Style- Folk Victorian
These houses, built for the working-class or middle-class, mimic other styles such as the Queen Anne- the house you picture when you think of a Victorian. They feature porches with large, turned columns and an L-shaped or gable-front plan. In the South, they were roofed in metal.
Prior to the Machine Age, craftsmen worked by hand with simple tools. Their products were made slowly and were priced beyond the reach of all but the very wealthy. Aided by machine, craftsmen could produce goods quickly and in abundance. With the coming of the railroad, these goods were transported widely. For the first time, the common man could own items of luxury, such as “gingerbread.”
Home builders often simply added trim and ornament to traditional folk houses. Older folk homes were often updated with new ornamentation, recently available everywhere thanks to pattern books and the mass production and sale of wood features.
This home was relocated from another area to make room for the expansion of the I-4. It had been in a National Historic District and such a designation prohibits the destruction of properties in federal projects. Unfortunately, the designation does not prohibit neglect- decades of total and devastating neglect.
When I purchased it, the house was just a shell. Once a modest, single family home to a cigar packer, then a tax collector, then a conductor, it had suffered through being chopped into a duplex and then abandoned as the freeway came plowing its way through our city’s oldest neighborhoods. Never mind the homes that tell the story of our early history, there was progress to be sought, growth to be accommodated and money to be made.
Over the period of a year, I painstakingly rehabilitated, a new challenge for me due to the extensive termite damage. Its original charm lost after years of neglect, it now boasts new real wood siding and a new metal roof. A beautiful new crown of “gingerbread” adorns its front gable. Its screen doors, salvaged from another vintage house are ornamented with fancy replica Victorian hardware as well as more gingerbread.
Tampa Heights, the oldest suburb of Tampa, is located in central Tampa, and is bounded on the north by Hillsborough Avenue, the east by Nebraska Avenue, the south by I-275, and the west by the Hillsborough River. It sits at the edge of downtown and convenient to all parts of the county via the interstate.
Tampa Heights – the First Suburb
With thanks to the Tampa Heights Civic Association
Established in the early 1880’s, the area was named “Highlands” by Thomas Puch Kennedy, the son of one of Tampa’s earliest pioneers. He moved to this area, just one mile north of downtown, helping to kick off downtown residents’ first flight into the suburbs.
While the economic boom gave rise to Tampa Heights in 1883, the yellow fever epidemic of 1887 prompted even more people to move into the neighborhood. Many believed the elevation of “The Heights” made it a healthier place to live and to raise families.
Businessmen and professionals built stately homes, many of which are still standing today, restored and housing professional offices. Working-class residents constructed simple framed homes in other areas. The element common to the “Heights” home was, like most of the South, the front porch. Wealthy or working class, conversing on the front porch in the evening, was common to all. The 1900 winter real estate issue of the Tampa Tribune evidenced the neighborhood’s popularity. Nearly half of the featured residences were located in Tampa Heights.
Tampa Heights’ location, and its access to transportation, has always been a central feature of the area. The Tampa Street Railway Company line located its midway point in the “Heights”. The trolley from Ybor City, and its cigar-making industry, wound it way out to the suburbs of west Tampa. The advent of the automobile pushed the development into major commercial arteries heading into and out of downtown. The community prospered, benefiting businesses and residents alike.
Along with business development, another indicator of Tampa Heights’ prosperity was the construction of several stately churches, many of which you can still see today. One of these magnificent structures has been turned into a high-style residential loft/office suites building, the Sanctuary. Driving by you can admire the lovely stained glass that adorns the exterior.
There were many schools built in the area to serve the growing population. The Michigan Residence (305 East Columbus Drive) built in 1906, now the Lee Elementary School of Technology; Brewster Technical Center (2222 North Tampa Street) built in 1925, was known as the “opportunity school” because of its vocational and career training. Sacred Heart Academy, at (3515 North Florida Avenue) opened its doors in 1931. Jefferson High School (2704 North Highland Avenue) graduated many Tampa dignitaries, including Bob Martinez who went on to become Florida’s Governor.
Many of Tampa’s most beautiful and impressive historic homes can be found in Tampa Heights. A nice variety of Victorians, bungalows and Spanish Revivals have been restored here and they boast a neighborhood association that has made great strides in revitalizing the neighborhood.
The immediate neighborhood of my little house boasts homes built from the late 1800’s to brand new bungalows. Walking down the street from my Victorian you will be treated to a lovely array of architecture and a fine collection of neighbors.
Many of the houses nearby were built in the typical Florida style. Steeply pitched roofs allowed the rain to flow quickly to the ground. Deep porches were favorite spots to sit in the evening to sip lemonade, catch a welcome breeze, and visit with neighbors strolling by. You will find a variety of this style of housing on your walk, some of them 100 years old and some, newly built. Surrounded by towering oaks, they contribute to the charming, old time streetscape of Tampa’s first suburb, historic Tampa Heights.
I was very fortunate to find a buyer for this home who totally understood and loved its beauty and history. She is a good steward and I was thrilled to pass my little Victorian house on to her.