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Should historic neighborhood get hip?

Tampa officials say they want residents to decide whether the district should take a more modern turn.

© St. Petersburg Times
published March 15, 2002

Should Hyde Park keep up with the times -- or become a time capsule?

The debate is on, and Tampa officials say they want residents to decide.

If modernists win, the city will continue to let residents build contemporary homes in Hyde Park, as homeowners do in the historic districts of Charleston, S.C. and Savannah, Ga.

But if preservationists prevail, the city could tighten the rules to freeze Hyde Park in a particular time period, as authorities have done in Revolutionary War-era Williamsburg, Va., and 1920s art deco-style South Beach.

Homes in those places are preserved in vintage condition, like antique furniture or classic cars.

About two-thirds of Hyde Park's homes date from 1886 to 1933, said Del Acosta, administrator for the Architectural Review Commission, which regulates construction in Hyde Park.

The commission is considering requiring Hyde Park homeowners to make any new homes, renovations or additions look as if they were built in that era.

Applause broke out at the first public hearing last week when preservationists said that contemporary homes look out of place in Hyde Park and that those who want to build them can find plenty of sites outside the district.

"I think we're stewards of the neighborhood," said Carol Timberlake, who moved to Hyde Park from Denver four years ago.

Others don't want any more city regulations.

"If I had wanted to live in a gated community and be dictated to, I would have moved to one," said 28-year resident Trisha Davies, who had problems with the city when she put up a garden trellis in her Hyde Park yard without permission.

Physician Catherine Cowart also is gun-shy of the city's architectural rules. "Architecture by committee" made her new house look unbalanced by requiring that her garage face the side yard instead of the front, she said.

"We need to retain the historic district, but the regulations need to be interpreted with a certain degree of flexibility so that the houses conform with the general architectural style of the district," said Peter Dawson, who lives in a 12-year-old Hyde Park bungalow designed to look like the 1930s.

The freeze wouldn't affect residents doing regular maintenance or repairs on their homes, only those building new homes or additions, according to architect Bert Thomas, a Hyde Park resident since 1956.

But building new houses with new materials to look like historic houses would be like putting a replica of the Statue of Liberty in Hillsborough Bay, said architect Roger Grunke. It would detract from the original.

Hyde Park could even end up looking like Celebration, Disney's planned "historic" community, he said. "There's nothing authentic about it."

The Architectural Review Commission and the Tampa City Council will review residents' comments before the council votes on revisions to the historic district's 14-year-old architectural design guidelines later this year, Acosta said.

Residents who wish to speak up should e-mail Anna Thomas of Hyde Park Preservation Inc. at or Jeanne Holton of the Historic Hyde Park Neighborhood Association at with their opinions.

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