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    Touring gems

    The historical society will display six homes in a guided tour of the city's oldest, and finest structures.

    By EILEEN SCHULTE
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 15, 2002


    DUNEDIN -- It was the Roaring '20s and pre-fabricated homes were becoming as common as bobbed hairdos and beaded flapper dresses.

    Former Dunedin mayor Walter Bull, it is said, wanted to build a newfangled home in this tiny start-up city. So, historians surmise, he looked through the thick Sears Roebuck catalog and spotted an ad.

    Vinnie Luisi, director of the Dunedin Historical Society, isn't 100 percent sure, but he thinks Bull may have mailed away for the blueprints, and eventually bought the house. If this were the case, the house would have arrived in pieces.

    "It was just a model kit," said Luisi. "It was easy, just like a puzzle. You just put it together."

    Whether or not the pre-fab lore is true, there were thousands just like it across the United States and several in Dunedin. The late President Richard Nixon grew up in a pre-fab house that was almost identical in design to Bull's.

    The Bull home, completed in 1925 with a breezy open design and high ceilings, has been modified over the years to include modern conveniences. But in one of its bathrooms there is an original fixture: a claw-footed tub where early owners bathed.

    You can see the house, now owned by Patrick and Kathryn Kane, on Saturday during the "Historic Homes Through the Decades Tour of Homes," a fundraiser benefiting the Dunedin Historical Society.

    The historical society organizes the fundraiser once every two years (this is its third event) in part so it doesn't run out of older homes to include.

    "We've sold out both times," said Luisi.

    Two years ago, "we sold 1,200 tickets," said Melba Rilott, a volunteer for the Dunedin Historical Society.

    The organization made more than $20,000 that year which helped finance a central air/heating unit for Andrews Chapel.

    This year, six historically significant homes circa 1893 through 1966 will be opened up for public display from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Funds will help fund the expansion of the society's building on the Pinellas Trail.

    But back up a minute. A home built in 1966 is included on the tour? How historic is that? Plenty if it incorporates ideas of the great architect Frank Lloyd Wright along with a distinct Mediterranean feel.

    The split-level Arthur Rutenberg house, situated just 175 yards from the first hole of the Dunedin Country Club, is now owned by Elsie Bonnard and George Sullivan, a couple who fell in love with it after attending an open house there in 1998. It is notable for its perimeter hallway with a mother of pearl inlay.

    Then there is the Edgewater Drive elder statesman with its 150-year-old sofa on the sun porch. That house was built in 1922 by city leader Harry Armston during the great real estate boom of the 1920s. While it is only four feet above sea level, its inhabitants over the years, including current owners Vivian and Bob Grant, have been lucky: The house has never flooded -- although the No-Name Storm of 1993 pushed sea water to the top step of the front stoop.

    Other interesting houses on the tour include a 1926 Spanish Revival house complete with butler's pantry and ironing closet, an 1895 Edgewater Drive home once surrounded by 27 acres of land filled with grapefruit, orange and tangerine trees (it is one of the three oldest houses in Dunedin) and the 1893 McDougal Home built by Dunedin pioneers Christopher Bell Bouton and his brother Nathaniel Sherman Bouton.

    The two were sailing down the coast when they came across the city and were enchanted by its beautiful four-foot-high bluff and wide open waters.

    At each home, a docent will guide you through the rooms, telling you its unique story.

    Rilott will show visitors the McDougal home wearing a Victorian dress.

    She hopes they come away with respect for the old houses.

    "I hope they're going to come and spread the news we don't want any other buildings torn down," she said. "That we should preserve what we have today."

    At a glance

    The third Dunedin Historical Society Tour of Historic Homes will be from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. For $20, you can tour six of Dunedin's finest old homes dating from 1893 to 1966. The tour booklet with a map inside is your ticket. They will be available today and Saturday morning at the Dunedin Historical Museum, 349 Main St., Dunedin. No high heels or children under 12. Booties must be worn while touring the homes. Call (727) 733-5751.

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