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Childhood memories still live in home

By chance, a Tampa Heights couple meet a woman who lived in their house as a child.

By CINDY RUPERT
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 22, 2002


It's not that Erika and Tim Price mind having strangers walk through their home. In fact, their house is in the seventh annual Tampa Heights Tour of Homes on Saturday.

But when they met Rhoda Smith at a plant show at the University of Tampa, they were surprised to learn that she had used their bathroom, stayed overnight and even explored the secret cellar under the stairs.

It started with a friendly chat about their ponds, which they discovered had both been designed by Michael Jones of Pondscapes in South Tampa. When Smith asked if she could stop by and see the Price's three-tiered pond, they discovered they had even more in common.

"Tim said, 'We live north of downtown, on Park Avenue,' " Smith recalled. "I said, 'Park Avenue?' Then at the same time, we said '210!"'

Turns out, the Price's house at 210 E Park Ave. is Smith's childhood home. It will be featured on tomorrow's tour, which begins at noon at Highland Avenue Park (2322 N Highland Ave.) and lasts until 5 p.m.

When Smith visited to see what the Prices had done to the place, she realized she couldn't go home again. "The kitchen used to be so tremendously large," she said. "It looked so big then, but it's so small."

By design, the house hasn't changed much.

The second story had been badly damaged by fire and had to be rebuilt, so Tim Price hired a contractor to make it look like it did before the fire. Before he moved in, he also had the plumbing and the electrical systems replaced, which took about nine months.

The worst part of the whole renovation process? "The waiting," he said.

Erika joined him two and a half years later, and remembers being a little afraid of the neighborhood. "It was very run down. There were prostitutes on the street," she said.

But they kept on working, refinishing the window seat in the dining room, doing cosmetic repairs, and stripping and refinishing the cedar closet under the stairs, which conceals a tiny cellar.

Smith remembered the cellar and the tennis court and the garage with the upstairs apartment that used to be in the back yard, and the guava tree that a cold snap had killed.

She was happy to see that the mango and Japanese plum trees are still there. "The kids in the neighborhood love them," Erika said.

Smith did too, as a child. Her parents, retired oral surgeon Leon Schwartz and his wife, Charlotte, have been by to check out the old homestead. So has Charlotte's sister, Minnie Salsbury.

Smith's grandparents, Daniel and Annie Cracowaner, bought the 1913 two-story California-style bungalow in 1920. Smith, her parents and her sister moved in with her grandparents while the family was building a new home on Davis Islands. They lived in the Tampa Heights home until Rhoda was 5.

In 1964, the family sold the house. Tim bought it in 1990, becoming one of the pioneers of the Tampa Heights rebirth.

"There's some beautiful homes in the suburbs, but they don't have half the character these do," he said.

Neither he nor Erika had ever renovated a home before.

But they share a soft spot for history.

In the entryway are old house photographs, gifts from Charlotte Schwartz. In the yard are some of the plants Smith recalls from her childhood.

The Prices also laminated newspapers they found crumpled up as insulation in the walls. One 1913 edition of the Tampa Daily Times advertises lots in Hyde Park for $600. The Smiths aren't buying.

"I'm here for the duration," Tim Price said.

* * *

WHAT: Seventh annual Tampa Heights Tour of Homes, including food, music and trolley rides.

WHEN: Saturday, noon to 5 p.m.

WHERE: Highland Avenue Park, 2322 N Highland Ave.

QUESTIONS? Call 307-0007 or visit www.tampaheights.org.

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