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No new home for three old houses

With no one wanting to pay to move them, two ailing houses with a past will be demolished. A grant is sought to move a third.

By BRIDGET HALL GRUMET, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 16, 2002


INVERNESS -- The three houses have been part of the downtown landscape for the better part of a century, quaint reminders of what Old Florida looked like before the retirement communities and pink lawn flamingos moved in.

Local notables such as former Sheriff E.P. Graham, the first Inverness resident to get electricity in 1913, once hung their hats in these homes.

But over time, termites and water damage moved in, too. Even as First Baptist Church of Inverness used the buildings recently for Sunday school classrooms and storage, the land beneath became more valuable than the ailing structures on top.

With the church's sale of these properties to Citrus Memorial Hospital closing July 15, the city gave its reluctant blessing last week to demolish the red cabin at 302 W Grace St. and the beige home with wrought iron brackets at 102 S Seminole Ave.

Church attorney Jim Neal said the hospital is holding out hope that it can find a grant to move the oldest of the three houses, the white wood-frame house at 108 S Seminole Ave. The home was built around 1905 by then-Crystal River Mayor Henry Brooks and later occupied by Graham.

But all three homes will have to go, one way or another, to make way for Citrus Memorial, Neal said.

The 171-bed hospital has no specific plans for those properties now, spokeswoman Rebecca Martin said. With an open heart surgery center on the way and a growing population to serve, however, the landlocked hospital will need the space for something.

Church and hospital officials hoped to avoid tearing down these pieces of old Inverness. They worked with the Citrus County Historical Society for months trying to find these houses a new home.

The houses were free for the taking, but the new owners would have to pay to move the structures to another site.

That was the rub.

The red cabin on W Grace Street, one of the Connor's Court bungalows built in the 1920s by then-clerk of courts Claude Connor, has termite damage in the living area, floor boards and crawl space, according to an exterminator's report from October.

Termites and water damage are also wearing through the floor beams in the 1936 beige house, a one-story home that has been moved twice over the years before landing behind the Citrus Times office.

And even the white house, the one officials still hope to save, has rotting door joints and damaged floor beams.

Frank Pullen, a building contractor who inspected all three houses recently, concluded the damage is too great to move any of the buildings.

"At first people are interested because it's a free house," Neal said. "When they really start to investigate them, it's a problem. It's just not cost effective to do."

Because the houses sit on the city's list of historic properties, they cannot be moved or demolished without the approval of the Architectural/Aesthetic Review Committee. The volunteer board approved the requests Thursday to tear down two houses and move the third.

"I think it's a shame that the houses were allowed to get in such a state of disrepair that it's financially unfeasible to even move them," board member Winston Perry told the Times. "I would like to save as many old houses as we can, but when they're beyond repair, they're beyond repair."

Unfortunately, Perry added, that's becoming a more common scene in Inverness.

The 1926 Valerie Theater across from the historic courthouse deteriorated for years until Perry and his wife, Andrea, bought it in December 2000 with plans to restore it.

The two-story home at 105 W Grace St., once an example of early 1900s architecture with its elliptical rose window and gingerbread railings, now sits boarded up and abandoned. After discovering the home was on the historic list, the city halted the owner's plans last August to demolish the house as part of a firefighter training burn.

But now members of the Architectural/Aesthetic Review Committee are urging city Development Services Director Hilbert Staton to help owner Joanne Palmieri tear down the eyesore.

And in recent years, other old houses have given way to Citrus Memorial Hospital's expansions.

Perry worries that Inverness loses a piece of its charm and identity each time a historic building deteriorates beyond repair.

With rotting floors and other damage, however, these three homes with a past don't have much of a present or future.

In one of the homes, Staton told the Architectural/Aesthetic Review Committee last week, "when you stepped on the flooring, you were fearful you might end up in the crawl space."

"And no one wants them," board member David Arthurs said.

"That's the real problem," Staton replied.

-- Bridget Hall Grumet can be reached at 860-7303 or bhall@sptimes.com.

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