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Loving the lofty life in historic Ybor

More than a dozen Ybor City buildings bear the stamp of Jack Shiver - including his roomy second-story loft that was once a Woolworth's.

By JANET ZINK
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 16, 2002


YBOR CITY -- Call him Mr. Ybor. Jack Shiver has renovated half of the historic district. Fourteen buildings, anyway, including the Don Vicente Historic Inn and the buildings that hold Joffrey's Coffee Company, Blue Shark and The Rare Olive.

One of his proudest moments, he says, was when he was named Ybor City Man of the Year for 2000.

He lives in an apartment on Seventh Avenue perched above Joffrey's.

The parties he hosts in conjunction with some of Tampa's biggest events -- Gasparilla, Guavaween, the Krewe of Sant'Yago Knight Parade -- often spill out onto his balcony where he and his guests indulge in a bird's eye view of the revelry below.

Shiver loves this roost.

"Urban life is the best," he says. "I very seldom leave town. I'm talking Ybor City town."

He can walk to restaurants -- favorites are La Terrazza, the Laughing Cat, and, of course, the restaurant at his inn -- and enjoy peace and quiet on his back patio, where he's training ficus trees to grow in arches around a countryside scene painted on a brick wall.

"I call it Eden," he says of the spot that's filled with plants and comfortable furniture.

The building was once a Woolworth's, and Shiver estimates he spent about $1.4-million to turn the 7,000-square-foot second story into apartments for himself, his mother, Mary Azalene, and his daughter, Tessa. His son, Damon, lives in a nearby warehouse that was converted into a loft home.

The Woolworth's building was the seventh that Shiver bought, and he's lived in it for six years, but he's been down this road before. Shiver grew up in Ybor City and graduated from Hillsborough High School and the University of South Florida.

He worked as a marketer for IBM for years, first in Tampa, then in Atlanta.

"They were sending me to Franklin Lakes, N.J., and I said whoa, I'm going back home," he says.

Shiver moved to Brandon and began accumulating property in Ybor City in 1988, just before the historic district's big boom, funding his investments with money made importing frozen orange juice.

"I fell in love with the historic part of Ybor City and could not let it go. Thirteen years and 14 buildings later, I'm happy I survived," he says.

In the early days, no bank would loan him money to buy and renovate the buildings, but Shiver says he never doubted that Ybor would eventually experience a renaissance. He says he's pleased about the arrival of Centro Ybor, which honors Ybor's architectural heritage and offers an alternative to the bars and clubs that were dominating the area.

"We've metamorphosized from an ugly worm into a beautiful butterfly," Shiver says.

When he bought the building that he lives in, the second story was practically nonexistent, having been destroyed in a fire. To rebuild it, Shiver salvaged materials from his other properties, most notably wood used as shelving and floor joists in the Kress Five and Dime next door.

The heart-pine floors, wood paneling on the living, dining and bedroom room walls and kitchen cabinets are made from that shelving, as was the wainscoting in the hallway carved to look like beadboard. The frame around the door that leads to the atrium was crafted from floor joists from the Kress building.

The stamped tin ceiling and lighting in the kitchen also came from the Kress Five and Dime.

The kitchen sink and iron bath tub in the master bathroom were rescued from a trash pile when Shiver renovated 1601 Seventh Ave.

"My men are fabulous artisans," he says of the six-man team that constitutes Landex Corporation of Tampa Bay, a company that Shiver formed to renovate his Ybor City property. "They've come to be that way because we've done so many historic buildings and they have to be done just right."

Other items in the house were salvaged from different structures in Tampa. Shiver found the marble that forms the kitchen counters when a bank in downtown Tampa was demolished, and the sconces in the living room were once in a south Tampa home that was built in the 1880s.

"I don't throw anything away," Shiver says.

He has a warehouse on Ninth Avenue "full of treasures," he says, that are waiting to find new life in one of his projects, such as the 10,000-square-foot warehouse on Ninth Avenue that he's turning into an office complex.

Shiver's own home is filled with a cache of antiques he's collected throughout his life.

"I hauled it around for years and years looking for this place," he says.

The etched glass windows in the kitchen came from a London bank that was torn down in 1903. He bought a stained glass window, which hangs from the ceiling at the edge of the kitchen, in Paris.

It once hung over two wooden carriage doors that now serve as ornamentation for the fringes of Shiver's living area. His dining room table, which seats 14, is made of church pews from Wales, and he has two pre-Opium War cloisonne lamps from Asia.

In the guest bathroom, Shiver displays a framed Burgert Brothers photograph of the stretch of Seventh Avenue that is his kingdom.

"I have it right at eye view," he says, waving to the toilet. "So when they're sitting here they see it."

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