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2002: The Year in Review

Whatever Happened To ...

By JOHN BALZ, TIM GRANT, LOGAN D. MABE and JOSH ZIMMER

© St. Petersburg Times
published December 29, 2002


Part Two in a look back on stories we published in 2002.

Red tape binds '50s hangout

CARROLLWOOD -- People who are used to seeing the "Doo Wop Cafe" sign in front of the white house on the south end of Hutchison Road might wonder whatever happened to the 1950s fan club.

Although the 4-foot metal sign has been removed from the front yard, rest assured this is still the official home of the "Boppers."

"We still have our friends come over," said Maxine Cabrera.

Maxine and her husband, Raul, turned their three-bedroom home at 15513 Hutchison Road into a social club where people who grew up in the 1950s can hang out, reminisce and dance to Doo Wop tunes.

But soon after the Cabreras were featured in a St. Petersburg Times article in May, they said authorities from the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco paid them a visit and required them to remove the sign.

The Cabreras thought they had a license to run a bottle club. But even though they paid a fee to the Hillsborough County tax collector for a business license, they found out they also needed a state liquor license and proper zoning.

"It's not like we sell liquor or charge admission," Raul said. "It's just friends who come to our house who like '50s music. We have parties where the guests bring a covered dish. But the drinks are free."

The Cabreras have remodeled their home's interior to look like a scene from the 1950s television show Happy Days. They have a jukebox, a Coca-Cola machine and hundreds of memorabilia items from the era. The sign, they said, was part of the fantasy.

Brenda Eighmey, manager of the county's Small Business Information Center, said the Cabreras made a common mistake, assuming they only needed an occupational license.

"Depending on the business, you might need a professional license, which comes from the state, and if it's a home-based business, there might be zoning issues," Eighmey said. "A business might even need to have insurance and be bonded."

There aren't many '50s clubs left these days. Back when swing was king, the Cabreras were known as "Cool Raul" and "Li'l Queenie Maxini" on the Doo Wop circuit. They arrived at all the parties in their pink Cadillac convertible, which they still own.

In fact, the 1967 Cadillac has proven to be a solution to this problem. Whenever the Cabreras are hosting a party, they park the Cadillac out front and attach a 15-foot magnetic sign to the car which reads: Doo Wop Cafe.

"Rather than have to contend with all the rules and regulations, we said forget it," said Maxine, who has been an investigator with the Department of Defense for 30 years.

"I don't want any flak," she said. "If it's against the law to have a sign outside without a license, we don't want any part of it."

A haven for acoustic musicians

LUTZ -- It has been a busy season for "house concert" impresarios Ellie Daulton and Doug Travers , who turn their country home into a spontaneous sound stage on a monthly basis.

For five years the Lutz couple has been slowly building a strong audience of music lovers and a network of performers who enjoy playing in the intimate home setting called "Under the Oaks." And January will be busier than ever.

"We actually have two in January a week apart," said Daulton. "And we're booked all the way through June and into the first three months of the following season."

Musicians Daulton and Travers began hosting top-flight acoustic musicians in their home as a way of bringing artists and fans together free from the smoke and alcohol trappings of a club.

"We just enjoy promoting the people and the music," Daulton said. "Actually, a lot of musicians are seeking me out. I guess it's from word of mouth. I'll listen to their stuff and if it's something this audience would appreciate, then I book them."

Daulton and Travers charge $10 for admission, but almost all of that goes directly to the artist. Daulton takes some revenue off the top to cover the bounty of baked goods, soft drinks and other refreshments that pour from her kitchen.

Whether it's the blues, bluegrass, Americana, country, folk or an eclectic combination, "Under the Oaks" attracts performers from across the country. For example, the Mad Agnes folk trio, playing "Under the Oaks" Saturday, hails from East Hartford, Conn. On Jan. 11, the venue will host Dave Nachmanoff, a virtuoso guitarist and songwriter from California.

When they're not setting the table for other musicians, Daulton and Travers play gigs of their own with friend Terra Pressler. The trio, Outrageous Fortune, does benefit shows at local churches and paying jobs at places like Victoria's Restaurant in Brooksville. "That's been fun," Daulton said. "And we've been doing a lot of jam sessions which are so much fun."

Cat killer on the loose?

CARROLLWOOD -- It had the makings of a sick horror film. Up to 20 cats were said to have been found shot, stabbed, poisoned and mutilated in Original Carrollwood yards over a three-month period.

Information worked its way through the grapevine. Before long, the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office and Animal Services were asked to investigate. A full-scale town meeting was held to calm residents' fears.

"Whatever was happening to the cats appears to have stopped," said Deputy Ann Vaccaro, who was the community's resource officer at that time.

The mysterious killings were first reported in July. No other cats have died under suspicious circumstances since residents held the community meeting in September, according to residents.

Homeowners were convinced that a cat serial killer was responsible, but investigators were unsure. Deputies were unable to determine what killed many of the cats because most owners buried their pets immediately after discovering them dead.

"The biggest problem was getting the police to do anything in the beginning," said Suzan Giunta, who believes her cat was poisoned. "It has pretty much come to a dead trail and I'm glad it did."

Duplex discord

KEYSTONE -- Fighting the government can be an uphill climb, as Bob Haught discovered firsthand this year.

Haught spent countless hours trying to halt construction of a duplex next to his house off Lutz-Lake Fern Road, only to see the building near completion. And Haught is out about $5,000, much of it for attorneys fees.

"I've been disillusioned . . . yet I have no leg to stand on," he said, four months after Hillsborough Circuit Judge James Barton ruled in favor of duplex co-owner Jerry Sampson. "It sits there and I have to live with it.

"I don't hate him (Sampson)," he said. But, "I'm not going over there and take him an apple pie or nothing."

Haught began complaining about the duplex in 2001, telling officials with the county's Department of Planning and Growth Management that duplexes are not allowed in agricultural/residential zones. But Sampson, who is moving three generations of family members there, signed an affidavit saying a second kitchen was not for the purpose of housing a second family. Based on that document, officials allowed construction to continue.

After meetings involving the County Attorney's Office, zoning administrator Paula Harvey acknowledged that a mistake occurred.

But Sampson sued, saying the county was at fault for the half-finished building. He eventually won. Now Haught, who owns and manages rental properties, is left with a bitter neighbor and some minor consolations:

The department no longer is using the affidavit. And the County Commission will consider changing the county's land development code to prevent similar cases in the future. Anyone who wants to build a second kitchen would have to get approval from a county hearing officer.

Unconventional congregation

TAMPA PALMS -- Since opening its doors in October with a blast of unconventional, colorful energy, Water's Edge Church has turned to the task of maintaining momentum.

The congregation has grown to about 100 members, and Minister Tracy Bannister and his team are still intent on integrating "real life and real faith."

"Anything we can do to put creativity into helping people understand our message for the day is important," said Bannister.

At a recent service, which focused on learning to live productively with stress, the church band intentionally lapsed into an off-key, off-tempo tune.

"It was in a horribly played kind-of-way meant to induce stress in the people who were listening," said Bannister. "After about 15 seconds our speaker for the day came up and said 'Stop, stop,' and then asked how the audience was feeling."

After the service a masseuse gave free three-minute massages to church members.

Bannister, a former associate minister in South Carolina, moved to Heritage Isles earlier this year to build a nondenominational Christian congregation. It meets at Freedom High School on Sunday mornings at 10 a.m., but the church also has its eyes focused long-term on a permanent home somewhere in the area.

The church band spent the fall in the recording studio cutting an album that Bannister described as "acoustic pop," and includes a number of original songs.

The three-member Water's Edge staff work from their homes, which are all in the New Tampa area, and the band borrows space in other local churches for rehearsals.

Athlete retires -- to work out

HUNTER'S GREEN -- After beating back cancer for almost 20 years and undergoing an angioplasty in 1998 to run triathlons, athlete and medical wonder Tony Handler will soon say goodbye to New Tampa.

Handler, 63, a business systems analyst with AT&T in Tampa, said he plans to retire in April after 43 years with the company and take up fitness full time.

After running 12 triathlons this year, he and his wife are building a home in an active adult community just outside of Orlando, he said.

The move will give him time to train at a leisurely pace, said Handler, who is now in need of a heart valve replacement, which has sidelined him from competing in Ironman races for the time being.

"I've got to get my body healthy again," he said.

Diagnosed with a rare pancreatic cancer in 1983 and given only two years to live, Handler made up his mind to cheat death with diet and exercise. He survived and surmounted six surgeries and later an angioplasty to unclog a blocked coronary artery.

In the last 17 years he ran more than 170 triathlons -- including his first Ironman at age 61. (The race entails a 2.5-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26-mile run.)

His disease, called Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome, is extremely rare, said Dr. Fathia Gibril at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.

Perhaps two or three people out of 1-million are diagnosed each year with the disorder, which stems from a cancer called gastrinoma.

Now it is time to start taking work a little easier and his health even more seriously, Handler said.

"I'm really looking forward to it," he said of the move and the new community's top-of-the-line fitness amenities and Olympic-size pool. And in a year or two, with doctor approval, "I want to get back into doing the Ironman triathlons."

Boxer needs a benefactor

NORTH TAMPA -- Six months ago, 56-year-old John Brooks was struggling financially while using his boxing and disciplinary skills to keep kids off the streets.

Money is still scarce at his club, which consists of two Bay Area Mini-Storage units off 50th Street and Sligh Avenue. But Brooks plans to submit a bid on a four-unit grouping down the street after New Year's Day, because he has outgrown his current location.

"I'm living on faith," Brooks said. "People keep bringing me kids, and kids come to me on their own because they've heard of the good work we're doing here. We're over 25 kids. We're paying gym dues through fundraising, but somebody needs to adopt me."Maybe a benefactor will appear after seeing Brooks and his team of boxers walking in the Martin Luther King Day parade through downtown Tampa on Jan. 20.

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