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Ozona wants its walls to talk for years

A grant will restore the Village Hall, a building as significant to the town's identity as its carefully recorded history.

MARSHA STRICKHOUSER
Published August 22, 2004

OZONA - The 104-year-old Ozona Village Hall will get a facelift come October.

In early August, the Pinellas County Board of Commissioners approved a $120,000 Community Development Public Facility grant, providing money to historically refurbish the hall so residents can congregate and socialize just as residents did a century ago - but with air conditioning.

The 1,800-square-foot pine building has served as recreation hall, voting place, church and social hall over the past century. Dances, weddings, potluck dinners, holiday parties, graduations and meetings at the hall are all a part of the village's collective memory.

In 2001, Pinellas County declared Ozona, the coastal village that lies between Dunedin and Palm Harbor, a historically significant community and the Village Hall a historically significant structure.

The building was first conceived in 1900, when the Ladies of Ozona held oyster dinners to raise funds to build the structure.

"They would probably be thrilled to know their building made out of pine even survived 100 years," said Peg Mahara, president of the Ozona Village Improvement Society. "The ladies would also be amazed that their dream is still our dream."

Mahara, who has lived in Ozona for 22 years, called the building "our legacy for the 21st century."

"It's our chance to restore a treasured wooden structure. We're thrilled. We can hardly believe we're getting this," she said. "It's had a tremendous impact on our community and our chance to make a difference."

Mahara said this is the first time public money has been put into the effort to keep up the hall. Until now, the hall has trudged along on the kindness of neighbors.

A "Windows of Opportunity" program in 2002 allowed residents to adopt windows for $100 so they could be repaired. And over the years, the hall has received help from a local carpenter, retired electrician and next-door neighbors who mow the yard and provide maintenance. One couple donated ceiling fans and another installed them. Donations and OVIS dues have helped replace some stairs and doors and refurbish the restroom floors.

Architect Robert Philippi of St. Petersburg started last year to review the building, making the 12-page report and recommending a budget for improvements. Structural engineer Scott Martinez worked on the project and provided observations and assessments in a comprehensive report.

The grant money will go toward such efforts as fixing exterior walls that are out of plumb; replacing leaky, moldy metal roofing; replacing the kitchen ceiling; installing air conditioning; and making the restroom compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, among other needed repairs, restorations and additions.

The hall is emblematic of Ozona's pride in its storied past. Although the village has grown to 500 homes and 3,000 residents, the Village Hall and the post office are still the two main outlets for socializing. It's a village where bikes and golf carts provide alternative transportation, and newly built million-dollar Key West-style homes sit next to 1950s-era ranch homes.

"We have our own identity and we like that," Mahara said.

OVIS board member Terry Fortner has lived in Ozona for 20 years, but her roots go back further than that. Her grandmother, Myrtle Scharrer Betz, is somewhat of a legend. Betz is known to be the first inhabitant on Caladesi Island and wrote the book, Yesteryear I Lived In Paradise.

Fortner, who said she loves the community feeling in Ozona, is grateful for the residents who keep up the hall.

"I value that there are people from every walk of life here," she said. She keeps the Ozona Old Timers Survey from May 1998, when past and present residents were invited to share memories and log histories in a village timeline.

Names and stories in Ozona don't die. They are written down and saved in scrapbooks by the village historian. Postmaster names are posted in the post office on Orange Street, the other leading social hall of the village.

"We want to remember the people who lived here, the keeping of the history and the passing on of the history," Fortner said.

OVIS will meet Aug. 25 at 7:30 p.m. at the hall at 41 Bay St. to discuss restoration plans. The hall will officially close to the public the day after the village's old-fashioned Christmas party on Dec. 14.

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