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A home with many stories

The historic Bishop mansion in St. Petersburg features a spectacular view, not only of Tampa Bay but of its own unmistakable facade. It's now up for sale at $7.9-million.

Published November 26, 2005

[Times photos: Cherie Diez]
The Bishop home, designed by developer C. Perry Snell, is for sale and will be open for a benefit Dec. 4. Our photo gallery offers you a peek inside.

The kitchen of the 8,200-square-foot Mediterranean Revival home has changed little since the Bishops purchased the house in 1939.

ST. PETERSBURG - The three-story white house with the terra-cotta tile roof and sunny yellow awnings anchors a promontory on the south end of Snell Isle, facing Coffee Pot Boulevard. The roughly 8,200-square-foot Mediterranean Revival structure is a landmark along the city's eastern waterfront.

Developer C. Perry Snell had it built in the 1920s, reportedly filling two railroad cars with rare marble antiquities from Italy to be used in the construction of the fifth of his six St. Petersburg homes.

Wally and Louise Bishop bought it in 1939. The two families are the only ones to occupy the manse, which sits on nearly 1.5 acres of land.

The property now is for sale, with an asking price of $7.9-million, more than any single-family house has ever brought in St. Petersburg, or, for that matter, in Pinellas County.

A private residence rarely open to the public, the home will be available to tour next month at a $100-per-person benefit for the St. Petersburg Museum of History.

"It's the most spectacular lot in the city," said Ray Arsenault, a historian and co-director of the Florida studies program at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

"That vista at the end of Coffee Pot (Boulevard), the way it opens up into the bay, it's hard to imagine making that turn without seeing that house. It's so spectacular from the Coffee Pot side. It's just so graceful."

Wally Bishop, an internationally known artist whose syndicated cartoon, Muggs and Skeeter, appeared in 500 newspapers at its height, moved to St. Petersburg in 1928. He and Louise Carson met at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, and they were married in 1936.

Wally Bishop, who also was a well-known pilot and sailor, died in 1982, Louise Bishop in August. The couple were generous philanthropists and early trustees of the Museum of Fine Arts, where a gallery is named for them.

The house has a basement, unusual in St. Petersburg, which contains its heating system. The Bishops' daughter, Mary Joan Mann, remembers taking childhood friends to the "spooky" cellar.

"I had something nobody else had," she said recently. "I had a basement. It was unique."

But "not a thing of beauty," she said. "It's a concrete room."

When she and Sam Mann Jr. were married in 1948, their wedding reception took place on the estate's spacious grounds.

Mrs. Bishop's mother, Nell Wilbur Carson, whom Mrs. Mann calls G-Mama, lived with the family. A Louise Atson portrait of her in the living room shows her wearing a brooch that Mrs. Mann inherited and sometimes wears today.

"We loved the house," Mrs. Mann said. "Three generations lived there."

For years, she said, she and her brother and their families celebrated Christmas with Mrs. Bishop, often having as many as 36 people at dinner.

"It was a tremendous house to grow up in," said Wally Bishop Jr., who lives in Oldsmar. He was a cheerleader for St. Petersburg High School and remembers having friends over numerous times throughout the years.

"I think the strangest thing will be for Mary Joan and me to drive by it and know you can't just walk into the house once it's sold."

Along with the house, Wally and Louise Bishop purchased the marble console table and Venetian mirror in the front hall from Snell, plus another large Venetian mirror that is in Mrs. Bishop's second-floor bedroom.

They enlarged the residence, expanding the sun room and adding a music room.

On the ground floor, in the foyer and living room, Italian tile floors feature ancient heraldic symbols reminiscent of the Crusades. They include swastikas - mystic symbols that predate Adolf Hitler's adoption of the image before World War II.

Wrought-iron gates Snell brought from an Italian palace divide the living and dining rooms. The top of the gate portrays Romulus and Remus, the mythical twins and founders of Rome. Marble flooring in other rooms and a grand marble fireplace with escutcheons bearing the images of mythical griffins are original to the home.

The cedar ceilings in the living and dining rooms originally were painted black and red, too dark for the Bishops' taste. They hired a Mr. Robbian, who had repaired paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, to give it a lighter appearance.

A twisted column of Spanish marble is at the foot of the staircase to the second floor, which has most of the family bedrooms. One was converted to a library; another contains an additional Italian marble fireplace.

Perry Snell designed the third floor as a ballroom. According to notes from Mrs. Bishop, he used it as an attic for storing marble pieces, mostly statuary.

Wally Bishop added built-in desks and a banquette and used the room for his studio. Venetian blinds offer shade from the skylights. Mrs. Mann said her father sometimes drew into the wee hours of the morning, retiring to the adjacent bedroom.

She and her friends often were portrayed in Muggs and Skeeter.

"He drew me with my little skirt up with my underpants showing," Mrs. Mann said, "the white ones with the little ruffles on them. I got pretty tired of having my underpants showing," she said, and she persuaded her father to stop stop portraying her in the strip.

The house has 570 feet of seawall and waterfront views from every level. It has no central air conditioning, and the kitchen is essentially unchanged from when the Bishops bought the property.

It is eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, but Mrs. Mann said Mrs. Bishop did not pursue the distinction. She was concerned that such a listing might prevent any exterior changes, which might be required if central air conditioning were to be installed.

Barbara Dunbar of RE/MAX Action First, the listing agent, says she is marketing the property "as a home to people who would want to remodel or restore it as a home to live in."

More than 150 brokers attended a recent open house, she said.

- Times researcher Mary Mellstrom contributed to this report.

A version of this story appeared in some regional editions of the St. Petersburg Times.


Historical Holiday Celebration cocktail buffet at the Bishop estate, sponsored by the St. Petersburg Museum of History Guild. 7 to 9 p.m. Dec. 4. $100. Information: (727) 894-9394.

[Last modified November 25, 2005, 09:00:07]

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