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Neglected beauty gets lots of loving attention

Published June 2, 2006

PALMA CEIA - Perry Foreman knows all about the charms of an old house.

And the pitfalls.

Back in 1996, Foreman retired from the U.S. Army as a senior computer programmer to Colin Powell. He migrated from Atlanta to Tampa because he remembered the city well from his days stationed at MacDill Air Force Base.

When he went looking for a house, he found one: a dilapidated but beautiful 1,900-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bath bungalow in Palma Ceia.

The house hadn't been lived in for years and nature was taking its course. Rats and squirrels had nested inside the rooms, and termites had invaded the walls.

"It wasn't a pretty sight," Foreman says.

But truth be told, he was already smitten with the bones of the place.

"I fell in love with the architecture, the windows, the wide moldings, the hardwood floors, the thrill of walking up the stairs," he says. "It's a thrill you'll never get in a new house."

Foreman bought the house and forged ahead with plans to renovate.

He later learned the bungalow was much more than ordinary. An elderly neighbor told him that the 1910 house originally was the farmhouse for a large tract of land just north of Bay to Bay Boulevard off Bayshore Boulevard. Foreman confirmed the rumor by sifting through old Burgert Brothers photographs and scouring antiquated tax records.

He and his partner have spent the past 10 years giving the house a total facelift, working slowly, room-by-room, as finances and time allowed. They put in a pool, shored up the beautiful front porch, painted the exterior a shade of peach and xeriscaped the front yard with such panache that strangers often stop to pay homage to their gardening skills. But they never embarked on what they knew would be the biggest project of all: the kitchen and downstairs bathroom.

There was good reason for that. Like the rest of South Tampa, the value of property in their neighborhood along Granada Street near MacDill Avenue has increased exponentially over the years. Quaint old houses succumbed to the wrecking ball to make way for three-story monoliths, some without a hint of historic character or too big for the small urban lots.

Foreman watched. And waited.

Should he knock the bungalow down and build something grand and new?

Or should he fix up the sweet-but-modest house he already owned and be content?

Foreman chose the latter.

He says he came to the decision, in part, because of the way friends reacted after coming over.

"So many guests really, really liked this house - they usually say they don't want to leave," he explains. "And besides, I like to be proud of what I own."

So, the most extensive renovation of all will begin this fall, and Foreman figures the work will probably wrap up next spring.

Yes, he says, living in an old house is sometimes a challenge. In the winter, the cold Tampa wind comes whistling through the living room windows. Since putting in a pool, there isn't really room to expand beyond the original square footage.

But the goal, Foreman says, isn't really about size or opulence. It's about leaving "the old girl" in much better shape than when he found it so that "someone else can enjoy it" in 100 years when he's gone.

[Last modified May 31, 2006, 13:57:54]

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