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A sad place, a home no more

He bought the house in 1985 and has lived in it since. It became a cozy home for him and his. But now the city says it's uninhabitable and must be demolished.

Published March 11, 2007

[Times photo: Ted McLaren]
Safety Harbor officials made Phillip "Vgo" Terry vacate the house he bought in 1985. "Why has nobody spoken to me about the house in the last 27 years?"

SAFETY HARBOR - The little white house with the metal roof was just a migrant's duplex in a Dunedin orange grove a century ago.

In 1924, it was moved to a lot filled with orange and grapefruit trees.

The couple who lived there until recently said they felt like pioneers, with just a wood-burning stove for heat. But local officials say the house is falling apart. Last month they started the process to condemn it and forced the couple to move.

Now friends in Florida's folk music community are coming together to help Phillip Terry and Terri Musgrove.

"There's a bunch of musicians that are going to play," said Jack Bellew, who is helping to stage a benefit concert March 25 at the Whistle Stop Grill and Bar.

Organizers hope to bolster Terry and Musgrove during a tough time.

Their home, however, may be beyond repair.

* * *

Over the years, Terry's house on Third Avenue N has crumbled and rusted to the point that only a faint hue of its blue trim remains.

After a cold snap in February, the city received a tip that it was uninhabitable, and that someone who lived there needed help.

A Pinellas County Sheriff's deputy, a city code enforcement officer and a worker from state Department of Children and Families made an unannounced visit.

They saw holes in the ceiling and floor, broken windows, a bathtub that drained right onto the dirt outside and a gap in a door large enough for rodents to crawl through.

They ordered Terry, a well-known Florida folk musician who goes by the stage name Vgo, and Musgrove, who said she is a descendant of Safety Harbor founder Count Odet Philippe, to move immediately.

Safety Harbor Building Official Danny Sandlin said the structure is beyond repair and probably must be torn down.

Now the couple is upset, complaining that code enforcement didn't take the time to explain the situation fully or even to discuss it with them.

But City Manager Billy Beckett said the city's primary interest was getting Terry and Musgrove some help.

"The conditions present a threat to the couple and a possible broader threat to the neighborhood," he said.

For now, the couple said they like their temporary apartment provided for the next two months by Denise Becker, a nurse who lives next door to the couple, but they want to go home.

"Vgo and Terri, they're good souls," Becker said.

* * *

Phillip Terry, 59, was born in New Rochelle, N.Y.

He said he attended Bard College in Annandale-On-Hudson, N.Y., with Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, better known as Steely Dan.

He and his wife, Janette Terry, moved into the house at 323 Third Ave. N in 1985.

In 1993, the couple, who have several grown children, split. Janette Terry moved to New York and Terri Musgrove moved in.

Phillip Terry met Musgrove, 53, at a Civil War re-enactment event at Stone Mountain, Ga., in 1993.

She had seen him on stage playing the five-string banjo and got a friend to arrange an introduction.

Both are Civil War buffs.

"We like to live in the 19th century," he said.

And they lived like pioneers in the house on Third Avenue. Their only source of heat was a wood-burning stove. They cooked on it as well because their gas stove was not hooked up to the city's gas system. Terry couldn't afford it.

For money they worked as stage hands at the Tampa Convention Center and the Ice Palace, now called the St. Pete Times Forum.

Before that, Terry worked with the city of Clearwater's parks and recreation department as a stage manager and sound technician until a dispute over a lost piece of equipment led to his departure.

Terry and Musgrove played duets on the Florida folk festival circuit with their group Banjos Unlimited.

Then Musgrove got sick.

Terry said doctors who treated her at Mease Hospital and Tampa General Hospital were not sure what she was suffering from. At first, they thought there was a problem with her gall bladder and took it out. But during the operation, a surgeon found the organ to be just fine, Terry said.

Then they told him she had cancer, and that he should prepare for her death.

"Everybody had pretty much written me off," said Musgrove.

Ultimately, he said, she was diagnosed with an abscessed diverticula. Diverticulosis is a condition in which small, bulging pouches form in a person's digestive tract. In Musgrove's case, those sacs became inflamed and infected causing abdominal pain, fever and nausea.

She was in and out of the hospital from December 2006 to the middle of February. Terry was all-consumed with her care.

Now she is on IV antibiotics and under the care of Hospice of the Florida Suncoast. She said she's feeling better.

Terry said he has been unable to work because he can't leave Musgrove's side for long, and she needs him.

Medical bills are closing in on $100,000, but the couple can't pay them. Neither has any income. They are being supported for the next two months by Terry's grown daughter and his mother.

For a while, they said, the condition of their home has been the least of their problems.

Still, they acknowledge the place has problems.

"Stay on the plywood and watch your step," Terry tells a reporter who has come for a tour of the old house. "There are soft spots."

Terry is wearing a black shirt, black pants, a black hat and red suspenders. Books and audio tapes are stacked everywhere in the small, cluttered house.

The doors to the refrigerator are open. Inside it is dark.

He points to an odd-looking window overhead in the kitchen area.

"They didn't like my skylight," he said, meaning code enforcement. "It is a sliding shower door. I figured it was weather-proof."

An old American flag serves as a window shade in the bedroom where the couple used to sleep on a modified water bed.

If you look through the window, you can see Musgrove's 1977 van which looks like it used to be brown or gold.

Terry said he can't drive it anyway because the state took his driver's license because he owed back child support.

From the date of the March 2 letter, he has 60 days to obtain the necessary permits to commence repairs or demolish the house. The city's code enforcement officer, Bob Repp, said it could cost up to $5,000 to demolish the house. Either the city can pay for it and put a lien on the property or Terry can pay for it. But he doesn't have the money.

"They won't let me take it apart," he said. "And I put most of it together."

He can also appeal the city's decision.

Terry said he may sell the property and split the money with his estranged wife, whose name is still on the deed. The Pinellas County Property Appraiser estimates the house would sell for $161,300.

The Rev. Joan Hill, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Safety Harbor, is among those trying to help guide him through this tough time.

A benefit for Terry and Musgrove will be from noon to 6 p.m. March 25 at the Whistle Stop Grill on Main Street.

It will be hosted by the Whistle Stop Back Porch Players, all friends in the music industry who are concerned for Terry.

"We're going to pass the hat for him," said Bellew, who runs the open mike night at the Whistle Stop. Terry, he said, is well-respected in the music industry.

But Terry is depressed.

"We're gone," he said, taking down pictures from a wall in his house last week. "We're obeying the law now. People can look in on us and make judgments."

"We had lives before this," he said. "They don't exist anymore."

Eileen Schulte can be reached at 727 445-4153 or

If you go

Help for Vgo

The Whistle Stop Grill, 915 Main St. in Safety Harbor, will host a benefit at 6 p.m. March 25 for folk musician Phillip Terry, also known as Vgo, and Terri Musgrove, who recently were forced to move from their home.

[Last modified March 10, 2007, 21:33:32]

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