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Old is beautiful

Live in the past, and maybe feel a tinge of envy, Saturday on a tour of historic gems in Tarpon Springs.

Published March 23, 2007


TARPON SPRINGS - The sprawling vintage Victorian on Spring Bayou once stood vacant for 14 years, its owner said. Wallpaper curled off the walls, the fireplace was painted a garish red and black, and plastic curtains dangled from the windows.

Now the house on S Spring Boulevard has been restored to its original grandeur and enhanced with a 20th century addition.

On Saturday, the mansion's decorative doors will swing open as part of the Tarpon Springs Area Historical Society's spring tour. Five historic homes and a church - home to the city's oldest congregation - will be on display for the society's 40th anniversary celebration.

Though the styles range from turn-of-the-19th century Victorian to Craftsman bungalow, all have faced threats, be it hurricanes, bulldozers, termites or neglect.

"Each structure on the tour has faced some tragedy or threat to it, and all have been rescued," said Judy LeGath, historical society curator.

Tickets are $12 for historical society members and $15 for nonmembers. Proceeds will benefit the society's programs, activities and exhibits.

Edwin Knapp, a hardware magnate from Kansas, built the Victorian home in the mid 1880s.

Though its crescent-shaped exterior reflects the graceful lines of the era, the interior is quite masculine with angular rooms, large, chunky hardware and generous use of dark wood trim.

"Thirty-seven varieties of Florida hardwood were used in this house," said Lysa Scholl, who owns the home with her husband, Don. "Some varieties are now extinct."

Don Scholl bought the house in 1975 and spent three years having it renovated.

Next door is a home built around 1916 that once belonged to the prominent Thomas Coburn family. It had recently become an eyesore among the well-maintained homes of the Golden Crescent neighborhood.

Its current owners, Louise and Tod Eckhouse, wanted to demolish it.

"Initially I wanted to tear it down, but because it was in the historic district and not condemned, they wouldn't let me," Louise Eckhouse said.

Now she is thankful.

The couple invested about $450,000 and turned it into the home of their dreams, a stylish Craftsman-style bungalow that fits their lifestyle.

One of the homes on the tour is now a museum. The Safford House once belonged to Anson P.K. Safford, one of the founders of Tarpon Springs.

Originally the structure was a one-story unpainted home built on the water around 1883. When Safford and his family moved in, they added a second story. His sister, Mary Jane Safford, was the first female practicing physician in Florida. When the siblings died in 1891, Safford's widow moved the home and turned it into a boardinghouse.

It was slated for demolition in the 1970s but saved and placed on the National Register of Historic places; in 1994, it was donated to the city.

"It was a code enforcement nightmare. The board of commissioners was reluctant to take it," LeGath said.

More than $700,000 in preservation grant money was used to restore the structure, and now the Safford House shines as an example of late 19th century Florida architecture.

The Unitarian Universalist Church of Tarpon Springs is footsteps away. Established in 1885, it was the city's first church. A fire took the original structure. It was replaced by the current one on Read Street. In 1918, a hurricane blew out the windows of the tiny church.

"It was during World War I and you couldn't get stained glass windows from Germany," said docent Gene Hassler. Artist George Inness Jr., son of the famous American landscape artist, came to the rescue by donating 11 of his massive landscape paintings, which now beautify the windowless sanctuary.

The home of Genny McDonald and Jim Schlaf was built in 1925. Its front porch is made of heart pine, she said. Currently enclosed, the wood was exposed to the elements for 30 or 40 years, she said, "yet it's still in great condition."

The fifth home on the tour is a charming cottage built in the 1920s that later became a boutique on Lemon Street.

When Laurie Sullivan heard that the bungalow with the sloping roof, wide, sheltering porch and broad pillars was going to be torn down for a parking lot, she decided to save it.

Sullivan paid $1,000 for the home with no kitchen and one toilet, nearly $50,000 to have it moved, and another $50,000 for the lot on Grand Boulevard.

"I had to move doors around and put in a kitchen - it was quite a challenge," she said. "It's made of Southern pine and it's so hard, they broke some saws."

Was worth all the trouble?

"To know you've saved a house and it turned out this nice, well, yeah, it was definitely worth it."


Tour of homes

The Tarpon Springs Area Historical Society presents its spring tour of homes from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

Tickets are $12 for society members, $15 for nonmembers. Purchase in advance at the Depot Museum, 160 E Tarpon Ave. On Saturday, buy tickets at the Depot Museum and at the Safford House, 23 Parkin Court.

For information, call (727) 943-4624.

[Last modified March 22, 2007, 23:03:04]

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