Home may soon be a memory
By CHRISTINA HEADRICK
© St. Petersburg Times,
CLEARWATER -- In the sepia tones of an old photograph, Mr. and Mrs. John Barbour are hosting an afternoon party at the first house to be built on northern Clearwater Beach.
Guests stand in the sun chatting, like a scene out of the Great Gatsby. The Barbours, a New Jersey couple who owned a linen thread company, sit in an old-fashioned fire engine. Mr. Barbour wears a firefighter's hat. Their house, nicknamed the Fire House for its red brick design, stands on the beachfront behind them.
These days, the two-story house at 984 Eldorado Ave. stands empty and overshadowed by newer, grander homes that have sprouted in Carlouel. The brick walls have been painted white, with a turquoise trim. Sickly, bare bougainvillea vines wrap the walls and overgrown bushes hide much of the property. A broken concrete patio table lies on the ground.
The 1925 home's latest owner has applied for a city permit to demolish it. The news saddens at least one local history buff whose family once owned the property.
"A landmark is definitely coming down on the beach, and we have few landmarks left on the beach," said Mike Sanders, a local historian whose book Clearwater, A Pictorial History includes a photo of the house. "I guess the concept of historic preservation is lost on this piece of property."
Ronald Pollack, the owner of the property, could not be reached for comment. He acquired the Fire House in March 2000, along with the house to the north of it, for a total of about $3.3-million, county records indicate.
Pollack's attorney, Tim Johnson of Clearwater, said he has no idea what his client plans to do with the property. Johnson said he doesn't know if Pollack is aware of the historical significance of the house. The decision to demolish it was prompted by the city, which cited the house as an "uninhabitable and dangerous" structure last week, Johnson said.
Once a house is so posted, the owner has a week to decide whether to demolish it or begin repairs. City officials say they posted the house after neighbors complained that drunk beach bums were breaking into it at night. City inspector Bill Wright checked out the property and found open wiring, broken glass and an overgrown yard.
"It was abandoned," Wright said. "He could have rehabbed it if he wanted to, but he decided to tear it down."
The house was built by Ged Nelson, who owned an ice plant in Clearwater, Sanders said. Aerial photos show it was the first home on north Clearwater Beach. Because of the risk of flooding, most of the living space was designed to be on the second floor, Sanders said.
In the 1930s, as small cabanas began appearing on the beach, the Fire House was purchased by the Barbour family, who ran the Barbour Linen Thread Co, Sanders said.
Then after the start of World War II, Sander's grandfather, the late Larry Dimmitt Sr., purchased the home. Dimmitt, founder of a chain of local car dealerships, put his stamp on the house, trying out solar panels to generate heat, extending the front of the house for a two-car garage and adding a wing with a new master bedroom.
But what Sanders remembers most vividly are those Sunday night dinners. Every Sunday meant dinner with his grandparents, who went by their nicknames, Nannie and Potsie, Sanders said.
Mr. Dimmitt would tell adventure stories, such as how he had been in the California gold rush of the early 1900s. Mrs. Dimmitt had a card room, where she invited people to play bridge. Sanders and a cousin jumped out of the house's dumbwaiter one time, to surprise their relatives who had been expecting a turkey dinner.
During afternoons at the house, Sanders said, the Gulf of Mexico was always there for a swim, and the water was much closer to the house and deeper than today. The ground floor of the Fire House included several outdoor changing rooms, with striped towels, soap and showers in them.
The house was sold as the Dimmitts' estate was being settled, said Dimmitt's son, Larry Dimmitt Jr., 87, who was reached in North Carolina. It was owned by a doctor and then purchased by Pollack.
Dimmitt said he remembers pulling fried chicken dinners out of the dumbwaiter and carrying them to cardboard tables set up on the back patio, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, where his family would eat.
And he remembers going swimming with the phosphorus glowing in the water at night.
"I have a nostalgic feeling for it," Dimmitt said, "but if it has to go, it has to go."
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