TAMPA - People began trickling from their homes about 1 p.m. Tuesday when the sound of a two-story demolition crane's motor reverberated throughout a Davis Islands neighborhood.
After months of city hearings, delays, code enforcement inspections and bickering neighbors, a long-vacant, dilapidated and dangerous 4,000-square-foot mansion at 545 Severn Ave. was coming down.
“It's a shame it came to this,” said neighbor Bill Newman. “But it could not be saved. Now the land can be used to build a home that will make a family very happy.”
At 1:15 p.m., the teeth of the crane shattered front windows that stretched top to bottom. But the sound of the glass hitting the ground was dwarfed by the scream of a white-haired man wearing sunglasses and running from his car while holding a hot cup of coffee.
“You can't do that!” he hollered, joking.
He was Norman Bond, original owner of the home in 1971. Though he has not lived there for decades, he admitted he will always have a fondness for it. When he heard the end was near, he rushed from his home in Dade City to bid the place goodbye.
“We had a lot of fun there,” Bond said. “Maybe too much.”
The neighborhood's longtime residents immediately recognized, surrounded and greeted Bond. The demolition turned into a reunion complete with jokes about wrinkles, weight and white hair. It had been years since some had seen Bond and they reminisced about the parties he once threw at the mansion.
The home was designed as the ultimate fun house — a one-bedroom mansion with a tennis court, indoor pool and a helicopter landing pad on the roof. At some point in the 1970s, Playboy magazine officially recognized it as the top bachelor pad in the country.
Neighbors recalled young women jumping from the second story into the pool.
“I had the Baltimore Colts over for New Years one year,” Bond said with a smile. “Boy were they drunk.”
Bond said he bears no malice toward John and Mary Perez, the family who purchased the mansion in 1995 and allowed it to fall into such disrepair.
“They were not aware of the way it was built,” he said.
Because the roof doubled as a helicopter landing pad, it is flat, he said. Rain water pooled when the drainage system clogged and the roof gave way under the pressure.
The Perez family did not live there. Their home was around the corner.
As the vacant structure continued to deteriorate and no repairs were made, neighbors worried about fire, toxic mold and collapse. The final straw was the occupation by vagrants and the partying by neighborhood youths.
In September, Tampa code enforcement officers inspected the building and deemed it so unsafe it needed to be razed immediately. The Perez family delayed the action with the promise of restoration. But in early November, a special magistrate ruled it was not salvageable.
The Perez family paid for the demolition, around $16,000.
The Perez family could not be reached for comment. Their plan for the vacant one-third acre of land is unknown.
“It's probably good those walls came down before they could talk,” Bond said with a laugh. “The stories could get a lot of people in trouble. But that was then and this is now.”
Neighbors are looking to the future.
“It has been unsafe and a haven for unwanted people for far too long,” said Kim Fatica, a board member of the Davis Islands Civic Association. “Hopefully, this will bring peace and comfort to the neighbors who have to live next to it.”