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Downtown St. Pete house up for historic designation

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Published:   |   Updated: May 19, 2013 at 12:26 PM

 The small staff of the Defenders of Wildlife’s Florida division is unpacking stacks of boxes, including a taxidermic bobcat and a fossilized gopher tortoise shell.
 
Despite the building’s uniform feel and overzealous air conditioning, Laurie Macdonald, the environmental nonprofit’s Florida director, likes her new office’s panoramic views of Fourth Street and 38th Avenue North and that its updated wiring doesn’t fry the Internet connection.
The building, though, is nothing like the Stewart Building, which housed the Defenders for nearly nine years.
 
“I just adored that building,” she said.
 
Macdonald and her coworkers moved, in large part, because the 107-year-old building at 233 Third St. N. downtown is facing foreclosure.
 
While the building’s current owner, George Rahdert, is known in town for renovating historic homes, it’s uncertain whether the next owner will be as concerned with preserving what many consider to be a significant part of St. Petersburg’s history.
 
That’s why St. Petersburg Preservation wants the city to designate the building as historic to prevent it from being bulldozed. Friday, the Community Preservation Commission unanimously supported the move.
 
The building has to meet certain criteria to be deemed historic, such as having played a significant role in local history, being connected to a local historic figure or having been the site of a major historic event. The City Council will make the final decision, likely in June or July.
 
If that happens, the city would have to approve major changes to the building.
 
Standing between two low-income apartment buildings on Third Street North between Second and Third Avenues, the three-story, forest green building is one of only a few remaining Queen Anne-style houses in the city. The asymmetrical structure has thick columns framing its large front porch, stained glass windows, shiny wood floors and an ornate fireplace.
 
“This is considered a turn-of-the-century home, so it’s one of the oldest structures remaining in downtown St. Petersburg,” said Peter Belmont, the president of the nonprofit St. Petersburg Preservation.
 
Also known as the Endicott building, after its first owners, the Stewart House was designed by George Stewart, who also designed downtown St. Petersburg’s open-air post office as well as the yacht club, which has since been significantly changed. Walter Henry, the contractor who built it, also designed St. Petersburg High School and Carnegie Library.
 
From 1920 through the mid-1980s, the Stewart House served as a small hotel.
 
Since the late 1980s, the building has housed offices for tenants ranging from massage therapists to lawyers to environmental nonprofits.
 
“It’s a great building for small offices,” Belmont said.
 
It is unclear who might buy the building in the coming months. The new owner could try to withdraw the application to designate the building as historic, but the Community Preservation Commission and the City Council could still push through the change with enough support, said Kim Hinder, the city’s historic preservation planner.
 
When it learned of the pending foreclosure, St. Petersburg Preservation sent the Stewart Building to the top of its long list of properties needing the protection of historic designation.
 
“This is really one to save,” said University of South Florida St. Petersburg Florida studies professor Ray Arsenault, who is also a member of St. Petersburg Preservation’s board of directors. “Absolutely high priority.”
 
Losing the building would be a blow to the character of downtown, Arsenault and others say.
 
“That character is marked by a collection of historic buildings, and downtown is marked by the collection of historic buildings and newer modern buildings,” Belmont said. “It’s a mix, but if we lose all our historic stock then we lose the character that we have.”


kbradshaw@tampatrib.com

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