History on display during V.M. Ybor Home Tour
V.M. YBOR - Home hunting started for Sarah Neely in the suburbs amid populated subdivisions with their cookie-cutter newness. Nothing was the right fit. "That is not me," Neely said. Vintage is more what she and husband Chris Neely wanted. They found it three years ago, when the couple walked inside a turn-of-the-century bungalow in the V.M. Ybor area on Avenida Republica de Cuba. One look and they told the real estate agent: "Done."The 1908 house, on a double lot within national and local historic districts, is part of cigar history with ties to the famed Arturo Fuente family. Research has shown that family members Carlos and Bianca Fuente owned the bungalow in the 1930s. Its style is typical of the homes built in V.M. Ybor as the cigar industry and its immigrant work force transformed Ybor City into the cigar capitol of the world. Patriarch Arturo Fuente had moved from Cuba and opened a cigar factory in Key West in the late 1880s. In 1912 he moved his operations to Ybor City where he joined other factory owners such as Ignacio Haya, J.C. Newman and Vicente Martinez Ybor. On Sunday, the Neely's historical home will be part of the 3rd Annual V.M. Ybor Home Tour along with seven other residences and the city's last remaining operational cigar factory. Among other homes on the tour is a two-story house on 24th Avenue once owned by a reputed loan shark. Financial hardship following his death forced the family to divide the house into rental apartments and, later, it served as a rooming house for more than 70 years. Four years ago the house was renovated and restored as a family residence. Its current owner, interior designer Maggie Enneking, has taken on additional renovations including new lighting and new interior paint. The house's style has been called "four-square" but, she said, "It's definitely not a bungalow." She moved from Atlanta and spent three months looking "for old historical homes, old Florida basically." The tour begins at Academy Prep Center of Tampa. The campus, with its 1908 red brick school house, was formerly the V.M. Ybor Grammar School, the neighborhood's first public school. The restored building will be open to tour guests. The tour also includes a "rest" stop at Home Encounter, a real estate management company housed in a rehabilitated two-story grocery store and brick warehouse on Columbus Drive. Guests can watch a historical slideshow and enjoy deviled crabs and Cuban sandwiches, on sale from Michelle Faedo's On the Go Food Truck. Home Encounters' owners relocated and rehabilitated the grocery store as part of a state highway program to preserve historical structures in the path of an expansion of Interstate 4. The Neelys, who were married in April, also used a state trust fund grant to replace damaged windows in their home with historically accurate double-hung windows. The old windows became outdoor garden decorations. Old bricks discovered under the house and buried in the yard have become a garden walkway. The couple recently bought several 1920s doors, with original knobs, to install in the house, though a couple of doors — including a large, farmhouse style back door — are original. Their vintage house has been filled with antique and mid-modern furniture and knickknacks: a dry sink, old books, a 1970s record player, a Hollywood regency style desk and local art from Tampa and St. Petersburg artists. Vintage has become a way of life for the couple. Chris Neely moved from Melbourne to work as a chef at an Ybor City restaurant but was recently laid off. "It was a blessing in disguise," he said. "I had more time to enjoy our wedding and plan our wedding." Looking for inexpensive dinner plates for the wedding they scoured second-hand shops and became avid treasure hunters. Chris Neely now operates an online business locating and selling vintage furniture and goods worldwide. "We ended up falling in love with the hunt and meeting interesting people along the way," said Sarah Neely.
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