TEMPLE TERRACE — For nearly 40 years, Art Pepin’s riverfront home served as a party palace for legendary Hollywood celebrities, famous athletes and family friends.
During the past 25 years it has drawn yuletide enthusiasts — some of whom travel from miles away — to see the family’s dazzling holiday lights display.
The New England colonial-style brick house is where Pepin, a Tampa businessman who died 13 years ago, mixed business and pleasure and entertained the rich and famous, among them entertainer Bob Hope, actor Cary Grant, baseball Hall of Famer Stan Musial and football All-Pro Bubba Smith.
But as often happens, good things eventually come to an end.
This holiday season offers the last annual lights display at 1011 N. Riverhills Drive. Nightly until Jan. 2, passersby can see the million or so lights decorating the house, oak trees and palm trees.
The children of Art Pepin, the patriarch of Tampa’s Anheuser-Busch beverage distributing company, and his wife, Polly, who died last year, plan to put the house on the market to sell early next year. The asking price is $2.5 million.
“It’s too much work and too hard emotionally for the Pepin children to keep up the estate without their mom and dad around,” said family friend and spokesman Will Darnall.
Built in 1968, the 6,500-square-foot house sits on the largest estate overlooking the Hillsborough River in Temple Terrace, real estate agent Chris Dixon said. It spans nearly four tree-covered acres.
“It’s definitely one of a kind,” said Dixon, a family friend who will handle the sale.
The six-bedroom, six-bathroom house has a rustic, interior design. Each room is sprinkled with classic Budweiser memorabilia, including a Budweiser piano made of beer kegs tucked in a corner of the family room.
Perhaps its most unique feature is the backyard swimming pool shaped like a Michelob bottle.
When Art and Polly Pepin designed the house, they wanted building materials that reminded them of living up North. Art Pepin grew up in Vermont; Polly Pepin was raised in upstate New York.
Art Pepin hired workers to dismantle two Vermont barns and ship the lumber and wooden beams to Florida for the new house, said J. Paul Pepin, the youngest of the four Pepin children. His siblings are Tom, Pam and Jill Pepin.
“We had our first party here on New Year’s Eve (1968), and the house wasn’t finished,” said J. Paul Pepin, now 53. “We had plywood laid over the floor joists to walk on.”
Looking back on 45 years of memories, the Pepin family fondly recalled their storied time at the house and the famous people they entertained.
“When we came home from school, you never knew who would be here,” J. Paul Pepin said. “Well-known actors would be laying out by the swimming pool. I came home one day and (entertainer) Sonny Bono was on the tennis court.”
A putting green has replaced the tennis court.
Art Pepin, founder of Pepin Distributing Co. in Tampa, was active in the area’s business and civic community. His circle of friends included other captains of industry with connections in Hollywood and with professional sports teams.
Art and Polly Pepin routinely entertained guests. Parties at their house from the 1960s to the ‘90s were legendary.
They drew celebrities such as Glen Campbell, Ed McMahon, Phyllis Diller, Lou Rawls, Howard Cosell, Donald O’Connor, Charlie Pride, Cesar Romero, Peter Graves, Mickey Rooney, pro quarterback Johnny Unitas and author James Michener, who mingled with high-society Tampa residents.
One year in the mid-1970s, when the then-Baltimore Colts came to town to play the newly formed Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the entire Colts team attended a party at the Pepin house, Darnall said.
There was a similar scene in January 1984 when Tampa hosted its first Super Bowl game, Super Bowl XVIII. The Pepins invited both teams, the Los Angeles Raiders and Washington Redskins, to the house for a party, J. Paul Pepin said.
He recalled a party in 1991 when 1960s icon Tiny Tim traveled to the house by riverboat, strumming a ukulele and singing his signature tune “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.”
Musial, an outfielder and first baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals for 22 seasons, was a frequent house guest.
“I had a better time here than anywhere else,” Jill Pepin said.
She and her husband, Tim Smith, now live in the sprawling house but are ready to downsize.
“We need to sell the house,” Jill Pepin said. “Tim and I are rambling around in here. It’s time for another family to enjoy it.”
But saying goodbye to the parents’ dream home will be tough, J. Paul Pepin and his sister, Jill, said.
“It’s always hard to let go of the past, especially with all the good times we have had here,” J. Paul Pepin said.
Cottie Mae Starks, the housekeeper at the Pepin house for 34 years, said she has precious memories of her time with the family, and she has no plans to retire.
“Whereever they will be, I will be,” Starks, 84, said.
Showcasing a spectacular holiday lights display is a good way to wind down the Pepin family tradition, family members said.
“Mom and dad were all about celebrating life,” Tom Pepin, the president and CEO of Pepin Distributing Co., said in a statement. “Christmas was their time to shine.”