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Saturday, Oct 21, 2017
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Seminole Heights opens doors to home tour

TAMPA - Hardwood floors, big roomy porches and bathtubs on feet were featured in the 14th-annual Old Seminole Heights Home Tour, which drew as many as 1,000 people on foot, bikes and trolleys, traipsing from house to house on Sunday. They admired the original architecture and renovation projects and yakked with giddy homeowners who explained how they did certain projects and what materials were used. Joe Souter began his sojourn from the Seminole Heights Garden Center south on Central Avenue to meander through a handful of homes marked by big, white numbered signs. "I do this every year," he said, as he waited for his wristband. For seven years, he has lived in a Seminole Heights home built in 1926, and he's always looking for tips for projects.
"This gives me ideas about what to do with my own house," he said. "I'm here, basically, to steal ideas." Old houses are his preference, he said. "An architect once said, 'A city without old buildings is like an old man without a memory.' " There are other home tours, such as the one in South Tampa's Hyde Park neighborhood, but Souter prefers this one. "I don't like people with too much money," he said. "They get on my nerves." The first stop on the tour for many was about a block away from the garden center. The refurbished 1919 bungalow featured the homey feel of a well-taken-care-of home nearing a century old. Terra cotta walls were offset with white molding and dark hardwood floors. It was the first time Eva Swain has showed off her home to strangers, and she nervously leaned against a cabinet as people walked past in her kitchen, scouring the place with critical eyes. Most were appreciative of the work she had done and let her know, easing her trepidation. "I moved here in 2005," she said. "I just love this neighborhood." A block and a half to the southeast on Seminole Avenue, Chris Cheung sat on his massive porch, sipping a cold beer, as people streamed in and out of his 5-year-old, two-story home built in the style of a bungalow. It was the first time he has shown his home on the tour, too. "I've always wanted to do it," he said. The houses this year, for the most part were clustered around Central Avenue, north of Hillsborough Avenue. One was to the far northeast of the community and one was well to the south. In all, nine homes opened their doors Sunday to strangers, each of whom paid $10. Most were the 1920s-era bungalows for which Seminole Heights is known – shotgun-style homes characterized by big porches, high ceilings, wood floors and lots of architectural details – though the tour also included a couple of newer Mediterranean-style houses. The annual tour is a fundraiser for its sponsors, the Old Seminole Heights Neighborhood Association and Old Seminole Heights Preservation Consortium. Some of the proceeds are donated to local charities. Organizer Cathy Simon marshaled tourists into a line inside the garden center, making sure they had wristbands on and brochures detailing unique features at each home to be visited. The self-guided tour this year was expected to draw as many as 1,000 people. While many are from the neighborhood and around the city, a writer came from Idaho to take the tour this year, Simon said. "People love to look at old houses," she said.

kmorelli@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7760

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