If you get lost leaving the venerable Three Coins Diner, then meander across Nebraska Avenue and navigate several twisty-turny alleys, you’ll find a quiet pocket park on the Hillsborough River at East Patterson Street and Hamilton Heath Drive. Say hello to the ducks there; they’ve been my neighbors since October 1993, when along with a group of friends, a chorus of the quackers witnessed my marriage under an old oak that stretches out across the river.
Twenty years ago this month, I left my “home” of 12 years — a much-loved sailboat docked at different times in Key Largo, Coconut Grove, South Beach and ultimately St. Petersburg. Pretty tony addresses, and I had no intention of getting married or moving back ashore. Meeting Catherine changed that. We purchased our first Seminole Heights home, at 1002 Broad St. in April 1993, and were married six months later.
So Seminole Heights has a very special resonance for me. I love the Craftsman homes, the restoration fanatics, that great old Methodist Church, the new eateries and shops — and most of all, I love how my family found roots there.
We had long considered adopting a child, and the Broad Street house would have been cramped. A friend directed us to a house at 5608 Seminole Ave. It had been rented for several years and the tenants had not exactly, um, cherished the wonderful old girl. It was in horrid condition, but it was huge, about 4,500 square feet with a detached carriage house apartment in the back. The house had been built in the 1920s, and was first owned by a gent who was described as Tampa’s leading actor. We intended for the house to have at least one more act.
The next six months were hell. I was an editor at the Tampa Tribune at the time, and my wife was an official with the county’s welfare-to-work agency. Tough jobs, but we still had to work for four or five hours every evening on the house, refinishing floors, painting 14-foot ceilings, totally gutting and rebuilding the kitchen. I emptied my paychecks at Home Depot.
And, we did adopt — but anything worth doing is worth doing to excess, so we adopted five siblings. We had the perfect house to bring them home to, complete with pool, huge decks and a hot tub. In one of the early tours of homes in Seminole Heights, our house was featured. People applauded it as “the window house” for all of its glass.
The best thing about that house was Seminole Heights. Its endearing rough edges hadn’t yet been gentrified away. Close to Ybor City, close to the zoo, down the street from the most elegant high school in Florida — what a place! And the people made it special. We had a common bond — we loved our neighborhood.
In 2001, I moved to Atlanta when the then-styled Weekly Planet purchased the Creative Loafing group. We now live in a cabin we cherish on a forest hilltop in the Georgia mountains. About a year ago, Dick Greco gave me a call. He said we should return to Tampa. If Dick tells you to do something, you should pay heed. So, yes, we’ll keep our mountain redoubt in Georgia — but we’re coming back — to Tampa and especially to Seminole Heights.
Realtors, shoot me an email.
John Sugg was the editor of The Weekly Planet, and the group senior editor of Creative Loafing Media. He retired in 2009, but he keeps making trouble in Atlanta and Tampa. His email is [email protected]