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Neighbors unhappy about planned demolition of Gandy house

ST. PETERSBURG — They proudly march to a different drummer, holding whacky July 4th parades, trekking through wooded lanes on New Year’s Eve to progressive dinners, and once upon a time, hanging bat houses from shady oaks to cut down on mosquitoes. None came. Bats, that is.

In Driftwood, a neighborhood of 47 houses on Big Bayou and cocooned in a tangle of towering trees and undergrowth, residents have cultivated an easy-going ambience. Until now.

As developers nip at the edge of their enclave and plans are announced to demolish their oldest and most historic home, Driftwood neighbors are caught up in unfamiliar discord.

One side is clamoring for local historic designation to protect the neighborhood. On the other are those like newcomers Timothy and Janna Ranney, who bought and plan to demolish the former home of the family who built the Gandy Bridge that bears their name.

The laid-back neighborhood has mulled historic designation before, but now appears motivated to follow through.

“It’s what’s happening in neighborhoods around the city,” said Laurie Macdonald, who moved to Driftwood in 1989. “My primary motivation overall is that this is a very special place and I think it’s wonderful to protect and to preserve the character and the feel and the look,” she said.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: St. Petersburg property owners seek historic status to protect traditional neighborhoods

Timothy Ranney, who paid $1.73 million for the waterfront Gandy property at 2700 Driftwood Road S, said he and his wife were drawn to Driftwood’s beauty.

“When I bought the house, the hope was to be able to save the house … and ultimately found out that the house could not be saved, which was unfortunate,” he said.

The Ranneys have hired lawyers and a public relations firm and organized two “informational” programs for Driftwood homeowners at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club.

“The Driftwood community has a unique charm and the people have always had a live-and-let-live mindset,” Ranney said. “It’s fair to say that the people in the neighborhood have strong opinions, but in the spirit of live-and-let-live, a historic district is contrary to a live-and-let-live mindset.”

But B.J. Sheffield, who has lived in Driftwood since 1984, wondered: “If you’re really buying a historic house and a historic property, why was it such a big deal that we were going to include it in a historic district?”

Ranney’s argument is that Driftwood’s low-lying topography would present “unique challenges” for building and protecting homes under historic designation.

“It’s a matter of the challenges of a historic district versus the challenges of a flood zone and the fact that the two don’t necessarily coexist with each other,’’ he said. “History is an important thing, but personal safety is more important.”

Trish Moore, a developer who is renovating her Driftwood home, supports designation.

“There’s been a lot of fear mongering,” she said. “Anybody who is living on the water is taking a risk.”

Historic designation does not prevent property owners from upgrading their properties, said Derek Kilborn, a manager in the city’s urban planning and historic preservation division. Homes can be elevated to satisfy flood zone requirements, but residents have to get a certificate of appropriateness to do that and other exterior modifications involving new construction or additions.

Peter Pav, a 46-year Driftwood resident, is among those who oppose historic designation. His neighbors “mean well, but they are just idealistic,” he said.

Elizabeth Schuh, who grew up in Driftwood and whose father and brother still live there, said her family is also against the idea.

“Our thoughts are that people have their own property rights that they are entitled to and we really don’t think that additional restrictions are necessary based on the fear of change,” she said.

The Gandy Home, also known as the Mullet Farm, is seen as the centerpiece of Driftwood, which is steeped in such history as being the only area in Pinellas County to see armed conflict during the Civil War. The home was built in 1910 by shipbuilder Barney Williams, son of St. Petersburg’s co-founder, Gen. John Constantine Williams. George “Gidge” Gandy Jr., who worked with his father and brother to built the Gandy Bridge, bought the house in 1921 and lived there with his family. Later, it was also the home of his daughter, Helen O’Brien and her family.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: After 40 years, a question: What would the city look like if St. Pete Preservation never existed?

But the historic home was riddled with structural, asbestos, mold and other problems, and, said Ranney, engineers, architects and builders have said it can’t be saved.

“It wasn’t a conclusion we came to lightly,” he said.

David Lesser of Windstar Homes in Tampa said he is designing a “a modest, one-story, Florida Cracker-inspired, single family home,” to replace the Gandy house.

“The problem is, the superstructure of that home is in disrepair,” Lesser said. “That house needs to come down as quickly as possible. It’s a life safety issue.”

“We knew there were issues. We sold it as is,” said Kim O’Brien, who inherited the house with her brother and sister.

They waited two years after their mother’s death in 2015 to put it on the market, O’Brien said, adding that she even approached the University of South Florida and the city of St. Petersburg about taking the historic house.

“The last thing we wanted was to have it destroyed,” said O’Brien, who learned of the Ranneys’ decision a day after the closing. “We had been told that they were going to restore it.”

But O’Brien, who lives nearby with her husband, Robert Morey, on property lush with native Florida plants, is most upset “by the cutting of the trees, the denuding of the landscape” at her family’s former home.

“Why anyone would buy in Driftwood and proceed to take the Driftwood out of it? They were espousing how much they loved Driftwood and the feel of Driftwood,” she said.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Saving trees a passion for some St. Petersburg neighborhood leaders

City regulations require the Ranneys’ demolition application be put on a 30-day hold. Though the Gandy house is not a designated local landmark, Kilborn said it’s recognized as being potentially eligible for listing in the St. Petersburg Register of Historic Places. If an application for local landmark designation is received during the 30-day period, the demolition request will be put on further hold until the City Council makes a decision about landmarking, or the application is withdrawn, Kilborn said.

There is a March 23 deadline to submit its application to save the house. As to the district designation, city regulations require an assenting vote of 50 percent plus one of its tax parcels before an application can be filed.

Macdonald said they will pursue historic designation, even if the Ranneys get permission to demolish the Mullet Farm.

“It’s certainly not about the Mullet Farm, but the Mullet Farm is a cautionary tale,” O’Brien said. “Our priorities for many of us is to create a habitat, as well as a pleasing, peaceful environment for ourselves.”

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.


The New Age of St. Pete – 2015


 In my book, St. Petersburg is the prettiest city in Florida. I moved there twice, drawn by its mood of romantic melancholy and its beautiful old houses. And twice I moved away, bored out of my mind.

Now I’m thinking of moving back. St. Pete has somehow managed to shake itself back to life. The shabbiness has been painted over and made attractive. The downtown, described 20 years ago as “comatose” by Florida Trend magazine, is now lively and bustling. There are new restaurants, new attractions and museums, hip nightlife, great shopping. Gone are the dilapidated rooming houses with their rickety front porches full of sad-looking people who had reached the end of the line. Now it’s luxury condos and townhouses.

St. Pete was sort of like Havana. The rest of the world had moved on, but it was stuck in a time warp. The various booms and busts that changed the rest of Florida had little effect here. The city was too old-fashioned, too unhip, too trapped in the sad and almost comic image it had developed over the years, that of genteel old people, retired and trying to live on fixed incomes that weren’t quite big enough.

It’s hard to pinpoint when the change began. Maybe five years ago, maybe 10. But younger people started moving in, many of them artists, many of them gay, and most of them entrepreneurial. They are drawn by the easy pace of life and the abundance of spaces they can turn into shops, homes and studios. The local government had little to do with this and still doesn’t seem to understand what is happening. It was very much a grassroots movement. But the result is a city that is turning all its negatives into pluses and reinventing itself….  Continue Reading




It was 1993 when cosmopolitan Frenchman Emmanuel Roux decided he wanted to move to St. Petersburg.

Born in Tunisia and also raised in France, Roux, a restaurateur who once owned the Garden on Central Avenue, had many places to measure St. Petersburg against.

In addition to living on the Tunisian farm owned by his French expatriate parents and living and studying in France, Roux previously lived in England, Switzerland (where he studied hotel management) and desolate parts of Algeria, Niger and Mali (where he did oil research). Roux also sailed the globe to serve in the French navy. In 1975, he moved to the United States to live in New York City and then moved to Savannah, Ga.

By the 1990s, this man of the world wanted to find the best spot in St. Petersburg. To get the lay of the land, he said, he started in the city’s northeast and drove south along the edge of Tampa Bay until he happened upon Driftwood, a neighborhood of narrow, barely paved streets lined — and sometimes, detoured around — with towering oaks and indigenous plants allowed to grow as they will… Continue Reading


Good Land Series: Driftwood Neighborhood – 2015


One joy of living in the ‘Burg is the discovery of hidden gems like the Driftwood neighborhood, one of the oldest settlements of St. Pete and a jungled slice of history and peace. arranged a walkabout with Driftwood residents Laurie, owner of Local Landmark designated “the Dodd house” and Kim, whose family has lived in Driftwood for four generations. Laurie greets us into her modest-sized home.

“I feel like it (Driftwood) is a retreat from the city, in the city,” she says with a serene smile. “It’s so restful here.” Her house was built in 1936 and is one of 19 homes that influential ‘Burger Mark Dickson Dodd and his business partner Archie Parish constructed in Driftwood. The duo built many iconic St. Pete buildings such as the old YMCA (116 5th St. S). It is thought the Dodd house is where Mr. Dodd actually lived and has many features characteristic of his style and one of his paintings hangs above the original fireplace. He painted a piece for each of his houses and they are customarily included in the sale of the homes they were painted for. “I love how it feels like a neighborhood. People care for one another but aren’t intruding,” Laurie says as we take a walk past the little dock on the water where community socials are held and to Kim’s house down the road… Continue Reading


The mystery man behind St. Pete’s Driftwood – 2013

A quirky neighborhood owes its existence to a builder with an alter ego.

Jeanne Meinke

High in the Yew tree Lombo lies,

Tossed betwixt the seas and skies,

In faith a merry place to sit

To whet the edge of Lombo’s wit.

When Jeanne and I fell in love with our little cottage, we were intrigued with its builder, Mark Dixon Dodd (1888-1952), who designed the 19 quirkily charming houses forming the center core of the Driftwood neighborhood in Southeast St. Pete. A little research told us he was “an artist, a teacher, a designer of fine homes, and honored citizen of St. Petersburg. He was all of these things and much more.” How much more we’ve only just begun to discover.

After we moved in, we were told he had left one of his paintings in each house. When we heard this, we stared at the wall above our fireplace, the only surface covered by new-looking pine panels. We began imagining a hidden painting, some Doddish Dorian Gray — but when, with the help of friends and a few beers, we pried off some of the boards, we saw only a ragged gray surface, as if something there had rotted, disintegrated, or been eaten by bugs. Hastily, we boarded it up again, and rehung our own painting.

Although Dodd grew up in St. Louis, I was pleased to learn he spent a formative year (1904-1905) at Clinton Preparatory School in upstate New York. He would have been familiar with Hamilton College, my alma mater, and its abundance of mammoth ancient oaks and elms, along with its neo-gothic architecture — both romantic and spooky. Emily Bronte’s Heathcliff and Edgar Allan Poe’s Roderick Usher, among many other overheated misfits, would have fit in perfectly there. (I felt comfortable, myself.)…Continue Reading



Experience Archeology – 2011

Each year FPAN regional centers are asked to compile objectives and goals for the upcoming fiscal cycle and arrange these targets into an Annual Work Plan. The plan guides each center throughout the year and helps make sure that our aim remains true. The projects and activities included in the Work Plan are, as always, related to FPAN’s three main work areas: public outreach, assisting local governments, and assistance to the Florida Division of Historical Resources. The documents are public record. I thought, in the case that some of you might be interested, to share a bit from ours… Part of the how-we-do-what-we-do is through attending and participating at area festivals. Many fests occur in the late winter and early spring when the south Florida weather along the Gulf Coast is best. Last year and years before, we participated in archaeology days and festivals organized by local chapters of the Florida Anthropological Society. We hope to take part in these again this coming year. Examples of other festivals where we’ll be table-topping are the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival located in Cortez (in Manatee County) and the Pioneer Festival in Arcadia (Desoto County)…Continue Reading


 Yardman stumbles upon part of history in Driftwood  –  2010

Photo from Tampa Times

ST. PETERSBURG — The Driftwood neighborhood has a long history of finds in its soil, the latest of which local archaeologists are calling the “mystery box.”

Neighborhood resident Kim O’Brien discovered the box about three months ago, and now archaeologists and local volunteers are excavating with an eye toward figuring out what it is. The best guess to this point is a cistern or septic tank from the beginnings of the last century.

Archaeological discoveries are nothing new in the neighborhood. About 150 years ago, a Pinellas pioneer found an old shell fort thought to be used by natives. About 100 years ago, the son of the co-founder of St. Petersburg built the “Mullet Farm,” where children later found a Civil War cannonball, an old rosary box and several arrowheads. O’Brien was one of those children.

“This area is imbued with history,” she said. The mystery box proved that Driftwood is still a hot spot for archaeological discoveries 151 years after Pinellas pioneers Abel Miranda and John Bethel found that old shell fort, as Bethel wrote in Bethel’s History of Point Pinellas.

O’Brien said her family moved to the Mullet Farm, a 1910 residence by Big Bayou, in 1920. Her family also made its mark on Pinellas history, including her grandfather, George Gandy Jr., of Gandy Bridge fame. This spawned O’Brien’s interest in Driftwood history and may have led to the discovery of the mystery box…Continue Reading


Neighborhood Profiles – St. Petersburg

Unique: Home to the Narvaez/Anderson Mound, one of the most well-preserved pre-historic Indian sites in the state of Florida – aka “Sacred Lands,” it is the site of an ancient Tocobaga Indian village. While St.

“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.”

Marcus Aurelius