Historic St. Pete mansion undergoes restoration

New owner wants landmark status

Chris Wescott didn't have any particular reason to leave his home in Gulfport. It was near the water, had great views, and had all the amenities of a modern house.

"I was bored," said Wescott.

So he made the unlikely choice to buy a dilapidated 1925 mansion in a historic neighborhood of St. Petersburg.   The gray, granite-walled, fortress-looking structure seemed to have more in common with an Edgar Allan Poe story than a quaint Florida enclave.

"What I got from a lot of people was, 'That's a haunted house!'" he laughed.  

While there's no evidence of ghosts, the house does hold the spirit of its builder and original owner, Cade Allen. 

One of St. Petersburg's earliest urban developers, Allen bought 125 acres of citrus grove land in 1922. That began a three decade period where Allen built more than 40 houses, including the so-called "Allen Mansion."

That once empty farmland on the Pinellas peninsula is known today as historic Allendale.

"I love that it's the most unique house I've seen in St. Petersburg," Wescott said. While the house is definitely different, it also is far from its glory days.

"It was severely neglected," said Wescott.  "I could see where this house could go and be beautiful again."

Wescott said he bought the property from a bank at more than $300,000, but that may be the tip of the iceberg.

"I think it would be easier to tell you what doesn't need to be done," he laughed.  "Everything needs to be done."

Wescott expects to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars more on restoration.

"All the windows and doors need replacement," he said. The house has 75 windows.

The new owner said the backyard has a swimming pool that's the deepest residential pool in the city, bottoming out at 13 feet.

"We had bullfrogs in here.  You couldn't see the bottom of it," Wescott said.  "There was some concern that there might be a body in there," he joked.

At 4,500 square feet, the house was huge by 1920s standards. It has two stories, several outdoor balconies, five fireplaces, old fashioned washrooms, and wrought iron front gate.

Wescott said he had to remove numerous trees that had overgrown the surrounding property.

The rebirth of the house hasn't gone unnoticed by the neighborhood patriarch's son, Burton Allen, who actually lived in the house as a child with his family shortly after it was built.

"I think it's looking good," said Allen, 91. "I'm glad to see it being done because it was mostly breaking my heart to see it run down."

Allen has compiled decades worth of articles and photographs of his father's work, including several pictures showing the mansion back in the 1920's, complete with awnings on all the windows.

Cade Allen was a mason, and built many of his houses with his own hands. In the case of the home Wescott bought, Allen's son said he imported granite from out of state as the primary building material, along with a clay foundation.

"He was the only one in St. Petersburg to build a stone house," Allen said.

One old newspaper article in Allen's collection described the architecture as "Spanish-Moor" style, but Wescott said he considers the house to be a conglomeration of many different genres.

Wescott said he is applying for a landmark status for the house, which he said will be "incredible" once it's finished.

While the exterior can be restored to its original look, the interior is completely modern.

Wescott had painters working to roll the walls with colors like pink, orange, blue and green. Contractors were preparing to redo the ceiling in the kitchen.

But the place remained devoid of furniture or appliances. Apparently that's not stopping Wescott from making the house his own.

"Believe it or not, I'm moving in in a couple of weeks," he said.

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