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In St. Petersburg, sunsets are splendid in historic home

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Entrepreneur Samuel Melhige was in many ways a trendsetter when he built a house overlooking Boca Siega Bay. Not only was he part of a pioneering St. Petersburg family, he was also one of the first to settle in a sparsely populated area far from downtown.

Nearly a century later, homes and businesses are spread out in nearly every direction. Across the bay, Treasure Island is no longer the pristine beach it was in 1925. But Margie’s house, a classic example of his Italian Renaissance revival style that was briefly popular during his 1920s land boom in Florida, looks just as it did then.

New owners can watch the sun set over Boca Siega Bay from the porch of the home on Sunset Drive. [ Arnold Novak and Tony Horvath, Panda Real Estate Photography ]
When the house was built on Sunset Drive in 1925, there was no road to Treasure Island on the other side of Boca Siega Bay. This is the home dock.
When the house was built on Sunset Drive in 1925, there was no road to Treasure Island on the other side of Boca Siega Bay. This is the home dock. [ Arnold Novak and Tony Horvath, Panda Real Estate Photography ]

A designated landmark that recently sold for $2 million, the home “has been updated, but it’s been difficult to maintain its original style,” said listing agent Helle Hartley. All of the original windows, doors, and floors remain, except for the kitchen, which was redone at a cost of about $80,000, but the style is also maintained.

The Sunset Drive house is an architectural style that briefly became popular during St. Petersburg's first boom.
The Sunset Drive house is an architectural style that briefly became popular during St. Petersburg’s first boom. [ Arnold Novak and Tony Horvath, Panda Real Estate Photography ]

The 4-bedroom, 3½-bathroom house harks back to the days when St. Petersburg was experiencing its first major growth. In the early 1900s, an investment firm purchased his 4,000-acre land west of the city, including an area called Davista, called “the jewel of all Florida development.” The original lot marked residential areas south of Central Avenue, parks along Boca Siega Bay, and waterfront streets, labeled first Beach Drive and then Sunset Drive.

In 1925, Mahige made a number of purchases on the almost empty seaside streets. His father emigrated from Syria to St. Petersburg, where he ran a downtown store selling imported lace, kimonos and “silk shawls of all kinds.” After his father’s death, Merhige merged his own import company with his mother’s import company to form a clothing store called Lady Fashion. With business booming, Merhige hired a prominent contractor, his Charles DuBois, to build a house that could accommodate not only his wife, newborn baby and mother, but also friends and relatives from Syria. .

Eschewing the more popular Mediterranean Revival style of the time, Dubois designed a two-story house with a barrel tile roof, wide overhanging eaves, and a recessed vaulted porch. Clear glass French doors open onto two terraces with sunset views. The initial cost was $12,200 for him, and a year later another room was built for his $2,000.

In 1929, Merihai sold the house and moved closer to downtown, where he opened the Orange Blossom Cafeteria. The stock market crash that year devastated tourism and the local economy, and many lots in the Davista neighborhood remained vacant during the Great Depression. However, with the opening of the Treasure Island His Causeway in 1939, the area began to thrive again. The increased traffic on Central Avenue has improved the visibility of Davista and other nearby neighborhoods not only for tourists, but also for St. Petersburg residents for day trips to the beach.

From a couple who owned a shoe manufacturing company in Massachusetts, to a family in Chicago who let friends use them when wintering elsewhere, to contractors who remodeled their front porch with additional rooms and carports. Until then, Margie’s house changed owners several times. In 1955 he sold the house to a doctor and his wife who remained there until the 70’s.

This curved sunroom was added to the Sunset Drive home in the 1950s.
This curved sunroom was added to the Sunset Drive home in the 1950s. [ Arnold Novak and Tony Horvath, Panda Real Estate Photography ]
This is one of the main house bedrooms on Sunset Drive.  There is also a guest suite above the two-car garage.
This is one of the main house bedrooms on Sunset Drive. There is also a guest suite above the two-car garage. [ Arnold Novak and Tony Horvath, Panda Real Estate Photography ]
This fireplace is original to the Sunset Drive home built in 1925 on a then-new subdivision called Davista.
This fireplace is original to the Sunset Drive home built in 1925 on a then-new subdivision called Davista. [ Arnold Novak and Tony Horvath, Panda Real Estate Photography ]

In 1974, the house hosted “the first designer’s show house on the west coast of Florida.” It later became a popular annual fundraiser for the Florida Orchestra, with several designers each decorating the room. Themes that year included “New England Nostalgia” in the bedroom and “Sanctuary for the Mistress of the House” in the kitchen.

1974 designer's show house brochure page.
1974 designer’s show house brochure page. [ Susan Taylor Martin ]

A Shawhouse brochure states, “Set amidst graceful palm trees and surrounded by red hibiscus, this classic home has remained largely unchanged.” Northern oak floors whose only drawback is that it grows more beautiful over time, the house is spacious with 7 rooms on the main floor, followed by a powder room, classic atrium and foyer for 4 bedrooms and two bathrooms”

This is the living room of a nearly 100-year-old house on Sunset Drive, one of the first to be built in the Davista neighborhood south of Central Avenue.
This is the living room of a nearly 100-year-old house on Sunset Drive, one of the first to be built in the Davista neighborhood south of Central Avenue. [ Arnold Novak and Tony Horvath, Panda Real Estate Photography ]

In 2008, the St. Petersburg City Council unanimously decided to designate the Merhige House as a landmark. According to city officials’ filings, the house is of historical importance for its architectural style, and the expansion of the city to the west and “his one of the first ethnically diverse families to make St. Petersburg a home.” It is evidence of the contribution of

This fall, the home was featured on an episode of “American Dream TV” as part of a series focused on interesting local places hosted by realtor Hartley.

Although close to the main route to Gulf beaches, the home is on a quiet street with little traffic making it perfect for the new owners, an Atlanta family with small children.

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