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St. Petersburg: Craftsman style lives in 1912 Dickens house

By Robert Tolf

Special to the Sun-Sentinel

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In the past decade there's been a remarkable resurgence in the old historic district of St. Petersburg, where historic and sometimes not so historic homes have been transformed into bed-and-sbreakfast retreats. Included in the inviting inventory are the Historic Vinoy House, Mansion House, Bay Gables, the Bayboro House and Dickens House, the most recent conversion, all conveniently located close to all the excitement generated of late in downtown St. Pete.

The Dickens House dates from 1912, the year early settlers Henry and Sadie Dickens built their home in the heart of the city's rapidly growing northeast residential district. They chose a variation of the Craftsman style that had originated in California but quickly spread across the land, thanks in large measure to Sears, Roebuck, which had several models in its mail-order catalogs.

Forthright and functional with a liberal use of stone and an orderly double-portico front porch, the house was purchased in 1995 by mural artist Ed Caldwell, who spent four years working the magic of restoration. A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, he was well equipped to make the necessary modernizations while preserving the grand heart of pine staircase and coffered ceilings, the Craftsman connections to the past.

He created five guest rooms, three on the second floor and two tucked under the roof on the third, the Cracker Suite with a custom-crafted bent willow bed and the Orange Blossom Room, smallest in the house with a Jenny Lind bed and tiny bath, but with a whirlpool. There's also a whirlpool in the Cracker Suite and in two of the accommodations on the second floor.

The second floor includes the Perry Snell Room, with salmon-colored walls and a brass bed. It was named to honor Snell, who gave a dinner party at which Henry and Sadie Dickens were present -- according to the research done by Caldwell, who found it reported in a 1907 issue of the St. Petersburg Times.

The Cottage Suite on the second floor captures an old-timey beach cottage spirit with lots of white wicker, sea grass carpet, roll-up awnings and terra-cotta nightstands displaying specimen shells.

The third second-floor room, the oversize Dickens Room, has a two-person shower and spa and sports a four-poster cherry canopy bed, blue taffeta draperies and cocoa-colored walls.

There are fridges in all rooms, along with TVs and VCRs, telephones with caller ID and message systems and high-speed Internet access. Laundry service is available and, a real plus, there are five guest parking spaces, three of them in the garage.

Complimentary breakfasts -- expanded continental buffets featuring fresh fruits and juices and fresh-brewed coffee -- are served on the veranda as well as in the dining room, where you can share your experiences with other guests, or retreat to a kitchen booth.

You can meet and greet the guests again every afternoon in the Arts and Crafts living room, where complimentary wine, soft drinks and snacks are served. It's a good place to discuss evening dinner plans, using as references some of the material in the house library.

There's certainly no shortage of top-quality temptations in today's downtown St. Petersburg. Three blocks away is the magnificence of the Renaissance Vinoy Resort with its several bars and dining rooms, and around the corner is the unique Moon Under Water at 332 Beach Drive, owned and operated by a hard-working Welsh couple, Alan and Suzanne Lucas, who deserve a lot of the credit for sparking the old-house revivals.

They converted a derelict to the Mansion House across from the Vinoy on the corner of First Street and Fifth Avenue a decade ago and then restored other homes, finally opening a classic British pub patterned after their favorite escapes back home with large doses of Singapore's famous Raffles Hotel tossed in for decor and ambience.

Then there's the Gallic joy, Chateau France at 136 Fourth Ave., where chef-owner Antoine Loura executes the classics with considerable panache. A few blocks away, a marvelous stroll through carefully tended parkland and along the waterfront, there's the Black Opal facing the marina and the brand new Perch at 93 Central Ave., where chef Michael Donoho has developed an exciting seafood menu.

IF YOU GO

Getting there: From Interstate 275 take Exit 10 to I-375 where Exit 2 leads to Fourth Avenue North, ending at Straub Park. Turn left onto Beach Drive, going three blocks and turn left on Seventh Avenue Northeast and proceed one short block to Oak Street Northeast, which leads to Eighth Avenue Northeast. Turn right for the Dickens House, the fourth house on the right.

Rates: $95-$210 Nov. 1-April 30; $70-$170 May 1-Oct. 30. No pets; children only over the age of 9.

Information: Dickens House, 335 Eighth Ave. NE, St. Petersburg, FL 33701-1904; call 800-381-2022; www.dickenshouse.com