Oh, how I wanted the stories to be true.
I heard it first on a dolphin watch boat. Later, when I spent a week crewing on such a boat, I read the story from the script myself.
"Once upon a time, before all those condominiums were here, the southern point of Clearwater Beach was peppered with single family homes..."
"Is this true?" I asked the craggy boat captain, a crusty old salt more concerned with making sure he didn't run the speedboat into a set of Jet-Skiing tourists from Ohio. He grunted at me and slowed as a flat-bottomed skiff cut across his bow, the two men lifting their blue and silver beer cans in salute as he swore at them.
"But a developer thought condos would be a better use of the land, and so he started buying all the land on the point so he could build condominiums."
Sure enough, as far as you can see, the point has cream condo soldiers, lined up on the beach. Except...
"But one lady didn't want to sell. You see, she loved her home and she loved her view. See that gray house right there? That was her home, and no matter how much money the developer offered her, she politely refused."
There's no one outside, but by now everyone pictures their grandmother, baking cookies and watching the sunset from her wraparound porch.
"Then things got not-so-nice. As construction started on the condos, things got increasingly nasty. Workers 'accidentally' cut her power lines. A bulldozer 'accidentally' broke the water main that supplied her drinking water..."
Now, of course, the people on the boat start to get angry. Who would do that to a little old lady?
"And still, she stayed in her home, no matter how ugly the developer made things for her."
Of course, there's more. It's not a story until you hear the punch line.
"Well, the years passed, and so did she, and the developer thought he would finally have his chance at the house. He figured he'd finally have the opportunity to build his last few condos."
Everyone on the boat is picturing a sniveling, greedy man in a red sharkskin suit, his hair slicked back, waiting at the rear of the funeral home with the papers for the family to sign.
"But it turns out she had the last laugh. You see, before she died, she went down to and had the deed to the property changed so that particular piece of land could only ever be used as a single family home. That makes it the most valuable piece of land on Clearwater Beach, worth over 8 million dollars!"
At this, of course, the boat passengers cheer and clap: the little guy pulling one over on a big business. How great, right? How wonderful for that little old lady! Chalk one up for the little guy!
Except, of course, it apparently isn't true at all.
Let's start with the home, 887 S Gulfview Blvd. The Pinellas County Property Appraiser does indeed list its property use as single family.
The developer built the surrounding condominiums in 1970. The county property appraiser has no information on ownership on the home in question until 1986, when it sold to a Joseph E. and Elizabeth J. Mannion for $133,200. The home was built in 1963, seven years before the condos started tempting folks from the great white north.
One last detail – the home, at the height of the housing insanity that preceded the crash in 2008 – had a market value of $656,600, according to county records. In today's market, the property appraiser's just market value is $384,047.
Even if that home isn't worth $8 million, it's probably worth the world to the family who gets to watch the sun rise over Clearwater Harbor every morning.
And as for the rest of the story – the bits about construction workers bullying the poor little old lady and the developer trying to realize his dream of turning this home into a spat of condos?
I can't prove that. I wish I could.
Anyway, it's nice to think about the little guy winning one every now and then.