'A Community Of Our Own'
Published: Mar 10, 2007
SOUTH TAMPA - The history of the Homes of Regency Cove is chock-full of stories of rattlesnakes, potluck dinners and pirates.
It centers on a self-made millionaire: Welburn Guernsey, who in the 1950s bought acres of land near the Gandy Bridge stretching east to Manhattan Avenue and north to Fair Oaks Avenue.
A new book created by a group of residents, "Regency Cove, The First Fifty Years," memorializes Guernsey and the community's storied past.
It starts with the original Gandy Bridge, built in 1926, and details how the area east of the bridge developed and was called Rattlesnake for obvious reasons.
It then tells of how Guernsey, originally from Indianapolis, came to Tampa and never left. He made his money as founder of the Associated Stores appliance stores and dreamed of creating Guernsey City, which would include a $5 million housing project, a $3 million shopping center and a $4 million trailer park with 3,000 trailers, 26 miles of paved streets, 100 shuffleboard courts, and an amphitheater, auditorium and yacht basin.
Guernsey even commissioned a larger-than-life statue of the legendary pirate Jose Gaspar to be the community's centerpiece.
His dream was never fully realized, but Guernsey did build a waterfront mobile home park where he and his family lived for almost 50 years.
The park also has been home to celebrities and characters such as Academy Award-winning actor Harold Russell, former Radio City Music Hall Rockette Cele Witting and Harry Sullivan, a classical musician who performed under the direction of John Phillip Sousa.
"We have such an amazing and interesting group of people here," said Sandy Ross, a former art teacher from Illinois who used her computer skills and years of yearbook making to do most of the design work on the anniversary book.
More than 200 copies of the 104-page yearbook-style book were printed, commemorating the community's more than 50 years in existence and the 15 years since its residents banded together to buy the property.
Ross and neighbors Judy Webb, Ed and Dee Bedore, and Dolores Brickner chipped in to piece together the book from newspaper clippings, archives, postcards and photographs.
They will hand out the book Sunday at a wine and cheese party for residents.
"This was a five-star resort," Brickner said. "All the celebrities came here."
Guernsey City became Regency Cove in 1974. The residents bought the 50-acre park for about $12 million in 1992 and have been rejecting suitors ever since, even as other South Tampa mobile home parks make way for development.
"We know it is not for sale," said Ellen Nimon, president of the community's board of directors. "We want to stay. We are a community of our own. We cannot have this lifestyle anywhere else."
Just north of the park, the 162-acre Georgetown Apartments, a property included in Guernsey's original plans, was sold for $125 million in 2005 to make way for upscale development.
The nearby 25½-acre Cove Apartments property sold in 2005 for $61 million and is earmarked for town houses and condominiums.
At Regency Cove, residents buy lots in the community for about $30,000, giving them a share of the park's ownership.
"We don't know and we don't care" how much the park property is worth, Ross said.
"This park of ours is thriving," she said. "We see us here for a long time in the future."
Ross and her husband, Mike, are newcomers from Illinois but already are involved in many activities at the 55 and older park, including putting together a recent Western-theme dance that drew more than 150 residents.
The park also offers monthly potluck dinners and other group activities to its more than 400 residents, including the five B's: bingo, bunco, bowling, biking and bridge.
The shuffleboard courts are a huge gathering place, as is the pool, which Dee Bedore calls the community's newspaper because that's where all the gossiping takes place.
"This place is not that big, but it's big enough," said Bedore, a resident since 1984. "There's always something going on for someone that wants to do something."
Brickner, who moved to the community in 1985 from Tiffin, Ohio, said she got to know Guernsey and his wife, Dorothy. Guernsey also owned a mansion in Culbreath Isles but preferred to live in a trailer overlooking one of the canals he dug leading from his park to Old Tampa Bay. Guernsey made sure the canals were stocked with fish so residents had plenty to catch.
"He had a lot of money and he enjoyed his money," Brickner said. "It seemed like he bought himself a new car every month.
"He was a nice person to have for a friend," she said.
Guernsey died in his trailer in 1997. He was 96.
His legacy lives on in the community he carved out of the scrubland.
A sign nailed to a tree near the docks includes one of his favorite sayings: "Allah does not deduct from the allotted time of man those hours spent in fishing."
Reporter Michael H. Samuels can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org (813) 835-2109.
WHAT: Homes of Regency Cove mobile home park, at Gandy and West Shore boulevards
FOUNDED: In 1956 by Welburn Guernsey
OWNER: Park residents bought the property for about $12 million in 1992
SIZE: 50 acres; 406 units
NOTABLE FORMER RESIDENTS: Academy Award-winning actor Harold Russell and former Radio City Music Hall Rockette Cele Witting
INFORMATION: www.regencycove .com
Keyword: Regency, for an audio presentation on the history of Regency Cove Keyword: Regency, for an audio presentation on the history of Regency Cove