"It was in bad shape."
Cenovio Villa, owner of Project Villa LLC, knew the historic Alsobrook house at 508 North Whitehall St. was a risky investment when he first saw it two years ago. The once-welcoming foyer was bathed in a film of gray. The hardwood floors were dull with dust. The upstairs mauve carpet was dented with shoe tread.
It looked like a haunted house.
But he was captivated by the mansion, a shell of what it had been: a Victorian-era doctor’s home.
Originally, Dr. John Walter Alsobrook and his wife, Margaret, owned the home, which was built in 1907 on North Evers Street.
It was moved in 1969 to its current location on Whitehall Street.
Villa’s client first saw its fading exterior while driving by in 2014. A glimpse at its inside revealed just how much work it would take to renovate it for profit.
“I probably should have walked away from it,” Villa said. “It was really ambitious. We got it done.”
Villa estimated the 4,700-square-foot house would take about six to nine months to renovate. It took two years.
Well worth it, Villa said.
NOT A FLIP
“I don’t like the word flip for these types of houses,” Villa said. “(Flip sounds) cheap and easy.”
The renovation on the Alsobrook house was neither cheap nor easy.
The three-story mansion needed new wiring. The roof to the eaves were rotted. Windows were broken. Door knobs and hardware need to be power coated.
The ceiling in the kitchen was transformed to a tray ceiling. The driveway was redone as a brick patio. The new oven and refrigerator are touch screen. The new back deck offers a haven for relaxation. The master bathroom has a clawfoot bathtub. The list goes on and on.
“We’re trying to keep the old meets the new,” Villa said. “It’s kind of a theme for the house. To keep the old feel but updated.”
Although the kitchen has had an overhaul — with new countertops, appliances, lighting and backsplash — many of the house’s components are original: the wood paneling in the front foyer and adjoining rooms, the downstairs hardwood floors, the door knobs, a bookcase, the window trim.
The five-bedroom, four-and-one-half-bath home also got a new coat of paint to its exterior. It’s blue, but that doesn’t mean the house is blue.
“It brings the house to life. I don’t think the house has ever been this happy,” Villa said.
Villa’s wife, Tania, picked the Key West-style blue. The couple considered keeping the home but decided to put it on the market instead. It’s listed through Floyd Wood, with Keller Williams, for $550,000.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Villa started working for Palm Harbor Homes in 1995. He once lied to get into the shingles department. A degree in computer animation helped open the door to the engineering department. It was there he met the founder of Hope For Haiti Healing, Mike Wnek.
Wnek would be the one to introduce Villa to the investor who helped to make the Alsobrook home a reality. In 2010, Villa was asked by Wnek to go Haiti with a group to build homes after the earthquake.
Villa agreed at first, but he got cold feet. When he went to Wnek’s house to tell him he wasn’t going, he could hear him, upset, on the phone on the other side of his front door.
“When he opened the door he said, ‘Well, buddy, I guess it’s just me and you going,’” Villa said.
Everyone in the group had decided not to go. Villa couldn’t abandon the mission.
Once Villa went, he was hooked — to his surprise.
Every year since 2010 Villa has gone twice a year and has contributed to building 25 homes. He also went to Nepal after the earthquake. Villa met the Alsobrook investor on Villa’s third trip to Haiti.
“You go to these places and you see all you can see and come back. And our biggest problems are a refrigerator needs to be fixed or a car. Those are all easy fixes. It really puts things in perspective. Our problems are small compared to the rest of the world,” Villa said.
His assistant, Nikki Larrabee, and wife collect Hot Wheels, Beanie Babies and WWE figurines for Villa to take to Haiti for the children. Videos of children lined up to pick their toy are posted on Villa’s Facebook page.
“There’s a certain sense of pride — doing something with your life,” Villa said. “A little bit of adventure.”
His relationship with his investor turned into a friendship that has led to four home renovations, including the Alsobrook house.
“This house is kind of a direct response to what we do in Haiti,” Villa said. “We go do. We go build. That’s what we do.”
Dr. John Walter Alsobrook graduated from the School of Medicine at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee in the 1870s. He was persuaded by Wesley B. Herring, a Plant City pharmacist and businessman, to move to Plant City and establish his medical practice adjacent to the Herring Drug Store.
John Walter Alsobrook married Margaret Kilpatrick on June 15, 1905, and they had their only child, Elizabeth, in 1907. That same year, the Alsobrooks purchased a lot on North Evers Street and built the stately two-story home there.
It is said that when the 1914 Plant City High School was being constructed, Margaret Alsobrook insisted that the west face of the school have columns similar to the entrance because she did not want to look at the back of the building.
John Walter Alsobrook served as a major in the United States Army Medical Corps, maintained a medical office and private hospital on the second floor of the Central Pharmacy building, at the southeast corner of Collins and Reynolds streets, and had a medical office in his home on Evers Street.
He died in 1945. Margaret Alsobrook died in 1955. Following her death, William Victor Smith and his wife, Robbie Sims Smith, purchased the home from Elizabeth Alsobrook Jibb, the Alsobrooks’ daughter.
In the late 1960s, Robbie Smith died. In 1969, William Victor Smith had the house moved from the lot on Evers Street to a lot on North Whitehall Street, across the street from Cynthia Gardens Apartments.
Since then, other families have lived in the home.
Dr. John Walter Alsobrook, Margaret Kilpatrick Alsobrook and Elizabeth Alsobrook
William Victor Smith, Robbie Sims Smith, Douglas Smith, Mary Victoria Smith, William Bruce Smith, Devony Smith, Hank Smith
Mildred Sims Jackson, Mary Jane Jackson, Melynda Jackson, Sara Jackson
SOURCE: Plant City Photo Archives and History Center
Floyd Wood, Keller Williams
Mobile: (813) 408-2269
Office: (813) 684-9500
Project Villa LLC
Contact Amber Jurgensen at email@example.com.