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Stray house on the highway


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Stray house on the highway

There's no indication who owns the upper half of a home left in a ditch about a month ago.


Published November 20, 2004


TAMPA - Were it another discarded mattress or a hubcap on the lam, people wouldn't raise an eyebrow at the castoff left in a ditch along U.S. 301.

But, as coffee stand owner Georgenna Malone points out, "It's kind of hard to miss."

It's a house. Not a whole house, but the three-bedroom, two-bath second floor of one - freshly painted sea foam green - resting on a set of rusted beams and wheels just below the Interstate 75 overpass.

For about a month, the mystery has puzzled people along this rustic stretch of highway outside Temple Terrace.

"We've been trying to figure out what the hell is going on out there," said Lisa Power, records manager for the Temple Terrace Police Department.

There's no "For Sale" sign. No moving permit. Nothing to trace the house back to its owner.

Al Chapman said he first noticed it in front of his employer's collision repair shop one morning four weeks ago. At the time, it was hooked up to a semitrailer truck.

"When the driver showed up," he said, "I just saw the truck leave, but the house wasn't moving."

Chapman figured the driver would return later that day if not the next.

Many figure the second story, accompanied by a first-floor roof, was just too tall to go beneath the overpass. But other theories exist.

Was a hurricane to blame, wondered Don Johns, owner of a pool table shop along the highway.

Malone, the coffee stand owner, thought a new housing subdivision was going up. The house, she thought, must have been erected as a model for passing motorists. But why only the top half, she wonders.

Then, a "For Rent" sign appeared on a mailbox not far from the ditch.

"I had a customer ask me if the house was for rent," Malone said, shaking her head. "Isn't that just wild?"

As it turned out, the sign was for a trailer, not the house, which appears to be a discontinued model from the former Jim Walter Industries sales center in Brandon, according to company spokesman John McNeilly. An employee sent to the site recognized the model.

"Our models are very distinct," McNeilly said.

He's otherwise at a loss to explain.

The state Department of Transportation plans to deploy a team of inspectors Monday, in the hopes of getting to the bottom of this house divided.

In the meantime, squatters have left behind muddy footprints and a soiled bathroom.

According to employees of Master Collision Repair, police found a pair of indigents hiding behind the house with a stolen pressure washer.

"We don't want it there anymore," said Eileen Rydzewski, the shop's office manager.

Power, of the Temple Terrace Police Department, wonders what has become of the homeowners.

"It's a nice part of a house," she said. "I feel sorry for the people who purchased the house.

"I'm sure they don't know it's been laying there all this time."

Eddy Ramirez can be reached at eramirez@sptimes.com or 813 661-2441.

© Copyright 2003 St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved


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