321 Brightwaters Blvd NE 33704

Then and Now — 1933 & 2022321 Brightwaters Blvd. (The creator of Barney Google’s house)

From a 1933 Times Article: “Located on the shores of Coffee Pot Bayou the William De Beck home, named Villa Florentina, is one of the show places in St. Petersburg. Top with heavy red tile roofing, fashioned with artistic long Venetian windows and set amidst grounds that are laid out effectively with palm trees and sub-tropical shrubs and flowers, the residence arrests the attention of everyone who drives along Brightwater boulevard on a trip around Snell Isle.”

“One approaches the front entrance to the home through a wooden gate linking the cement wall encircling the grounds and down an arbor flanked with heavy foliage. To the left is a wide expanse of beautifully laid-out grounds that reach to the waters of Coffee Pot bayou while to the right is the garage and the servants’ headquarters. The architecture is Mediterranean, with a touch of Italian and Spanish that blends harmoniously and creates a picture pleasing to the eye.”

“With in the home there is a home-like atmosphere that permeates the rooms with their lavish furnishings. Plenty of sunlight creeps through the long windows, lighting up the many treasures the De Becks have brough from travels abroad.  For instance, in the living room, there is a rare original Holbein print, and lamps that Mrs. De Beck had made to order in Italy, and in another room a rare painting that was unearthed in the cellar of an old art shop and found to be quite valuable after its many coats of dust had been removed. It is because the home is furnished largely with treasures from Florence, Italy that it has been called “Villa Florentina”.”

“The sun-parlor is the first room one steps into from outdoors. Here are to found original cartoons of Sems, a French artist. On a wall hangs a tarpon that De Beck landed while on a fishing trip in the Gulf of Mexico. From the sun-parlor one enters the living room which extends the length of the home. At one end is a fireplace where rest quaint andirons with dogs’ heads, miniatures of what one sees riveted into castle walls abroad. In this room, too, is a beautiful portrait of Mrs. De Beck, painted by Leon Gordon, who was commissioned to paint the 12 most representative women in America.”

“The upstairs is reached by one of the most artistic staircases in St. Petersburg, and from a window on the landing can be seen the waters of Coffee Pot bayou. Upstairs in one of the bedrooms, the view from the windows creates the impression that one is upon the water’s edge. All the bedrooms, including one downstairs, have been created by Mrs. De Beck, who has shown a real gift for interior decoration with her original plans. The color schemes blend, while the furnishings in each room convey their own separate picture. One of the bedrooms is modernistic, and it is safe to say that it is not duplicated anywhere in the United States. It is quaint and interesting, and so fascinating that one hesitates to leave. On the walls of this room are more cartoons by Sems, most of them caricatures of famous French people.”

“Billy De Beck’s studios, where he draws the famous “Barney Google and Sparkplug” comic strips, can be reached by a private outside entrance or through the upstairs hallway. Several rooms have been made into one, resulting in a large studio that is ideal for the artist. There is another interesting room on the second floor of Villa Florentina—a combination of library and workroom that belongs to Mrs. De Beck. Replete with well filled bookshelves, a secretary and typewriter desk, it serves Mrs. De Beck well when she studies her French lessons and attends not only to her own correspondence but that of her husband.”

“There are so many things worth mentioning—the tall candelabra in the dining room such as is seldom seen in the country, many original pen and ink sketches by James Montgomery Flagg, a personal friend of the family, sixteenth century wood carvings, a lamp that is designed with the coat of arms of prominent Italian families. Taken as a whole, the residence stands apart from others in beauty and interest. As a home, it is cheerful and attractive and one which anyone would like to call his own.”

This home has had a very interesting succession of ownership. William and Mary De Beck moved into this home in 1929. Billy, as he was called, was born on April 16, 1890, on Chicago’s south side, the youngest of two children, Calvin being one year older than Billy. In high school Billy was so talented that he copied illustrator Charles Gibson’s work and peddled it as “gen-u-wine Gibson originals”. In 1908 Billy attended the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. Two years later he earned $18 weekly as a Youngstown Telegram Editorial Cartoonist. In 1915 Billy married Marian Shields and worked for the Chicago Herald where he created his first comic strip, Married Life, a focus on marital strife. Billy would divorce Marian but remarried her in 1921, and then divorced her again. “It’s no joke to be a cartoonists’ wife” Shields said. Billy created Barny Google in 1919 while at the Chicago Herald. He created such terms as “horse feathers” “jeepers creepers” and “heebie-jeebies”. In 1922 Billy paired Barney Google with a horse named Sparkplug and he became one of the most highly paid cartoonists in America. During the 1920’s Billy was living in New York City and enjoying high society. A marriage to Mary Dunne in 1927 ended Billy’s intemperance. Two years later they became winter residents at 321 Brightwater Blvd. Billy signed his last comic strip on July 4, 1942. He died of cancer four months later on November 11th, he was 52.

In June of 1943, Mary married Alfred C. Bergman, known as “Fritz” who was at the time a Lieutenant in the US Navy. In civilian life Fritz was the owner of a special coating company, which served him in the Navy where he developed methods and products for protecting surfaces from rust and rot. After the war Mary and Fritz decided to live in the house at 321 Brightwater Blvd. and Fritz set up his business headquarters for Protective Coatings Inc. here. On Valentine’s Day in 1953, Mary boarded a passenger plane to fly to Houston to be with Fritz. It was bad weather, and the National Airlines DC-6 plane plunged into the stormy Gulf of Mexico. There were no survivors. The ownership of the house at 321 Brightwater went to Fritz.

Four years later, in 1957, Fritz married Barbara ‘Barbe’ Martin, and the couple remained in the house on Snell Isle. In a strange turn of events, on April 7, 1960, Barbe had a fall on their boat and was hospitalized for a back injury at St. Anthony’s. Fritz had just been admitted himself to St. Anthony’s the day before for pre-op on his gall bladder. The surgery was completed and while recuperating at the hospital, Fritz got out of bed and fell, rupturing the incision. Emergency surgery was performed to stop the bleeding, but Fritz died on the operating table on April 14, 1960, he was 53.

Barbe was now sole owner of the house at 321 Brightwater and on November 25, 1960, Barbe married Addison Armstrong. They decided to put the house on the market and in 1962 it was sold to Vice-Mayor, Eli Jenkins. The sale wasn’t without drama however, because there was a court dispute over the vacant lots that were adjacent to the property. Jenkins was assured that those properties had cleared title, but the Armstrongs made different claims. The case was finally settled after a protracted battle in the courts.

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