Threatened: Virginia Estate of Planters Peanuts Founder
By Lili DeBarbieri | Online Only | Jan. 13, 2010
Italian immigrant Amedeo Obici founded the Planters Peanuts Company in Suffolk, Va., in 1906. Also a great philanthropist, Obici built a local hospital and donated much of his wealth to his adopted community.
Obici died in 1947, and eventually his 1925 house fell into disrepair, much to the displeasure of Oderzo, Italy, his home town and Suffolk's sister city. The City of Suffolk has owned the two-story house since 2002 and has considered several proposals for its potential renovation, reuse, and now demolition. Later this month, city council will vote on the future of the Obici House.
Located on a golf course, the 7,000- square-foot house was constructed in an Italianate Art-Noveau style. Roundtree LLC manages the golf course and wants the house demolished. As part of a 20-year lease agreement, Roundtree has committed to building several structures on the property, among them a clubhouse. If the Obici House is demolished, Roundtree could build its clubhouse on the riverfront and open the property to further development. The city would no longer have to maintain the property or subsidize its use.
"The contributions of Amedeo Obici are very important to the City of Suffolk," Mayor Linda Johnson said in an e-mail. "With regards to Obici House, Suffolk City Council continues to evaluate all possible options."
Of those options is the proposal to turn the Obici House into a restaurant and events center. The newly formed Citizens for the Preservation of Obici House proposed the idea to the city council last month. According to Marv Carlin, the group's vice president, their reuse plan would supply tax revenue for the city of Suffolk. He anticipates more business being brought to the adjacent Sleepy Hole Golf Course by creating "a restaurant, special events venue, a grill, and office space further expanding the North Suffolk business corridor," Carlin says.
Elizabeth Kostelny, executive director of Preservation Virginia, points out that the National Register-listed Obici House is eligible for historic tax credits that could cover a quarter of the cost of renovation.
"It comes down to a simple question: is it better to find a suitable adaptive reuse of an existing structure with a unique character and legacy, or tear the building down, fill up a landfill, and build something that will not likely distinguish itself from other new construction?" Kostelny said in an e-mail. Preservation Virginia placed the Obici House on its list of the state's most endangered historic places last year.
Suffolk's city council will decide the fate of the Obici House on Jan. 20.
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