When Chris Mathena and his family began to look for a new neighborhood to call home, they did their research.
They looked at all of Tampa’s up-and-coming neighborhoods -- Seminole Heights, Tampa Heights, etc. -- and at all the relevant information and data. They considered location, schools, crime rates, emergency services, parks and, of course, value for their home-buying dollar.
The choice was clear, Mathena says, and earlier this year, Mathena, his wife and their 3-year-old son moved into their new home in West Tampa.
Specifically, the Mathena family chose a neo-shotgun home, designed especially for West Tampa by Domain Homes.
“Proximity to the urban core,” is Mathena’s immediate reply when you ask him why he chose West Tampa. “I work downtown.”
New shotgun-style homes honor Tampa's history
The Mathena family’s new home is on the site of the old homestead of the Elvin Martinez family, near MacFarlane Park. Martinez family and friends gather at 2017 groundbreaking for Domain homes in West Tampa.
Martinez is a longtime state representative, and several generations of his family have called West Tampa home. Domain has built six adjacent homes on the property, on narrow lots. All six of the two-story homes have similar designs, with broad front porches, minimal yard space in front and on the sides, and room for a couple of cars to park off the alley in the back.
Some of those other neighborhoods that Mathena considered have convenient locations. But in the other categories the family considered important, including schools, West Tampa held the edge.
Discovering the shotgun-style homes that Domain has introduced in West Tampa made the decision easier, Mathena says.
“When you look at other homes of this size, about 1,600 square feet, three/two-and-a-half, there’s a lot of wasted space,” he says. “Formal dining rooms and things like that. This is a lot more efficient use of the space.”
The original “shotgun” houses in Tampa were built a century or so ago in working-class neighborhoods, especially in West Tampa and Ybor City. They were clustered around cigar factories and were designed as low-priced housing for cigar workers.
“There were something like 200 cigar factories in Tampa,” says Kevin Robles, the chief operating officer of Domain Homes. “About 38 survive, and the majority of those are in West Tampa.”
Because those original shotgun homes were designed as housing for people who didn’t make much money, they usually were not worth rehabilitating once they fell into disrepair. So few are still standing today.
Elvin L. Martinez shares a few memories at Domain Homes groundbreaking in West Tampa.
As a result, West Tampa, unlike Seminole Heights or Hyde Park with lots of bungalows, doesn’t have a signature style of home architecture that has survived to the present day.
But shotgun-style homes are still part of West Tampa’s history and help define its character. Domain has resurrected and updated the design in a two-story version that it is building on several locations around West Tampa.
Six of them, including the Mathena family’s, stand in a row along Spruce Street on the old Martinez homestead. Elvin Martinez has given his blessing to the project, Robles says, and spoke at the groundbreaking.
Most of the homes have been sold, but some are still available, with prices starting around $285,000.
The price was one of the reasons the Mathena family chose their home.
"There are very few, if any, similar sized new homes in West Tampa,'' Chris Mathena says. "Most comparable homes are often over 2,000 square feet in size, but with wasted space, and ... often $100k more.''
Smaller lots make the difference
Domain, which has become the dominant home builder in West Tampa and one of the entities that community leaders often mention as a factor in the neighborhood's renaissance, was able to build the distinctively styled homes because a large part of West Tampa has been designated as an “overlay district,” with a different set of construction standards and requirements than exists in most of the city. The West Tampa overlay district, in a nod to neighborhood history, includes some 35-foot-wide home lots. Lots must be at least 50 feet wide in most Tampa neighborhoods.
“There are a lot of smaller lots in West Tampa,” Robles says. “It’s been a challenge.”
Domain Homes' Founder and President Sharon McSwain at groundbreaking in West Tampa.
The design leaves plenty of room for Mathena’s family of three (with a fourth on the way) and helps keep the price down.
But they’re not bare-bones, utilitarian houses like the original shotgun houses. A bedroom on the second floor, for example, features a vaulted ceiling with a dormer window facing the front.
They’re specifically designed to appeal to the contemporary home buyer while honoring the distinctive traditions that help make West Tampa special. Besides the narrower footprint, the homes feature metal roofs, a throwback to the tin roofs of the historic shotgun houses.
But a metal roof and a front porch probably wouldn’t have meant much to the Mathena family if they hadn’t loved the location.
When they compared schools and crime rates, West Tampa came out way ahead of Seminole Heights, Chris Mathena says.
“We’re hoping (our son) will go to MacFarlane Elementary,” Chris Mathena says.
Some Tampa residents might be surprised to hear that West Tampa’s crime rate is lower than that of Seminole Heights. But Mathena checked the statistics, and that’s the case, at least once you get west of Armenia Avenue.
After six months in their new home, the family is happy to be living in West Tampa, Mathena says. There’s some noise from passing cars with loud sound systems, and there is occasionally a raucous party in MacFarlane Park, but it’s all during the day, and tolerable.
“You’re going to have that anywhere unless you move out to the suburbs,” he says.
Although it’s wasn’t simple to come up with a plan for a small-lot home that suited modern lifestyles and West Tampa’s heritage, the new updated shotgun houses have been popular with buyers who are just discovering West Tampa. And they’ve been popular with long-time residents such as Martinez who appreciate the way the look of the homes fits the neighborhood. That’s important to the Domain, Robles says.
“We want to be a good neighbor,” he says. “We want people to be happy to have us in the community.”
For more information about the shotgun-style homes being built in West Tampa, visit the Domain Homes website.