Group fears Obici House is in danger

Published 11:04 pm Monday, May 11, 2009

In 1947, Amedeo Obici died, leaving 98 percent of his wealth to the future citizens of Suffolk for health care.

Part of the Planters Peanuts founder’s fortune – nearly $9 million – went to construct the Louise Obici hospital, which still serves Suffolk residents today under the Sentara operation. Some of the money went to the Obici Health Care Foundation, which to this day supports programs in the area that address the needs of people who are uninsured.

Now, some residents fear that Obici’s house — currently owned by the city of Suffolk — is about to be torn down.

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The house was located on Obici’s dairy farm, Bay Point Farm, and he and his wife Louise lived there from 1924 until their deaths. Louise’s brother later acquired the home, and he sold it.

The house went through a series of transactions until it was sold to the city of Portsmouth, which in turn sold it to the city of Suffolk. It is located near what is now the 18th hole on the Sleepy Hole Golf Course.

“He absolutely adored his house,” said Susan Blair, part of a group that has organized to try to save the house. “For us just to tear it down, it’s just unheard of. It just can’t happen.”

However, nobody is sure of the home’s fate, because the city isn’t talking. Suffolk currently is in negotiations with offerors to lease or buy the golf course, along with all the buildings on it. The city told Blair’s group as well as the News-Herald that it could not respond to requests for information because of the ongoing negotiations.

However, rumors have swirled for months that the winning offeror plans to tear the house down.

“Nothing has been told to us otherwise, so you can’t help but believe what you’re hearing,” Blair said.

The group is trying to get the city to impose a 12-month moratorium on doing anything to the house to give the group enough time to come up with a financial plan for the building.

The request for proposals on leasing or buying the golf course, issued in 2007, asks offerors to “provide or identify a potential use” for the house.

Blair said the problem is not coming up with potential uses for the house — bed and breakfast, restaurant and special events location are all possibilities — but how to pay for it to be moved, if necessary.

Obici House is listed on the state and national registers of historic places, so there is no doubt that it is historically significant, Blair said.

“Here’s a man that died 60-plus years ago, and he continues to give back to the citizens of Suffolk,” she said. “We can at least honor him by saving his house.”

“It’s the least the citizens of Suffolk can do.”

A public hearing on leasing the golf course is scheduled for June 3 at 7 p.m. in City Council chambers, 441 Market St.