Ailing structure

Published 11:45 pm Friday, August 14, 2009

As a group of about 30 people milled around the Obici House on Friday, it became clear just how widespread is the concern for the fate of the historic Suffolk structure.

City officials opened the former home of the late Suffolk philanthropist Amedeo Obici for tours on Friday by individuals and groups interested in restoring the neglected landmark.

The group included the expected collection of Suffolk boosters and history buffs, along with their construction consultants.

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One guest, however, had traveled from Atlanta for the chance to look around the home and consider the ways it could be repaired, renovated and put back into use.

Saxophonist Amy Lee, whose career has included a 15-year stint with Jimmy Buffet and several years with Charles Neville’s jazz band, joined the largely local crowd to get a look at the leaded and stained-glass windows, the elaborate woodwork and crumbling plaster inside the home.

What connection could an Atlanta-based national recording artist have with an old home in Suffolk?

“I’ve just become a fan of Suffolk,” she said. And the Obici House “is an important place for the city — for the country, really.”

Lee first learned about the home from her friends, Hinton Hurff Sr. and his son, “D.” of Suffolk, who also were part of the group touring the home Friday.

For Hinton Hurff, who served more than 10 years on the Obici House Board of Directors when the city of Portsmouth owned the home and golf course, saving the home has the feel of a personal mission.

“We fell in love with the house,” he said of the group that Portsmouth put in charge of its administration during the days when the LPGA played an annual tournament at the adjacent Sleepy Hole Golf Course.

Now, Hurff serves on a different board of directors that is concerned with the fate the Obici family’s old Suffolk home. That group, Citizens for the Preservation of Obici House, has led the public effort to get the city of Suffolk to take steps to restore the building.

“We don’t want it repaired or patched,” Hurff said. “We want it restored to its original luster.”

The citizens’ group is led by Susan Blair and is working with Powell Management Associates to submit a response to the city’s request for proposals by the Sept. 10 deadline.

Several other developers are known to be looking at the property, as well.

“Lots of people are interested, of course,” Hurff said Friday evening. “But not everybody wants to put the amount of work into trying to save it that we do.”

In fact, Lee, the saxophonist, at one time could have been one of those potential competitors to the local preservation group.

“I was hoping to purchase the home myself and turn some of it into a recording studio,” she said after touring the building.

Having renovated two old homes in Atlanta, she had experience with the process, she said, and she’d felt confident that musicians would be interested in using the studio while staying in the home and taking advantage of the golf course and riverfront views.

Financial issues, she said, would keep her from pursuing that plan, but she still hopes to be able to help the Suffolk group meet its goal of restoring the old home.

“I will do what I can to save the house,” she said, noting that she had discovered a connection even deeper than her friendships in Suffolk.

Her mother’s family, Lee said, was from Lonigo, Italy, which is about 40 kilometers from Ordezo, the town Amedeo and Louise Obici left when they came to America and settled in Suffolk.

Friday’s tour was the last that the city will give to groups and developers interested in responding to its request for proposals. Those proposals are due Sept. 10.