Historic Sarasota home a unique take on the houseboat

SARASOTA, Fla. -- There are a lot of landmarks that make the Suncoast unique. One in Sarasota is a lot featuring two houses: one built like a ship, the other built like a lighthouse.

And what a story these houses could tell, about a sea captain who left his beloved sea, but didn't leave his boat behind. He just built one on land and spent the rest of his life there.

Drivers on Osprey Avenue just north of Fruitville Road often do a double take when they see the house shaped like a boat next to a house shaped like a lighthouse. "This was built by John Ringling's skipper, Arthur Rowe, and he bought the property in 1921. In those days, it was just a dirt trail coming out here," says Sarasota County history specialist Jeff LaHurd.

In 1933 he built the two houses. "It was constructed by a well-known boat builder at the time, Oliver Blackburn. Rowe was on hand every day to make sure everything was done properly; that indeed it was like a yacht."

And Rowe knew yachts well. He ran away to sea as a teenager, and eventually met John Ringling. "He started captaining Ringling's boat Arvida, which was 83 feet long, about 1910."

He also captained Ringling's second yacht -- which blew up in Tampa Bay -- and also his 3rd yacht for a while. Then he left Ringling and went to work captaining William Selby's 85-foot yacht.

When Rowe retired, he moved to dry land, but still wanted to forever make his home on a boat. The boat and lighthouse buildings became historic landmarks in 1984. In 2008, they were bought by Elwin and Diana Lissone.

Diane says the 3-story lighthouse is a small but complete house. "The first floor has a kitchen and living area. Then a steep open staircase takes you up to the second floor. It's a sleeping area, a toilet and a shower, and another steep staircase takes you to the 3rd floor."

And they say the boat house is also very livable with all the modern amenities. "It has curved walls, so you really feel like you're in a boat.”

And it's set in a lush garden with patios set among big trees, flowers, and birds. "It's everything you need, but still it feels like magical."

This boat has weathered many a storm since it was built back in 1933, but it's always had its lighthouse in view, and it's never been in any danger of sinking.