Florida mansion once owned by USA Today founder destroyed by fire

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 16, 2016 12:58 PM

ORLANDO, Fla. (Reuters) - The Florida oceanfront mansion where USA Today founder Al Neuharth lived for four decades was destroyed overnight by a fire visible at least five miles away, a local fire chief said on Wednesday.

The cause of the massive blaze was not immediately known. It was being investigated as suspicious due to the value of the home, said Cocoa Beach Fire Department Chief Ryan Duckworth.

The 10,000-square-foot, 11-bedroom, 12-bath house recently sold for a price believed to be near $5 million and was undergoing renovations. It was engulfed in flames when the call about the fire came in, and firefighters worked to save neighboring homes, Duckworth said.

Neuharth, who led the Gannett Co. newspaper chain for more than 15 years, died in 2013 at age 89 after falling at the home.

He reportedly named the estate Pumpkin Center after a bar and grill in South Dakota where he once worked, and it was the site of meetings where he and his team developed the concept for USA Today, according to the Florida Today newspaper, which Neuharth also founded.

The beach-front home, built in 1973 and considered iconic in Cocoa Beach on Florida's east coast, included a tree house with full plumbing and electricity.

“It was an absolute modern marvel of construction,” Duckworth said.

(Reporting by Barbara Liston; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Chris Reese)