Historic buildings in the Tampa Bay Area are experiencing a renaissance as new investors dive into the restoration and renovation process that promises a whole new purpose.
Many of these buildings have stood still for decades, ready for their next owners to breathe new life into them. In the meantime, other buildings are being updated to accommodate today’s needs and city codes. All are repurposed with the common mission of preserving the past and at the same time adapting to the future.
Several projects in the Tampa area are reinterpreting old, long-vacant properties as new beacons of residential, commercial and educational opportunities.
Below are some examples.
Remembering the Moseleys and the Jacksons
Secluded in a wooded enclave in front of an artery in Brandon, Moseley House is just waiting for the opportunity to share its story with the world. It was built in 1886 by the Moseley family and until recently served as the home for this clan of Brandon pioneers.
The last family member, Julia Winifred Moseley, died on August 9, 2020 at the age of 101. But before she died, she had the foresight to create a trust to protect the 15 acre property and its various structures from the surrounding development. Their mission was to use the property in ways that enriched the community.
It is a mission that Dr. Lori Collins of the University of South Florida Digital Heritage and Humanities Libraries (USF DHHC) takes loving care. She and her team of three-dimensional specialists, archaeologists, environmental scientists, geographers and students go to great lengths to photograph, measure and catalog every building and artifact on the Moseley property.
The aim is to create a digital record of the premises when there are plans on how best to preserve this Brandon landmark as per Moseley’s wishes.
“It’s almost like building forensics,” says Collins, explaining the laser-assisted digitization process that creates a precise virtual image of the Moseley distribution. “It’s like doing a CT scan of a building and visually cutting through walls and other structures so we can get a better idea of what’s inside.”
The innovative three-dimensional map technologies help USF libraries create a scheme that not only serves to stabilize the buildings but also helps convey a story about the historical structures in order to educate the public.
“With this information, a person can tell a better story about a historical structure,” says Collins. “Those with virtual reality equipment can also explore these historical locations.”
Other Tampa historic locations archived by USF DHHC include the Tampa Theater and Columbia Restaurant, two landmarks with intricate historical details that could prove irreplaceable if damaged or destroyed.
“We have digital images of the Columbia restaurant right down to the mosaic tiles on the outside of the building. The Columbia Restaurant owners are very history-conscious, “says Collins of Richard Gonzmart, fourth generation owner of Columbia Restaurant, and his family.
“Another of the many other projects we’re working on is the Jackson Rooming House,” adds Collins. The Jackson Rooming House in downtown Tampa was once the only place where African American artists and civil rights activists traveling to Tampa could stay in the once-separated city.
The Jackson Rooming House, east of downtown Tampa, was built in September 2019 before serious conservation efforts were made in recent months. This landmark was built in 1901 and has been vacant since 1989.
The Jackson Rooming House was built in 1901 by Moses and Sarah Jackson and has housed many famous guests including James Brown, Cab Calloway, and Ray Charles. The building was closed in 1989 and has been empty and in poor condition for decades. The Jackson Rooming House and its future were listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 2007 and are in equilibrium as the hands of time and the bouts of bad weather threaten to demolish what is believed to be the rundown structure last detached home is in downtown Tampa.
Efforts to restore the Jackson Rooming House are now backed by solid money, but it’s still a race against time to save the structure from collapse. USF’s digital archivists are among the first responders who digitally record every facet of the building in hopes of providing a roadmap for its restoration to those responsible for restoring the building.
“We’re creating an archive for the future,” notes Collins, who describes herself as the caretaker for Florida’s historic buildings. “We use a variety of resources, including images from the Hillsborough County Public Library and the USF Library. We create a bridge into the past through the lens of the present. ”
Kress has a great deal to offer a developer
Before the days of Walmart, K-Mart, and Zayre, there was SH Kress & Company, a department store chain that was founded in 1896 and opened its Tampa store on Franklin Street in 1900. Over the century, Kress stores became architectural icons for their ornate art Facades. The original Kress store on Franklin Street was demolished in 1929 to make way for a much larger, more decorative building. This store, which was one of the last great Art Deco buildings in Tampa, is now on Franklin Street – some 40 years later, Kress and many others across the country closed their doors in 1981.
The Kress building just behind the former Woolworth building shares a block in downtown Tampa with the former JJ Newberry building (largely obscured here) and represents Tampa’s Art Deco movement.
The Kress Building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, could not be demolished during the major redevelopment of downtown Tampa in the 1980s and 1990s. In contrast to spared historical buildings, which were finally renovated as loft apartments and office space, the Kress building is still waiting for its long-deserved renovation. The Kress building sits between two other historic buildings that were once inhabited by rival JJ Newberry in the north and Woolworth in the south.
Jeannette Jason, director of the Land Advisory Group, says the Kress building has long been considered for adaptive reuse and, in combination with adjacent construction on the surrounding land, has been approved for development as a high-rise residential complex of up to 401 units. According to Jason, who formerly owned the building, the Wilson Company, which purchased the Kress building in 2017, is also considering adaptive reuse of the JJ Newberry and Woolworth structures.
“The historic Kress building is one of the most unique buildings in Tampa,” notes Jason. But she says the Kress building, like all historic buildings, presents developers with their own set of challenges. “A historic building in the middle of the block makes providing an efficient parking garage expensive and difficult.”
Del Acosta served as an architectural historian for more than 35 years, including 13 years in a similar capacity with the City of Tampa. He says there are many buildings in the Tampa area that are classified as historic landmark projects.
“One building that will likely always be in the works is Plant Hall,” quips Acosta, referring to the grand minaret structure that was built in 1891 on the site of what is now the University of Tampa. The Plant Hall, which originally served as the Tampa Bay Hotel, has been under renovation for many years. The list of long-awaited projects that have yet to be completed in the great building will last for many years there. “It’s one of the top 10 examples of a Victorian building in the United States,” he claims.
At the other end of the spectrum are the humble bungalows that are dotted around Ybor City and West Tampa. “The casitas and bungalows were a concern for the many people who did not live in houses as we know them today,” he notes. “They represent the early rise to the middle class. They were important to Tampa’s development and cultural contributions to the community, ”says Acosta.
These two bungalows in Ybor City are typical of the casitas that cigar factory workers would have lived in around the turn of the 20th century. Now considered historic gems, they tell the story of Tampa’s diverse culture and rich history.
Across the bridges in Pinellas County, Historic Preservation Architect Vivian Salaga, AIA, and her team at Atelier Architecture Engineering Construction, Inc. have just completed the restoration of the Tarpon Springs Cultural Center. “It used to be the town hall and the city fire station and is now used as a local community theater and gallery,” she says. “All conservation work reveals stories of people who lived in the buildings over time. It is the chronology of the history of a community, not just the building itself. ”
Salaga’s work has taken them to both sides of the bay.
“One major project we completed in Tampa Heights – the Sanctuary Lofts – formerly the First United Methodist Church of Tampa on the corner of Central Avenue and Ross Avenue, was home to many early Tampa leaders in the ward,” says Salaga. “While we were working on this building, many descendants of these founders, as well as descendants of other parishioners, came to us with memorabilia, photos, letters, and various documents recording the lives of these families – births, baptisms, confirmations, weddings, anniversaries, birthdays – and the Development of the surrounding neighborhood over time, and then it became a “living” project with greater depth of spirit. “
Historical monument protection projects often lead to greater economic redevelopment of the surrounding community.
“These projects stimulate the well-being of the main downtown streets, and each and every one of them has brought life and vitality back to the business districts in which they are located,” says Salaga. “They preserve the scale and character of their neighborhoods and are the epitome of the green building movement.”
While every project is unique, there is a common thread in restoration and adaptive reuse projects.
“Most of the conservation work involves changing the use of the building from the original purpose. The challenge is to preserve the integrity of the historic building and to reuse it for contemporary use. It is our task as monument protection architects not to demonstrate and destroy, but to honor and preserve. “
Many laypeople may view an aging, rundown building with peeling paint, rotten wood, and cracked plaster as too expensive to revive, or perhaps worse, as a lost cause.
“And most people then see demo and destroy / replace as the solution. However, these are cosmetic issues that are easy to fix and that are automatically fixed for any restoration or remodeling project. “
She adds, “You have to look at the bones of the building to determine the success of a restoration project.”
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