The strength of a city is measured by the celebration of its history.
Sometimes a historic building in a city is threatened by time and progress. It’s inspiring when a community rises up and reinvents that same place to give it brand new life and resist the dominant force of the modern.
The Thomas Center in Gainesville is one such building.
Where It Began
Originally called the Sunkist Villa, construction on the building was completed in 1910. The building originally served as a home for the Thomas family. Major William Reuben Thomas, his wife, and their five children lived in the house for over 15 years.
Major Thomas was a Gainesville-native, who was well-known for his active role as an educator, school administrator, banker, hotelier, retailer, land developer, and state senator. While he served as mayor from 1901-1907, Major Thomas played a primary role in locating the University of Florida in Gainesville. Thomas Hall, the first campus building, has its name in his honor.
In 1928, the Thomas home was renovated into the Hotel Thomas. The family sold the hotel in 1968. The new owners leased the building and grounds to Santa Fe Junior College for seven years.
The site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. In spite of this, the building faced the threat of demolition in 1974. Members of the community rallied together to save and renovate the dilapidated structure.
“It fell into disrepair,” said Sarit Sela, the project manager for the Thomas Center’s most recent renovation. “It was almost demolished…
And then the city, community actually fought to keep it alive.”
The City of Gainesville purchased the Thomas Center in 1974 with the intention of restoring the original structure of the house.
In the beginning of 2016, the City of Gainesville began a project to become known as a “citizen-centered” city. The plan is to update many buildings and facilities in the city within the next few years to achieve this goal.
“The beauty of the city is alluring to me,” Sela said. “And the different eras that come together. So bringing some gems from the history of the place adds to the character.”
Today, the Thomas Center is available to host weddings, banquets, formals, and more. Festivals, recitals, play readings and concerts all occur regularly for the benefit of the community. It also houses a handful of city departments and offices. But the hope is that members of the Gainesville community will continue to use it for cultural enrichment and community-building.
“I think that in addition, especially now after the renovation, we will see more and more public use and community use,” Sela said.
As part of the new renovations, the Thomas Center incorporated several Fractures into their wall decor.
“We need to have contemporary buildings and spaces, but also draw on the character of the history. The Thomas Center is definitely one of the gems of Gainesville and we need to celebrate it.”
The goal is for the Thomas Center to remain the cultural center for the Gainesville community for as long as the community will continue to support its rich history.
“The community is actually using it, and… proud of the Thomas Center.”
Photo Credits: Drew Allen, Taylor Cook, Cory Monteiro, Shonta Bertzyk, Andy Apicella, Wesley Hetrick
To get even more inspired by what you put on your walls, you should really meet Father Brian.