Interviewee: Samuel Gowan
Interviewer: Asili Ya Nadhiri
Date: March 9, 1983
N: Mr. Gowan, how did you come to settle here in Florida since you are from New
G: Well, I am really not from New Jersey per se. I was born at the Margaret Hague
Memorial Hospital on March 20, 1941 in Jersey City, New Jersey, in transit you
might say. I lived in New Jersey for only the first six months of my life.
Thereafter, I lived in up-state New York, and was resettled at the grand age of
four on Long Island. So essentially my background is Long Island, New York
I attended both undergraduate and graduate schools in Massachusetts. When I
finished my master's degree, I had an opportunity to go to another graduate
school in New York City, but I did not want delay going to this school for a year.
In 1958, my parents had moved permanently to Florida. We had been wintering
in Florida for a number of years before that, and I decided to take the opportunity
to spend a year in Florida. I came down to Florida in 1965, and I tried to find a
job in one of the junior colleges since I had just finished my master's. But, there
were not jobs available.
Someone suggested that I apply for a graduate assistantship at the University of
Florida, which I did in late August 1965. I had taught a course called Humanities
during the summer at Daytona Beach Community College. So in the latter part
of August, I came to Gainesville and was interviewed and accepted into the
Ph.D. program in English Literature; I was interviewed and given an assistantship
and told to be in the classroom within three days. At that time, we were on
trimesters. So my move from Ormond Beach, which is where my family lives, to
Gainesville was very rapid, transpiring over a period of three days. All of a
sudden I found myself in a classroom in the University of Florida, a school that I
had not known too much about, though I had visited Gainesville very briefly in
either 1959 or 1960. So I became a graduate assistant in the Department of
English at the University of Florida, and I never left Gainesville thereafter.
Now, when I moved to Gainesville, I lived on the northwest side of the city on
1824 Northwest Third Place. I met my next door neighbor, who became my wife
in 1969. My first move to the northeast section came in 1969, when I rented an
apartment at 405 Northeast Fifth Street.
N: Let me ask you a question to get some historical background and clarification.
What were the names of the schools you attended?
G: I did my undergraduate work at College of the Holy Cross in Worchester,
Massachusetts, and I did my master's at Boston College.
N: I take it your master's is in English.
G: Yes. It was a special program for medieval studies. In effect, I became very
deeply involved in middle English at Holy Cross, and I carried that on in the
medieval program at Boston College.
N: How did you then go from graduate assistant in English literature to assistant
director of libraries?
G: Historic preservation caused that change. As I said, I got married in 1969 and
rented a wonderful apartment on the second floor of this old house. It was a
very strange coincidence, in that I had been in the northeast area of town once
before with my family when they had visited in Gainesville one Sunday, and we
had lunch at the Hotel Thomas. At that time, I believe the Hotel Thomas was
one of the very few places where you could have lunch on Sunday. That was
my first introduction.
I had never been in the old northeast area of Gainesville before, and of course, I
had never been in the Hotel Thomas. I loved the area. It was very reminiscent
in ambience, not necessarily in architecture, to the old neighborhoods in which I
had lived in both Worchester and Boston. In other words, I thought it was a
charming section of the city.
Shortly thereafter, I went to a party given by the department of theater, which
was held in an older home. The party happened to be held in the apartment
which I eventually rented. It was on the second floor of this old house on
Northeast Fifth Avenue. We were delighted with the apartment, it was huge.
There were three bedrooms, a front stair, a back stair, a large kitchen, a living
room, and a sun porch. Actually, the porch was a screened-in sleeping porch on
the second floor, and we got this place for eighty-five bucks a month. So I
moved there in August 1969, which was the same month in which I got married.
The apartment was owned by a man by the name of Mason. He was a very old
man and he was sick. He had emphysema.
Very soon after we were married, my wife got pregnant and we were expecting a
child. This old apartment had only one space heater in the living room; there
was a second heater in one of the back bedrooms. We requested from the
landlord that he install another heater in the other bedroom. This was in April or
May of 1970; we had just been through the winter and knew that when the baby
was born additional heat would have to be put into the apartment. So he
agreed, and the baby, Geoffrey, was born in June.
In the summertime, no one thought too much about cold, but in the latter part of
October 1970, I went to the landlord and asked him if he would fulfill his promise
of putting some heat in the baby's room. Winter was coming on and it was going
to start getting chilly. At that point, he reneged on his agreement. He said he
was not going to spend anymore money on this damn old house, that he was
constantly thinking of selling. I got very upset and walked down the block toward
Fourth Street and found a cottage. I had no idea about its architectural
significance, or age, or history.
I had continued in English studies, and I was sort of a lapsing graduate student.
I was teaching full-time in both the department of English and the humanities
department, and I had developed bad habits, in that I was concentrating much
more on teaching rather than on finishing my degree. I was going very, very
slow. I had finished all my course work, but I had not taken a qualifying exam.
So I found this house, and there was a "for sale" sign on it with a telephone
number. I called the number, but I could not get any answer. So I contacted a
realtor by the name of Mary Moeller, who, of course, still operates in town. She
found the owner and we found that the house, which at that time was around
1,600 square feet, was available for $13,500. This was in October 1970.
I brought my father over to Gainesville. He had continued to visit Gainesville,
and he loved the old neighborhood. He was from Toronto and he liked living in
older neighborhoods. We had always lived in older neighborhoods until the time
we came to Florida, at which time he built a house. In fact, it was the first house
that we had ever built in my family. We had always bought used houses, if you
He decided that it was okay, and that he would finance the purchase. I found
that the house had been sold the previous April to a painter from Cincinnati or
Cleveland, and that the painter had bought this on the spur of the moment. He
had moved here, but then found that when he brought his family down that they
did not like Gainesville. After a very few months, the whole family had moved
back to Ohio. He had obtained an FHA mortgage, and all I essentially had to do
was to buy his equity out. At $13,500 that was pretty cheap. So I was able to
pick up his FHA mortgage, and I bought him out for about $3,000.
So I got out of the apartment with no heat and moved into this house in
November 1970. We had it painted, and I suddenly became a homeowner.
This was the first house that I had ever bought in my life, and I had a wife and a
baby, and we were very, very happy in it.
Still, I had no relationship to the neighborhood, per se. I knew very few people
in the neighborhood. My ties were all with the graduate students, or with the
faculty in the humanities department or in English. Life sort of breezed on
through 1971 with planting gardens that did not grow and trying to make
vegetables come up that were then eaten and so forth and so on.
The house was in essentially good condition structurally, with one or two
exceptions, and those were relatively easy to fix. We had to replaster areas of
the dining room. The major problem was getting enough money to get essential
furniture in the house. But we were very happy there.
My uncle died in very early 1972 and I went to Pennsylvania for the funeral. I
remember this vividly because when I returned from Pennsylvania, I was driving
from the airport; I think I must have come in State Road 26 and turned up
Northeast Third Street. I noticed a rezoning application notification worker on
what we call the Baxter house at the corner of Third Street and Northeast Fifth
Avenue. It was an application to rezone that particular lot from R-3, which was
high-density residential, to R-P, which is residential professional. I noticed it
because I passed right by it. During the time that I had been away, which was
about ten days, the neighborhood had become very conscious of this particular
rezoning application. I happened to live within 400 feet of this home. The
previous year, in 1971, Sam Mace and Ben Pickard Sam Mace lives on the
Boulevard in the 600 block, and Ben Pickard lived at 406 Northeast Seventh
Avenue had circulated a petition dealing with the Hotel Thomas. The Thomas
property had also been zoned R-P. They had become very conscious of the fact
that R-P zoning would allow or permit the demolition of the hotel, and a
replacement office complex on that property. Though I was not really connected
to the neighborhood, I suddenly realized that there was a tremendous amount of
stress in the neighborhood because there was a concerted effort to expand the
central city into the old northeast. The expansion, in effect, would convert it from
a residential area into a residential professional area with a lot of offices and
complexes. At this time, we were in sort of a real estate boom and there was a
lot fo construction and building activity.
Most of the people who I talked with shortly after I noticed the rezoning notice
were not from Gainesville. But they had moved to the northeast because of the
ambience of the neighborhood, and its closeness to downtown, but more than
anything it was the trees and the way that the green spaces worked. I was
really not conscious of those things then. I just liked living in an old house in an
old neighborhood. I think most of us felt that way. We liked our old houses and
we liked the way the neighborhood worked with sidewalks and narrow streets.
There was a good deal of university personnel and faculty living in the area. A
meeting was called, and frankly, I do not remember where this meeting was held,
but it was a meeting of people who were concerned about the area. We decided
to go to the zoning meeting planned for February 1972. When we got to the
meeting, the plan board had requested two people to appear before the board.
One of the people was Blair Reeves, who is currently a professor of architectural
preservation in the College of Architecture. The second person was Carl Feiss.
Both Carl and Blair appeared and talked about historic preservation. Essentially,
this was the first time I had ever heard the term historic preservation. As it
turned out, a good number of people in the neighborhood were members of an
organization called the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which is a
nonprofit corporation chartered by Congress and headquartered in Washington,
D.C. The Trust is dedicated to the preservation of America's architectural
I found at the plan board meeting that the board was ahead of us in that they had
already established a subcommittee for historic preservation. They had done
this because Blair Reeves had a class undertake an inventory of the architecture
in the old northeast section as a class exercise. I believe that Blair had turned
this over to the city planners, and in turn the plan board had reacted by
establishing a committee to investigate whether Gainesville had an architectural
heritage worthy of conservation. Members of the subcommittee for historic
preservation at that time were Herrick Smith, who is currently the chairman of the
department of landscape architecture, and Sam Holloway, who is a local
insurance broker, and who also happened to be a member of the plan board.
Sam Holloway later became the chairman of the plan board. These men were
They were dealing with zoning applications, and they thought that based on the
inventory of Blair's students that perhaps architectural preservation was a
movement, if you will, that Gainesville ought to be seriously considering. I found
shortly thereafter that the demolition of the old Alachua County Courthouse had
left a void in the city, and that people were concerned about the loss of many
churches and other buildings and structures that contained the architectural
heritage of the town. In other words, I was very much of Johnny-come-lately
and a very dim unconnected graduate student. But I lived within 400 feet, no I
believe it was 300 feet, so I was the person immediately affected or contacted
about this particular rezoning application.
The rezoning had been applied for by Earl May, who was a well-known man in
Gainesville. He wanted to demolish the Baxter House and build a somewhat
oriental motif office building to house May Enterprises. The problem was that
the place where they wanted to build their office was a lot on the inside of a
block, so in effect it was a spot zoning for R-P. It was for a very small lot within
what was a residential block.
So at this meeting Earl got up and made his pitch for the rezoning, and the plan
board, as is traditional and is still true today, immediately tabled the application
and referred the whole question to the subcommittee for historic preservation.
The petition would be presented again, as is traditional, at the March plan board
Shortly after this meeting, I remember a large crowd of people, all very upset,
and Blair Reeves and Carl Feiss started standing up, and the questions were,
"What should we do? How can we deal with this problem?" These were
questions from the neighborhood. Carl and Blair, but specifically Carl, said,
"You have to organize." So Carl Feiss, at the instigation of Earl Mays' rezoning
request, said, "You really should get your act together and organize."
Everybody asked, "How do we organize?" It was suggested that a nonprofit
corporation be founded. Then there was a flurry of activity and we decided to
incorporate. We went first to a lawyer by the name of Clara Gehan, who lives on
the Boulevard. We asked her if she would volunteer her services to draw up the
corporation papers to found a nonprofit corporation, and we decided that we
would call the corporation Historic Gainesville, Inc. The first organizational
meeting was held I believe on March 18, 1972, in Ben Pickard's house. We had
mimeographed flyers and had sent them out all around the neighborhood, and
we had a very good turnout. Thirty-five or forty people from the neighborhood
came to the meeting, and I remember that Dr. W. C. Thomas was there. He
was the obstetrician for all of Gainesville. He was at that time a very old man.
Probably the most important person to attend, relative to continuing history, was
a woman by the name of Sara Drylie. She had been heading a committee in the
Junior Welfare League, as it was called then to investigate the feasability of
creating or finding an old house that would serve as a location for local history,
as well as the headquarters for the Junior Welfare League. They had been
looking at the possibility of developing a house museum. Sara was at the very
first organizational meeting, and she read a statement supporting the
development of an historic preservation program for Gainesville from the Junior
Welfare League. So at the March 18 meeting, we were organized and we
established an ad hoc board. I remember that Sara was on it, I was on it, Bernie
Webb was on it, and Ben Pickard, Sam Mace, Aubrey Williams, and I believe,
Norma Vierck were on it. She lived at Fourth Avenue and Third Street. There
were more people on it, but I cannot remember all of their names without going to
my records. I am sure that Mary Barrow was on the board, too, and perhaps
Elsie Harrison. It was essentially a neighborhood board.
One of the first things we tried to do with the neighborhood board was to locate a
person on each block in the old northeast section. This action was not
necessarily for those blocks affected by this particular rezoning, but in those
blocks which we felt constituted the old northeast neighborhood. The most
salient point that came out of this was that because I lived within the 300 foot
area, I legally could contribute my land in opposing the zoning reaction. If more
than a certain percentage of square feet of property owners within a 300 foot
area object to rezoning, then it forces a super-majority. I lived within that area
and the rest of the houses within that 300 foot area were lived in by non-owners,
or students, or they were boarding houses. So there really were not many
single family residential structures in the area except mine.
N: Did these other non-family, non-owner dwellings ever vote?
A: For the most part, these people did not come to the organization meeting of HGI,
so I ended up canvassing the neighborhood trying to persuade these people to
sign a petition opposing the rezoning of this particular area from R-3 to R-P.
Most of them signed, but quite a few of them were very old people, or they were
landlords who really were not interested in the preservation of the
neighborhoods. Most of them were interested in, more or less, getting along.
The northeast, by this time, had a lot of big old houses that had been divided.
I remember one man in particular who became famous was named D. B. Allen.
He died a few years ago at a grand age of ninety. We used to refer to it as the
D. B. Allen touch. He owned about three or four houses in the immediate
vicinity, and he had chopped them up into boarding houses. He had eight or
nine people living in these houses. D. B. Allen, however, never tore down the
house. And the D. B. Allen touch, as we called it, was not as invidious as it first
seemed because his partitions were so cheap and so badly designed that for the
most part they could be pulled out. We found that beneath it all, there was really
no essential violation of the structure. In any case, I went around canvassing
the neighborhood and I became very, very active. For the first time I was
touching the community. I am not sure if I was really conscious of it, but I was
terribly conscious of the fact that a house that I had lived in only a couple of
years was suddenly threatened. I think it was very, very much of the
my-home-is-my-kingdom syndrome, and that somebody was threatening my
property and changing my neighborhood into a place where it would not be
possible to live. I was going to end up as an isolated residence in the middle of
a lot of office buildings.
Going back to the February meeting, I remember Carl Feiss asking very specific
questions: somebody is going to have to organize; somebody is going to have
to do all this work; somebody is going to have to undertake this kind of activity. I
guess at that point in my life, I happened to be ripe for that kind of involvement.
So I was the person to take the papers to the attorney and so forth and so on.
As it turned out, Clara did not have time to volunteer her services, so we bowed
out of asking her. I took the whole question of incorporation to the Dell, Graham
law firm in town, and Bill Ryles drew up the articles of incorporation. Mary
Barrow, Ben Pickard, Bernie Webb, and I were the incorporators of HGI. Then
we had the board named, and I was elected ad hoc-president, or being appointed
president, if you will. That was in April 1972. The plan board turned down Earl
Mays' petition. I was then constantly involved in HGI for three years of absolute
I had to decide whether or not I was going to continue school and finish my
degree, or whether I was going to give that up or put it of, and deal with HGI. I
made a value judgment. I felt at that point that it was more important to try and
deal with that neighborhood and preserve that neighborhood that I had come to
love. In the long view that I had at that time, I felt that the neighborhood was
more important. So I more or less said, "Okay, I am into it." And I really
worked like mad, and I studied as much as I could. I worked with the planners, I
tried to deal with the organization, and HGI began to become rather effective -
not only through my work, but through the other work. The town was ready for
HGI to become a very effective political, nonprofit, lobby organization.
We held our first big annual meeting at Kirby-Smith School, and we brought in a
guy by the name of Reid, and I cannot remember his last name. He was, at that
time, the director of the Historic Savannah Foundation. He talked and we had a
pretty good turnout and Margie Carr, Carl Feiss and Blair Reeves talked. We
had a lot of people.
So there was this development and I began to learn that what we really had to do
was not only to call out the brigades, if you will, and to lie down in the streets and
go down to the plan board and scream and yell, but most importantly to establish
that historic preservation was a viable alternative in the planning office.
I found that the people who had moved to the northeast, or people who had
moved to Gainesville were essentially much more interested in the preservation
of the heritage of the town than the people who had lived in Gainesville for
generations. In fact, most of the people who could be called, if you will,
establishment, had moved from the northeast to the far northwest or the far
southwest. They had, in effect, abandoned the neighborhood for a variety of
reasons. One of the most prominent reasons was that the houses were just
simply old and it was time to build new houses; that idea seems to have
developed during the 1950s.
In any case, the organization grew rapidly; we imported speakers; we started
publishing a newsletter; and we started dealing with what, at that time, became
almost a continuing series of zoning crises. No sooner had the Earl Mays
zoning been defeated than someone else tried to rezone another section of the
neighborhood, or they would demolish a house, or someone wanted to widen a
road. Very early in HGI we discovered thoroughfare plans that the city was
seriously proposing. It was an outer-belt loop around the downtown which would
have enormously increased the traffic on Northeast Boulevard. They would
utilize it as a loop road extending from the southeast around through the
northeast into Tenth Avenue. It would become, in effect, a loop around the
downtown. Previous to our development, the concentration in the city was
downtown redevelopment, and traffic was choking downtown. People could
not move through the downtown, and the methodology at that time employed by
the city was to move traffic around the downtown which meant moving it through
the northeast. Their concentration was on downtown redevelopment, not a
concentration on trying to conserve the residential sections around the central
business district at that time.
Essentially, HGI set out to try to change this kind of thinking in the city of
Gainesville planning offices. At the same time, we tried to change the attitude in
the northeast neighborhood that we were a neighborhood in down cycle; it was a
neighborhood that was just holding on by the skin of its teeth and that sooner or
later everybody was going to have to move out of the neighborhood to the
Carl Feiss was an important influence on me because I knew nothing about it,
and I could call on Carl to teach me. He became a very important teacher, and I
found that I absorbed very quickly and with relative ease the philosophical
underpinnings of historic preservation. I found myself acclimating very quickly to
planning jargon. I had no trouble in memorizing differences in zoning categories
and procedures. I would say the major effort on my part was to work with the
board in developing a popular organization which also developed sufficient
professionalism to work with the city planners. Our objective was to be in on
planning before it ever reached the public hearing stage.
We discovered many things like the thoroughfare plan for the Boulevard, which
had been on the books since the 1940s. We were trying to step in and overturn
planning ideas and concepts that had been on-going since the early 1960s.
That is what I essentially devoted three years to doing.
Now in the interim, the Hotel Thomas came up. The Thomas had been sold by
the family in 1968. It had been purchased from the family by Haines, Haines,
Steadham and Wives, or Merle Haines and John Stendham. These men had
leased the hotel to Santa Fe Community College in 1968, which then utilized the
building as an east campus. The original lease was to run for five years, and the
lease was to expire in 1973. We discovered that the owners of the Thomas
property planned to demolish the hotel after the junior college left it, and to
replace it with an office building.
After having been into historic preservation for a year, we knew that if this
happened the neighborhood would be doomed because this was approximately
six acres of land right smack dab in the heart of the northeast. We tried to think
of something to do for HGI; we needed a specific project. Rather than just
simply being an irate group of people at the plan board, we really needed to take
on a project. We thought and we thought and we thought.
One Sunday morning, I remember it vividly, I woke up with a start very, very
early. It was before dawn, and it was just an absolutely clear idea in my head;
the only thing that HGI could do was to buy the Hotel Thomas. It was the only
way we could save it. I had worked very closely with Sara Drylie during the
previous year. Even so, I held my enthusiasm until about 7:30 on Sunday
morning when I could not resist any longer, and I telephoned Sara. "Sara," I
said, "our project is that we have got to buy the Hotel Thomas." And of course,
at 7:30 on Sunday morning she was saying, more or less, go back to bed.
We had about $100 in the entire bank account of HGI at that time. But I thought
it was worth pursuing because in 1973 we were going into what would become
the great recession with the oil embargos, and when construction and the
financing for construction was plummeting. The good years, in effect, were
over. We approached the M. M. Parrish Realty Company, Sara knew M. M.,
and we went to see M. M., and asked him if he would inquire on our behalf as to
whether Merle and John would be willing to give us an option on the Thomas so
that we could at least investigate whether it was a feasible idea to purchase and
save the Hotel Thomas. He said he would. So, in April 1973, we signed an
option paying Haines, Haines, Steadham, and Wives $300 for a 345-day option
on the Hotel Thomas, with a total net cost to purchase it for $318,000. I am
almost convinced that the owners thought it was a nice thing and a joke to do.
Blair Reeves had in town in May of that year, John Milner, who was the head of a
firm in Chatsworth, Pennsylvania, called the National Heritage Corporation. I
met him at his talk, and took him over to the Thomas and said, "How would you
like to do a feasibility study?" He agreed to do the feasibility study, and HGI
hired three students to develop a National Register nomination.
The students prepared the nomination and it was shot through and the Hotel
Thomas was listed on the National Register on July 16, 1973. That was very
important for us because it qualified us for grants, and it also gave us some
protection, though not very much, from the use of federal funds to demolish the
building. I had gone to Vince Gabianelli, who is at the Florida State Museum,
and we were lucky in that the Alachua County steering committee for the
bicentennial project had been established.
John Milner had said that the study would run about $30,000. We had no
money in the pot. In fact, we had to get three $100 donations to buy the option
on the Thomas. One came from Sara Drylie, one came from me, and one came
from my father. We thought that if we could get the bicentennial project involved
it would serve as an avenue for a grant to underwrite the feasibility study. As it
turned out, that is exactly what happened.
By some fluke, $40,000 in planning money came from the American
Revolutionary Bicentennial Commission to Florida. We were at the stage where
we could ask for a grant of $15,000, which was forthcoming out of this small
planning amount. We were very lucky that we had a project. The state
bicentennial commission had to get the money allocated. We had asked for it,
and because we were ready, we got it. The Thomas project fell together
because we had the fortune of being ready with plans at the time that money
came. So we got the $15,000. We then went to the city commission, and the
city commission was very supportive of historic preservation. They had backed
the recommendation of the plan board not to rezone. All these rezoning hassles
were backed by the city commission. They were very positive in stopping
threats to the neighborhood, but they were not positive in becoming leaders. I
had always felt that we really needed a leader on the city commission. I
approached Joe Little and several others, and I asked, "Would you undertake, as
a city commissioner, to lead the historic preservation program, so that our goal
can be met, to make historic preservation an integrated part of the planning
process of the town?" Nobody on the city commission was willing to do that.
Joe could not because he was involved in other things, and no other
commissioner really understood it. I realized much later what I was asking for
was a substantial commitment to learn how historic preservation planning
worked, and that it would take a lot of time. Joe was more interested through his
connections with Audubon, in preservation of green space and preservation of
wetlands, and not really in architectural preservation.
We had terrible problems in differentiating between architectural preservation
and history. I remember at one point, Helen Ellerbe got up, and more or less
said, "Well, there is really nothing to save in Gainesville because these houses
were built in the nineteenth century out of wood, unlike the stone castles built in
Europe." I think our most difficult promotion and publicity problem was to
convince people, especially the historians and the old Gainesville families whose
houses may have been built shortly after some of them were born, were an
important piece of Gainesville's architectural fabric. I remember going to a
luncheon later during which Sam Dell said, "It is ridiculous to try to raise money
to save the Hotel Thomas. That is not an historic building. I recommend that
any monies collected be immediately distributed to the St. Augustine Historic
Preservation Society because that is the only place with any historic meaning in
the state of Florida." That was a tremendous problem.
But, I am getting slightly ahead of myself. Going back to the feasibility study.
After we received the bicentennial grant the city agreed to match the grant with
$7,500. We went to the county and asked them for a matching grant. Howard
Weston was the county manager at that time, I remember him being called the
"frog." Howard was in cahoots with the county attorney, Norm LaCoe. Norm
LaCoe was very active in local history, and was trying to save the old post office,
which at that time was a learning resource center for the Alachua County
schools. So what Howard said, though he did not really say it, was that he was
not really sure if he wanted to make a commitment, or recommend to the county
commission to commit, to save the Thomas because he was getting some
pressure to commit to a program to deal with the old post office. During the
bicentennial, we knew that Gainesville would end up with one major historic
preservation project. There was this fight between the old post office downtown
and the Thomas. So Howard said, "I cannot recommend your project to the
county commission unless I know that your project is feasible. You are going to
have to do a preliminary feasibility study before I will recommend that $7,500
worth of county money be put up as match."
That sort of blew us away because the clock was ticking and our option was
running out. It was September by this time, so we ran over to Dick
Tarbox, whom I had known as a planner of the North Florida Regional
Planning Council. We had done a lot of work with him with maps. At this
time, he was a private planning consultant out of north Florida, and he
undertook to do a preliminary feasibility study, which he presented in
November 1973. With the help of Bill Eppes and a couple of other local
people who volunteered their time, he said, "Yes, it is feasible to look into
saving the Hotel Thomas." At that point, the county agreed to match the
The county, through Sid Martin especially, had been very helpful in historic
preservation. Later on, in 1974, they allocated $1,000 to HGI to help us
undertake the Alachua County architectural inventory. I can remember Sid
Martin saying, "There is not future without a past." He was very interested in
history, and he dealt with the Alachua County historical commission, which was
under the county authority or established by the county. In any case, we finally
got the money together, and Milner's firm, National Heritage Corporation, started
in December. We knew that it would take 100 days to do the feasibility study, so
we knew that we were not going to have anything until March, which was less
than one month from the expiration of the option.
John Milner and Steve Thurston came to town. Thurston was the architect on
the scene. At that point, HGI was looking at the possibility of renting the hotel
wing as an office building and to converting the old house what we called
building 'A' into a restaurant with additional offices. Thurston was essentially
an architectural preservationist with a specialization in restaurants, and he
wanted to put in a car and a restaurant, and turn it back into, in effect, a hotel
functioning restaurant, although it would be an office building. Gladstone and
Associates did the economic feasibility. National Heritage Corporation, as the
prime contractor, did the structural studies and the measurements. Blair's
students measured the building, and in 100 days a rather large and substantial
feasibility study was turned out in which they said it is imminently feasible to save
the building. Ten copies were produced. The building was structurally sound.
But, we were questioning the financial feasibility of having Historic Gainesville,
Inc., at that time with $400 in our account, to undertake the renovation of the
building because it would require at least $1,200,000 in up front money to do the
project. If we had $1,500,000, or if we could have financed the up front, we
probably could have successfully redeveloped the hotel as we wanted to do it.
But it was March 15 when they presented the feasibility study which gave us
about twenty days to come up with the $1,500,000 not only to buy the property,
but to initiate the redevelopment of it. We could not do that.
We went down to the city and said, "Here is the feasibility, and here is $30,000
worth of studying. But we do not have the financial wherewithal to do it unless
the city makes a grant to HGI, or unless the city or the county undertakes the
project." The city referred to our request to the public works subcommittee,
which at that time was composed of Tiny Talbot and Jim Richardson. They were
the two members of the commission on the subcommittee. We went to the
county and they county manager said, "This is not a feasible project." You could
see he was absolutely delighted because now he could concentrate everything
on the old post office. So he just sort of threw the project out. That really
bothered us. That is when I think I initially realized that it was a complete smoke
screen on the part of the county manager and on the part of the county
commission. We had a lot of trouble dealing with the county commission.
During the interim, Jim Parrish, who was on the board, and I went to the city
commissioners and lobbied them, pointing out how good this would be for the
city. We went to see Harold Farmer. At that time he was the city manager, and
something very lucky happened. The city had built the city hall in 1966, but by
1973, they city had expanded beyond the space available in the city hall. They
were renting space for various city offices all over the city, and it was becoming
very expensive. What we could offer them was 75,000 square feet of office
space where they could consolidate at an estimated $28.00 per square foot for
Harold Farmer is a very nice and intelligent guy. I remember him sitting there in
his seat saying that a lot of towns and cities have gotten into historic
preservation. It would probably be a good idea for Gainesville to get in it, too.
So from talking to the city commissioners on the subcommittee for public works,
we found that the needs of the city coalesced perfectly with our need to save the
Hotel Thomas. The subcommittee came back and recommended that they city
buy the hotel. But, there was about one week left before the option expired.
Before the city could take any action, they had to have the place appraised
because they could not buy property without a qualified appraisal. So the city
rushed to hire Don Emmerson who did, I think in this case, one of the fastest
appraisals that has ever been done. He came back within a few days and said
that the land alone was worth in excess of $350,000. The net selling price for
land and improvement, of course, was only $318,000. The city met either on
April 4 or 5, but in any case, the option would expire the next day. Merle Haines,
Jim Stringfellow, and many other people were there, as well as several other
people from the chamber of commerce. The chamber thought that everything
had gone very quickly. In fact, the headlines in Jim Stringfellow's paper, The
Gainesville Independent said, "City Rushes Pell-Mell to Buy Hotel." There was a
great deal of controversy. The chamber got up and said, "We think you are
going too fast. This is a lot of money. You should not be doing this." Yet, the
option was going to expire. I remember vividly Jim Richardson asking Merle
Haines whether he would extend the option, and Merle Haines said no. So the
city commission voted that night to buy the hotel, and all of a sudden, they city
picked it up. That is how the Hotel Thomas was purchased.
HGI donated the $300 option to the city. At that point, I think that all the work
which we had done in planning and trying to deal with the zoning fights was lifted
out of purely a neighborhood movement, and all of a sudden, this became a very
substantial financial commitment on the part of the city toward historic
preservation. The city purchased the hotel out of revenue sharing funds, which
at that time was the most substantial use of revenue sharing funds in America for
historic preservation. The project had become pretty important nationally
because of the use of the revenue sharing funds, which was relatively a new type
of fund. They had not been used for that purpose before. They used revenue
bond money to rehabilitate the hotel wing for general administrative offices.
They established an ad hoc committee of which I was chairman to recommend
space utilization. So we made recommendations almost immediately to convert
to general administrative offices in the hotel wing.
From 1974 through 1977 we developed plans for the old house section. There
was no money available for the house section, so we were wondering how to get
a grant from Tallahassee to purchase plyboard to board up the place because it
was being vandalized. The city was not protecting it properly. During the
period between 1974 and 1977, we were in recession, and city budgets had been
cut. The public works program had been funded by Congress.
Gainesville had employment that qualified it for a public works grant. In some
ways we were unfortunate because we were in the second category in which we
achieved a level of about six per cent unemployment. Because of this we
qualified. Dent McGoo, who at that time was grants coordinator for the city, and
I put together an application that went to the economics development
administration, which is a part of the department of commerce. We had plans
because the architects had gone ahead and planned the restoration of the
Thomas building A.
So we were all set to begin because they wanted to give you this money, and
they wanted to get it into the economy as fast as possible. Gainesville had a
series of plans ready, and we did receive an EDA public works grant of some
$3,500,000, of which about $1,200,000 was allocated for the Hotel Thomas
restoration. The fact that it was on the National Register made it fall into place.
By 1979, the project that we had started in 1973 was completed. I turned in a
final report of the Thomas Center to the ad hoc advisory board, and in effect, that
final report became the basis for space allocations in the Thomas. Between
1973 and 1979, when all of this was going on with the Thomas, there were a lot
of other preservation things in which I was involved. There were ongoing zoning
problems; there were rezoning attempts from R-3 to R-P on Northeast Second
Avenue; there were rezoning attempts in the same categories on Northeast
Second Street; there were the Boulevard problems. In the interim, HGI had
taken on the management of what we called the Bodiford house at the
intersection of Northeast Third Avenue and Northeast Third Street, because the
Dell, Graham law firm had purchased the house to expand. Off-street parking
was a terrible problem in Gainesville. We had an off-street ordinance, and if you
wanted to expand an office, as their office did on Northeast First Street, the
number of square feet that you expanded automatically required additional
parking space, by formula. Dell, Graham had bought two houses on Northeast
Third Avenue, the Bodiford and the Shephard house, I believe it was called,
directly behind it. They were going to tear down both of those houses to create
a parking lot sufficiently large to get the required square footage on Northeast
First Street. We fought that like mad, and we finally negotiated. We lost the
Shephard house to parking, but we were able to save the Bodiford house. As
part of the negotiation to save the Bodiford house, HGI agreed to undertake the
management and rental of that building, and we paid Dell, Graham a particular
So, while the Thomas was going on we were also dealing with the Bodiford
house, the other zoning questions, the road problems, and in other words a
continuing series of crises through 1973, 1974, and 1975. It was constant, and
those crises continued. The reason for the crises was, again, the fact that the
city planning staff had not made any provision for historic preservation within the
Now in 1974, the planning staff developed an historic preservation ordinance for
the town. It was done again, by a planner with no experience in preservation,
and he did it without any consultation with the legal staff. At that time, Osee
Fagan was retained by the city as city attorney. When this planning ordinance
got to public hearing, Osee Fagan stood up and said, "This is patently
unconstitutional," and the whole thing collapsed in 1974. At that point, we had
problems. This is something you run into in Gainesville. To use a jargon term,
we ran into interfacing between the city and the university. The university, and
specifically Blair Reeves, was mainly interested in academic experiences for his
students. At that time, there was a joint program in development between the
law school and the architecture school to develop some kind of expertise in
preservation law. It is an interdisciplinary approach to the problems of
We were always finding desperate, specific, immediate needs for planning in our
area, and there essentially was no staff in the city to undertake this kind of
professional planning. We were being shunted off, and the university was
picking up on it. But rather than creating plans for implementation, they were
creating theoretical structures for academic experience. This is a big problem
between the towniess", as I considered myself, and the university. It was rather
slow in coming. The city sort of sat back and waited for the university to
produce something, but the university really was not prepared to produce plans
for implementation. The university's communication with the planning staff of
the city was on rocky ground, in that the professionals in the city were not terribly
interested in the academic experiences of the university. I can remember Norm
Bowman going to Blair's office in the school of architecture occasionally and
looking to get student-produced plans for downtown, or student-produced plans
for the northeast. He would look at them and he would see them as great
academic experiences with absolutely no meaning or not possibility of
implementation in the city of Gainesville. The people involved in HGI were sort
of stuck in the middle.
Because of the collapse of the local ordinance, we began seriously to consider
creating a registered federal district out of the northeast in Gainesville. We had
first considered this way back in the very beginning. We felt that if it was
accepted by the Feds, that would mitigate, to a great extent, the problem of
people in Gainesville saying there is nothing historic in the northeast. We could
come back and say that the federal government has designated it as a federal
historic district, therefore, we think it is possible that Gainesville might want to
consider it as an historic district.
One of the first things that Carl Feiss had taught us was the need for an
inventory. Inventories are nothing more than catalogues of structures or areas
in which historic preservation could be utilized as an urban redevelopment
technique. We had donated $500 to the city of Gainesville so that the city would
begin to plan for inventory. We also hoped to make an impression on the
planning staff. So, the initial inventory was managed by Carl Feiss for the city of
Gainesville through a grant made to the City of Gainesville by Historic
Unfortunately, the person who was hired to do this inventory was not competent
in the area. The person was a student of architecture. The inventorying
process, as it was demanded by Tallahassee, was literally a professional
endeavor. Now volunteers can do a certain amount. But there was no
volunteer in HGI who was capable of doing the architectural descriptions. None
of us knew the professional terminology for describing, in words, a Victorian
structure, an early twentieth century house. So inventorying became an ongoing
We were constantly trying to establish committees, who would find volunteers to
undertake inventorying. The Junior League adopted historic preservation as a
project and they assigned a large committee. Phil Werndli came in at that time,
a student in the history department, and tried to teach this committee how to do
inventorying. But there was always a short fall between the training process and
the actual accomplishment process. The Junior League Committee was a
dismal failure. They really did not have enough time, nor did we have the
expertise to train people how to do an inventory. It is a professional task, to a
In 1974, as I mentioned, we received from the Alachua County Commission
$1,000, and from the city, a like amount, I believe, to do an architectural
inventory of the county. That again was done by volunteers. We had over 200
volunteers in a very elaborate process that I established, which Susan Tate and
Blair Reeves soon took over and acted as inventories. We asked people from
all over the county and we got a tremendous response. There was huge
excitement about this thing. We got geodetic maps, and road maps, and we
asked volunteers in the county to concentrate on a specific geographic area.
We covered literally the whole county, including Gainesville. We asked people
to do research in the tax office; to get a tax number, get an owner's name, and
try to ascertain whether that house was fifty year old or older. Systematically,
Blair and Susan went to these various volunteer groups and they photographed
these houses, structures, and areas. We ended up with about five or six
loose-leaf books filled with owner, tax number, contact photograph, and any kind
of information about the structure we could get. We called this the Alachua
County Architectural Inventory.
The plan was that these books would be brought together, and reviewed by Carl
Feiss and Blair Reeves, and a jury, if you will. Those places which they decided
deserved further study, from a professional point of view, would literally go into a
second phase, where formal state inventories would be done on them. The
problem was that the jury met very cursorily in Blair's office where they went
through some of these things. But there was really no way to implement phase
two, because Blair used students, and he had already prepared his schedule for
the following semester, and did not have any students available. We were not
capable of doing anything.
At that time, HGI was meeting in different locations in Micanopy and Archer. We
had gone countywide. We had pulled in organizations from Melrose, we were
doing speeches around the county and in these various communities, and we
really had a very substantial possibility of a major countywide architectural
preservation movement. We realized that if architectural preservation was going
to work in Alachua county, it was going to have to be covered by county
ordinances, city ordinances, and there would have to be combined planning for
the two areas to implement it all the way. We had members from the entire
county speaking throughout the county. We had organized 200 volunteers to
undertake this three-month study. It took a tremendous amount of work, but it
all failed. We had some preliminary documentation, but it failed because we
could not complete the inventories. Volunteers could not go so far, and then we
needed professionals, and there was no professional to which we could turn,
With that kind of failure, and the continuing crises in the northeast, Historic
Gainesville, Inc. began to change. We began to become very cynical about the
ability of the University of Florida professionals to help us. We became very
cynical about being pushed, as we had been, into dealing with a large political
boundary. While we were talking with Micanopy and dealing with the Micanopy
inventory, were also faced with tremendous crises in zoning and road plans here
in the northeast.
The active core of our membership in 1974 lived in the northeast, although more
than half the membership of HGI did not live in the old northeast section. I
ceased to be president of HGI in 1975. There are reasons why I ceased to do
that, which I will talk about later. But between 1972 and early-1975 were to a
great extent a failure because of the inability to implement, and we had lost the
ordinance. We really had flaked out on the architectural inventory of the county,
although we were the first county in the state to accomplish inventory, which is
what I called this thing. I had listened to Carl closely and I knew that the inventory
was essential, and I knew that we could not get one done because we did not
have the assistance. We had been petitioning Tallahassee for help in
inventorying. They had the people to do it, but Tallahassee was so strained by
the demands from all over the place, that they kept putting off Gainesville.
They were politicized to a great extent by Senator Robert Williams, who at that
time was the state historic preservation officer. He had come down to speak in
Gainesville and said, essentially, "Gainesville, you are on your own. We are
never going to create any more state historic preservation boards. If you are
going to do it, you are going to do it on your own, and that is about all that we can
do for you." He was much more interested in building, I believe, an empire out of
the division of archives. Gainesville just simply was not a very important part of
that empire: Key West, St. Augustine, Pensacola and Miami were much more
important. Williams was the former head of the division of archives, history, and
records management, as well as the state historic preservation officer.
At that point, we pulled in our horns to a great extent, and HGI began to
concentrate on the northeast. In 1974, the American Revolutionary Bicentennial
Commission was developing a whole series of bicentennial booklets. They were
sending out requests for proposals, and I happened to be over at Carl Feiss'
house on a Sunday afternoon. We were sitting around his pool having a drink.
Carl had received this request for a proposal from Housing and Urban
Development, which was at that time managing this grant process on behalf of
ARBA. We were laughing and having a gin, and Carl showed me these things.
We both decided it would be worthwhile to apply for it. So I took it home, and
Carl and I worked on it, and we created a grant proposal which we sent off to
HUD. Damned if we did not win the thing. It was a national competition. It
was sort of shocking. All of a sudden, we had a $50,000 grant to produce about
a 125-page booklet called "On Historic Preservation."
Now I had already decided that historic preservation organizations go in several
directions; I had found that sometimes you become a president for life. In other
words, I could have probably stayed president of Historic Gainesville forever,
regardless of how successful I had been. I felt, though, that it was very bad to
do that. I did not want to end up as president of Historic Gainesville. I felt that
once the Thomas had been accomplished and the rest of the work had been
done, that I had done my share. I was getting cantankerous and very tired. I
was getting very conscious of my inability to direct the board in serious ways. I
felt it was time for me to get out, and somebody else should get in. I felt that if
the organization was going to survive only because I was running it, it really did
not deserve to survive. So I said I was not going to be president. I was giving it
up and I did. I had to stay on the board, but I refused to become president, or to
be put in that situation again.
When the grant came through, that was an additional reason to get off the board
because we had a very limited amount of time, in late 1974 or early 1975, to
produce a manuscript, and it was a plum of a grant. I will never get another
grant like this in my life. We had applied for it under the aegis of bringing the
grant through the University of Florida, but by this time I had begun to work at the
University of Florida libraries. I started at the library in September 1973. HGI
absorbed so much of my time that I really could not teach any more. I needed a
structured schedule. In addition to that, there was a much more realistic reason
for my getting out because at that time Bob Burton Brown had come in as
chairman of University College and he was laying down a rule that after a certain
number of years, unless you had your Ph.D., you were out, and you were going
to get fired. I knew that because of my commitment to HGI, that I was not going
to finish my Ph.D. in English in the time span allowed, so I was going to lose my
job. I wanted to stay in Gainesville at that point because I was in the midst of all
So I found that a job was available as an assistant director at the library, and I
applied for it and got it. In some ways, that was good because it structured my
time. I was not teaching at night, and I was teaching different schedules every
quarter, but I was expected to be at my office at a certain time, and I had a great
deal of freedom in that position as an administrative professional. We could not
get release time, and it could not really work out. So the grant was sent through
the city of Gainesville, and the city of Gainesville hired Carl and I as consultants.
The grant was very important because I had learned a great deal. The grant
was what converted me from a knowledgeable amateur into a professional in
architectural preservation. Our original grant process was to develop, or to
locate five or six cities in America that had highly developed and sophisticated
historic preservation techniques or movements, and to outline those cities as
examples of historic preservation processes. When the booklet was published,
it could be utilized by people in the United States to develop their own historic
preservation programs. It was wonderful in that there was an unlimited travel
budget, except in so far as we had limited ourselves in the application. It was a
flat-fixed rate contract of $50,000, and we could essentially spend the $50,000
any way we saw fit as long as we accomplished and turned over to HUD a
manuscript. For almost six months we literally traveled around America. Carl
was taking the West Coast, and I was taking the East Coast and the Midwest.
We talked to historic preservation planners, and to people who had been very
influential in developing programs and we started assembling preservation
N: How was this connected with the HGI organization?
G: Well, if I had not been in HGI, I would have never gotten the grant. Once I got
the grant, although I was not president, I literally became a professional on the
N: So, for the historical record, this was an HGI project?
G: Well, it really was not an HGI project; it was the city of Gainesville. I was not
officially president of HGI anymore, but I was still on their board. The grant from
HUD to the city of Gainesville was turning me into a professional preservationist.
It gave me a chance to learn about preservation all over the United States from
professionals, and find out from these people how they were doing it. I was able
to bring back with me, and develop in HGI board meetings, all of this information,
which I think really helped to make the local program succeed. Carl and I were
able to do all that.
The manuscript went off to HUD. We found that HUD was ready to edit it and
get it into publication. The entire publication was stopped head in its tracks by
the National Trust. Afterward, we found that the National Trust for Historic
Preservation had applied for the grant and they had lost to us. The National
Trust was not willing to give up the project. So, in effect, we discovered that
after we had done this work, the ARBA would not forward money for publishing it,
and that it was a dead manuscript. Carl and I tried to get the publication rights
returned to us by HUD and they would not return it to us. In effect, all of the
work and all the manuscript died flat in its tracks. All we had was the
prepublication manuscript, and the experience. I dropped my membership in the
National Trust when I found out how screwed over we had been by them. But, it
was a great experience, and I learned a great deal from it. When I came back or
finished with this, I seriously started dealing with inventorying the northeast for
the National Register.
Another problem, besides our interface with the university, was our interfacing
with Tallahassee. We really could not do anything in historic preservation
without Tallahassee. All National Register nomination movement was directed
in Tallahassee; we could not got directly to the federal government. We had to
go to the feds through Tallahassee. For about a year and a half, I worked very
hard on the inventory, and I was doing this personally with as much help as I
could get from other people. These were volunteers who helped me try to get the
short forms of the Florida master site file forms filled in for Tallahassee.
I got in touch with Liz Monroe, who was historic site specialist in Tallahassee.
We began to develop with sort forms. We had information through volunteers
and were able to get the primary historical information. We were able to
research and note the first appearance of each structure on board maps.
Through Liz's help and instructions, we were able to complete short forms, first
front pages, on all of the structures in what we considered to be a potential
historic district. In 1976 or 1977, Liz finally got permission to come from
Tallahassee to Gainesville and she filled out all the architecture. She was here
for two weeks and did it all. Then HGI typed the forms, and we submitted them
to Tallahassee. Finally, we got together the short forms and the single long form
to nominate the Northeast Historic District. It took literally five or six years to get
this kind of an inventory together for a very small section.
Then we went to Tallahassee and HGI came against another tremendous
problem: the bureaucratic non-responsiveness of Tallahassee. We, of course,
saw the salvation of our neighborhood as the most important thing in the world.
Well, Tallahassee essentially sat on the nomination for almost two years. We
could not get it to the review board; we could not get it anywhere. The
procedures or processes through which Tallahassee moved very slowly and
stately, from our point of view was such that nothing happened. We were losing
houses: the Love house and the O'Neil house were torn down on Northeast
First Street. These things were being destroyed and we were holding ourselves
at bay while Tallahassee majestically went through the sort of scholarly process
to deal with our nomination.
It took literally two years before the nomination went from Tallahassee to the
state review board at which point it was passed. When it was passed, it went
through Washington within three weeks. Tallahassee says that it went through
Washington within three weeks because they had done so much careful work.
Actually, it went through the state review board within about one year, and then it
took Tallahassee about a year and a half to convert all of our information from
the state forms to the national forms so it could go to the Feds. But in any case,
when I was in Washington I found that after it got to the Feds, it was on the
National Register within three weeks. I do not think it was until the summer of
1978 that we ended up with a Northeast residential Historic District. It took us
six years. In 1979, we were able to dedicate the Hotel Thomas as the Thomas
Center. I have since been placed on what they call the Urban Neighborhood
Conservation Advisory Board. And only now, in 1983, is the city in public
hearings on a local historic preservation ordinance that was finally drawn by the
city attorney. The ordinance drawn over a two-year period by the students in the
law school never got off the ground because there was no official city inventory.
Let me go back and give you the information on the inventory of the near
northeast, which go us on the National Register. From Tallahassee, we finally
began to get additional grants to inventory the whole city. The city was in a
catch-22 situation. Legally, it was a bad thing to pass an historic preservation
ordinance because there was no criteria based on a city-wide inventory for
making historic preservation decisions. So we were constantly saying, "You
cannot pass an ordinance until you have an inventory, and Tallahassee will not
give us grants to do an inventory until we have a National Historic District." At
that point, Tallahassee began to consider inventory grants in other parts of the
city because we had one acknowledged area. You see the catch-22?
This permeates historic preservation programs. It is this terrible problem of
trying to bring together planners, attorneys, and historians. They do not work.
Their systems seem to bounce against each other without really being able to
create anything that is implementable.
N: So you end up spinning wheels for awhile.
G: Well, you end up spinning wheels until you discover that the professional
interrelationships, ironically, are held and melded only when you have a very
active volunteer program which is willing to push people to so discreet things.
Then they try to integrate them into some kind of a program. So I would say that
the irony is that all of my professional information and scholarship that I have
been given free of charge by Carl Feiss and by Blair, but especially Carl, would
have been useless had not Historic Gainesville, Inc., as a very active volunteer
group, finally fessed up to the fact that they were the only people who were going
to integrate all this the state and the city into a program. That is where
volunteers and nonprofit corporations, at least in Gainesville, have found their
greatest use. They become the integrators of all the different programs. It is
very odd that nonprofessionals would be doing what is essentially the job of the
In any case, that is essentially two hours worth of my contacts with HGI. I am
not presently on the board, but I am on a nominating committee. HGI has sort of
fallen into a kind of senescence. They have a lot of money. They do not have
zoning problems anymore. They are getting an ordinance. They are relatively
secure. About 1978, they decided that they were not going to be a radical
planning organization and they began to become much more of a social
organization. This bothers me a great deal because of the insularity. We were
forced to pull back to preserve the northeast. Now that the Northeast is
preserved, it is very difficult to go back out again and say there are things in the
northwest and the southeast.
In other words, HGI has become, in my point of view, a rather provincial
organization that is not willing to plan necessities. I am the old president harping
about what they are doing now. They have forgotten that there are other parts
of the city. They have their champagne updates and their Christmas on the
Boulevard and they are essentially a social organization. If I had to use a term, I
would say that they have become somewhat decadent now, and I am not sure if
that will ultimately kill the corporation, or whether they can be reoriented into a
more active role.
N: Since HGI seems to have fallen into senescence, do you feel with regard to the
future of preservation in Gainesville, that this is something that will have to be
taken up by individuals, or just what is occurring now?
G: Well, the city is passing the ordinance and we have always believed that the
planning process should be in the city. It is a planning function of the city. I
hope that when the ordinance is passed and the city establishes a regulatory
planning board, the heritage conservation board, which will develop a program
through which HGI and the city can begin to participate. There is a lot of
technical work to be done. I have approached HGI and asked them for a
technical assistance committee because the city does not have adequate staff to
do the work. They have one preservation planner. It is going to be up to HGI to
provide a constant flow of relatively well-trained volunteers to undertake a lot of
the work that can be done by volunteers, but is too time-consuming for they city
to employ people. We are always going to need people who are going to do the
history of a house. Searching the libraries, city directories, doing tax number
work, doing oral histories with the owners of the house, and searching the
abstracts are all necessary. This kind of time consuming, intensive local
historical research has to be done by volunteers. No city can afford to do it. I
am hoping that the ordinance and its emphasis on local control of a program will
create something that HGI will be pulled into.
HGI seems to be willing to do it. They said that they would form a technical
services committee if I became a chairman of it. I said all right, I will take you up
on it. Maybe in this way we will have a path through the new heritage
conservation board for HGI to begin to go back out into the community. When I
say it is in senescence, they have a large membership, they have a lot of people
who come to the annual meeting, and they do a great deal of good work. It is
just that the organization is not, as far as I am concerned, goal-oriented. I think
they really do not know where preservation should go at this point, or what their
function or purpose is. I think that the heritage conservation board will define a
function that HGI will understand and in which they will be able to work.
N: What are some of the things in which HGI is currently involved?
G: Well, they publish a newsletter a couple of times a year. They distribute
information through this newsletter. They organize Christmas on the Boulevard
which brings people to the northeast and allows them to experience the area.
They have developed a plaque program whereby plaques will be put on houses.
They participate every year in spring pilgrimage as one of the three organizations
that administer the spring pilgrimage program. They have house tours which
they will have next weekend. They run what they call a champagne update
which brings people into a house where they talk about the HGI program. On a
social level, the education function still precedes, but without the vitality given to
an education function involved in a planning process. They do not connect with
the plan board anymore. They do not connect with the preservation planner in
the city, although the preservation planner and the city attorney are on the board.
I would say that the biggest problem is that they have not established goals or
N: Then with regard to preservation projects like the Thomas Center, they...
G: They do not have any. They have a revolving fund. In fact, they are one of the
very few preservation corporations with a revolving fund in the state of Florida,
and this accumulates money. It should be revolving. They should constantly
be involved in some kind of movement to make that money move, such as giving
low interest loans. They really should be over in 1644 where there are
tremendous crises with demolitions of houses in the near northwest, which is a
black section that is definitely historic and of national district potential. HGI does
not cross Main Street anymore like we used to, and say, "Hey, people, you can
recreate or establish a community bond. You can revivify pride in your
neighborhood." The northeast has a great deal of pride in its neighborhood, and
neighborhoods have come together. Well, the near northwest, the black section,
has been decimated by bad city planning. The same thing that had happened to
the northeast, but to a much more extreme sense. The middle class moved out
and everything has become absentee landlord. They rent to people who are
vandalizing the property. In other words, the whole neighborhood is declining.
It used to be one of the most prestigious black neighborhoods in the city, and it
has always been a black neighborhood. What we have there are some of the
best architectural structures in the entire city. HGI should figure out a way to go
into that neighborhood and teach that neighborhood, or what remains of the
owners in that neighborhood, how to develop a preservation program. The black
people come to this city and they say to the city, "We do not like what you are
doing to our neighborhood. You are demolishing our neighborhood. You are
putting up these urban developments. This stuff is essentially wrenching the
I cannot prove it is conscious. I feel that there is some effort on the part of the
city to obliterate that neighborhood, to disseminate that neighborhood, to make
those people move away, and to replace it with a nice, safe urban redevelopment
of subsidized housing. Richard Kilby does not have the faintest sympathy for
historic preservation. He came to the urban neighborhood citizens advisory
board (UNCAB) and all he wants to do is demolish all of these houses. He is the
associate planner for the city of Gainesville in charge of their community
development block program. He has known since 1977 that the near northwest,
east of Sixth Street, is probably eligible for a listing in the National Register. He
had this really great guy, Fred Flowers, who was a social scientist in the
neighborhood. Instead of trying to work with Fred to get the neighborhood to
understand and to plan themselves into an historic preservation project, he
stonewalls, and as soon as somebody does not meet code, he slaps code
enforcement on them, and tries to promote the demolition of the house. He is
doing the opposite of what planning should do, which would be to bring together
the neighborhood. He is trying to destroy a neighborhood.
Now I am saying, "He, he, he," because we know historic preservation works.
We are positive that it could work in the near northwest. Wilhelmina Johnson
and many other people who live in the neighborhood are willing to do it, but they
have to be taught. HGI should be in the near northwest, or if they cannot get
into the northwest because they are white, they should be figuring out how to
make contacts with blacks who can get into the neighborhood. It is a difficult
neighborhood to get into. That is the kind of activity in which HGI should be
involved. They should not be maintaining this sacrosanct preserve in the
N: You mentioned something about philosophical underpinnings to preservation.
Now I would assume that in the beginning with HGI that you did develop a
philosophical base from which all you efforts could spring. Would you give me a
statement about that.
G: I think that rather than philosophical, historic preservation really deals in emotion.
I think that the underpinnings of HGI are based on the needs of certain people,
myself included, to live with things in the past. I think it is very important to have
a continuity. My personality just simply requires old things. I do not mean
antiques, but ambiences which are old. I think people who move into the
northeast find a neighborhood with sidewalks and narrow streets and an
ambience of time past. I think they find other people who also find being part of
a continuum is important from an emotional point of view. I am very happy
touching and feeling and dealing with things that I know were alive before me,
and which I hope are alive after me. I use the term alive because in lots of
ways, our houses are very much alive to us. I like being able to open a window
that was built in 1880 by a carpenter. It makes me feel a great deal less lonely
that I am not only in now, but that I am coming into something that was here
before me and I am dealing with it and I am administering it for a time, and my
hope is that I will leave it in a better state than that in which I found it. It will go
forward beyond me, and I have become a part of that.
Lewis Mumford in his City of History was very important to me. He talked about
the idea of immortality being so much a part of the city when people began to
build with the idea of the building outliving them. In effect, it is a kind of
immortality and they become conscious of the future. In my own way of thinking
about it, preservation is much more conscious of the future than it is of the past.
I have seen it over the past eleven years as, to a certain extent, a function or a
duty on my part to try as hard as I can to take the continuum and keep it going. I
think this is the way that most people in my neighborhood think; they have this
kind of emotional response to ambience, and they are going to try to carry it
into the future.
As for historic preservation, I think that philosophically we look at historic
preservation as simply a technique to do this, which for some personalities or
some psychological reasons we feel is very important. I am positive that the
work that I have done has made me feel like a much more complete human
being. I am tied now to the town; I am tied to its bricks; I am tied to the ground.
I remember late at night wandering around my neighborhood. I can call it my
neighborhood now. These are escapes from loneliness for me and being
metaphysically isolated. I think we all feel that way and if we have a house or
maintain a house, we go away and we sort of poof into the future and we are
forgotten. But that kind of commitment to the earth and to the human endeavor
is something that I think is the most important thing for me in the whole process.
N: Well, Mr. Gowan, I certainly appreciate it, and want to thank you for the very
thorough and extremely interesting interview.
[End of the interview]