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Restoration Of Old Hyde Park Art Center Under Way

Boys and girls lined up in 1914 outside lunch room at Gorrie Elementary for first hot lunch served at Tampa school.

From the outside, the Old Hyde Park Art Center on Swann Avenue looks as if it were a typical older South Tampa home. But the approximately 115-year-old wood structure is possibly the oldest building still in use in Tampa.
 
With an $18,000 makeover, the art gallery building soon will more closely resemble the historical structure it is. Restoration work by Timeline Contracting will reconfigure the front stoop and add columns and a canopy to the entry way. The exterior will be painted in three colors similar to the light, mid-tone and dark colors of the original structure, giving the building more eye-catching appeal.
 
"It's pretty unique," says Kathy Durdin, president of Tampa Realistic Artists, Inc., which owns and operates the art center. "Before the turn of the century, there were these generic (wood frame) buildings all over the place, but they were lost because there was no purpose for them."
 
The saving grace for this building is that the city and school district kept finding public uses for it, and even different locations.
 
In 1899 the two-room wood building served as a temporary school until a red-brick replacement for the Hyde Park Grammar School was built at 502 South Boulevard. The original grammar school was at Platt Street and Magnolia Avenue.
 
Tampa was still a pioneer town emerging alongside the Hillsborough River, dotted with orange groves and dairy cattle. In 1914 the temporary school became the grammar school's lunch room, where parents served the first hot lunches to Tampa students. A year later the school was renamed the John B. Gorrie Elementary School.
 
Nearly eight years later the school lunch room had a new purpose as the Hyde Park Branch Library, again a first for a public school. In 1936 the building was moved to its current location, 705 Swann Ave. For the next three decades it was the Tampa Public Library, Hyde Park Branch.
 
When the library closed in 1969, the Tampa Realistic Artists, Inc., began leasing the property as an art gallery eventually buying it 10 years later. The nonprofit group promotes art awareness through exhibits, workshops and seminars.
 
The funds to renovate the art center come from the Hillsborough County Historic Preservation Grant Program which promotes historic preservation, heritage tourism and job creation.
 
Work on the entry way will be completed in March. Additional restoration is planned for the front doors, which still have city seals embedded in the lockplates.
 
"We've got to believe at the turn of the century these lockplates were all over Tampa," says Durdin. "The doors are pretty special."

The art center is open to the public and is free of charge. The next exhibit, "Landscapes and Seascapes,'' will run from today until March 21. For more information, call Durdin at 813-220-5800 or email her at this link.
 
Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Kathy Durdin, Old Hyde Park Art Center

Read more articles by Kathy Steele.

Kathy Steele is a feature writer and editor at 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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