One of Tampa's most iconic buildings began a new chapter this week as the Fort Homer W. Hesterly Armory in West Tampa was reopened as civic space by the Tampa Jewish Community Centers and Federation. It was a long time in the making, but the city, the state and the JCC should be proud of reviving a landmark that is so rich in cultural history and in the minds of generations.
The site on N Howard Avenue west of downtown once served as a camp for Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders and later housed a field artillery battalion. The main building, which was dedicated the day after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, was used by the Army Air Corps during World War II. It later hosted President John F. Kennedy only days before he was shot in Dallas — as well as Elvis, B.B. King, boxing matches, professional wrestling and too many wedding receptions and high school graduation parties to count.
The JCC, working with state and local partners, transformed the armory into the Bryan Glazer Family JCC, in honor of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers co-chairman who committed $4 million to the project. It includes visual arts space open to the public and a members-only side with fitness facilities and space for cultural and educational programs. The JCC kept much of the armory's original Art Deco design, and officials plan to install a photo wall honoring the history that has passed through the center's doors.
The armory has served as a cherished backdrop to so many local memories, and it's good to know it will continue to be a place that unites and beautifies the community. The JCC should continue ensuring that this true Tampa gem is enjoyed by the public for generations to come.