Tampa is interested in re-bricking Seventh Avenue. But they can't find the bricks

The city is on the hunt for bricks branded with the Augusta name to match the historic district’s existing brick streets.
Published June 25

TAMPA — When this city embraced asphalt in the 1960s, the bricks that once made up Tampa’s roads were offered to anyone who asked.

"They were just given away," said Rodney Kite-Powell, curator of the Tampa History Center.

People, he said, used the red clay bricks to build garden walls, patios and yard paths. One person incorporated them into his Dade City home.

The city now wishes it could take all those bricks back.

There is growing interest in accentuating the historic look of Seventh Avenue — Ybor City’s main thoroughfare — by once again paving it with brick. Last week, the city asked for a price estimate.

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Step one was to find out how many of the required historic "Augusta block" bricks made by the now-defunct Georgia Vitrified Brick & Clay Company were available.

So far, the answer is not many.

"We hit a brick wall," said Courtney Orr, manager of the Ybor City Development Corp., which has been charged with the project. "I don't know if there is a gold mine of the bricks somewhere, but we're going to keep looking."

Orr is on the hunt for those branded with the Augusta name to match the historic district's existing brick streets, which include nearly all of Eighth and Ninth avenues.

The city has a stockpile of Augusta block, but Orr said it is reserved for maintaining Tampa's existing brick roads.

City spokesperson Ashley Bauman said the city currently has 41 miles of brick streets and budgets $200,000 a year to maintain them. In 1981, the total was 64 miles, according to Tampa Bay Times archives.

Finding enough bricks for sale to line the desired one-mile span of Seventh Avenue from Nuccio Parkway to 26th Street is proving difficult.

The city could purchase freshly manufactured bricks, but that isn’t anyone’s preference.

"If the goal was to restore the historic appearance of Seventh Avenue, then the use of historic brick would be most successful in achieving that," said Dennis Fernandez, the city of Tampa’s historic preservation officer.

The historic bricks can't come from old buildings, either. Those aren’t dense enough to withstand vehicular traffic.

"That our brick streets with limited maintenance are still in good shape shows how strong those bricks are," notes Del Acosta, an architectural historian.

James Nandlal, the private contractor who maintains the city’s brick streets, said there are options for Seventh Avenue.

He estimates there are 100 pallets of Augusta block in the city's stock and each can cover up to 90-square-feet of road. Nandlal has not yet estimated Seventh Avenue's dimensions.

The city could start by using the inventory to brick just a few blocks of the street, Nandlal said, and keep enough Augusta block in stock for maintenance.

The inventory is replenished whenever new bricks are discovered during construction projects. Moving forward, some of those could be put back into the maintenance stock and some could be used to pave another piece of Seventh Avenue until it is complete.

"They could make a yearly plan," Nandlal said. Or, since Seventh Avenue is a priority, the city could pull bricks from other sections of Ybor, he said.

One option Tampa might want to pass on is using cypress trees. The city learned firsthand that doesn't work.

Florida clay is not street brick quality, the history center's Kite Powell said, so Tampa-made cedar blocks were initially used when the city sought to pave its sandy roads in the early 20th century.

But soon after a few sections of downtown's Franklin and Washington streets were complete, a storm washed the blocks away.

So the city turned to Georgia Vitrified Brick & Clay Company in Augusta.

According to the Augusta Museum of History, the now defunct company provided bricks for more than 730 Tampa streets and another 24 southeastern cities, including Clearwater and St. Petersburg.

Decades later, city leaders wanted asphalt to modernize Tampa's look. Some streets, such as Seventh Avenue, had the bricks removed. Others, like Fourth Avenue, had the bricks paved over.

Twenty years ago, the city sold 130,000 historic bricks at 30 cents each to Winter Park. Each brick was worth as much as $4, according to Times archives.

As many as 500,000 would have been shipped from here if concerned city council members hadn't stepped in.

"Those of us in favor of fixing our own brick streets were appalled," said Linda Saul-Sena, who was on city council then.

In response to the sales, Saul-Sena passed an ordinance to preserve existing brick streets.

But that didn't protect those hidden under asphalt, such as the miles of bricks rediscovered in 2009 as the city began tearing up Fourth Avenue The $1 million price tag to restore those bricks was deemed too costly so they were again covered.

"For the 20 years I’ve lived here, re-bricking Seventh Avenue has been on the radar," said Gene Siudut, vice-chair of the Ybor City Development Corp. board.

"It was a painstaking process to save many of the bricks that were torn up from the streets of Ybor, as they were being disposed of without regard for their historic nature. The dream since then has been that they would make a historic return, literally and figuratively.”

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com or follow @PGuzzoTimes.

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