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Wreckers erase Tampa history

They might not have enjoyed it, but passers-by in downtown Tampa couldn't help but watch bulldozers knock down more than 50 years of history Tuesday.

"I hate to say it, but I think destruction always fascinates people," said Jon Collier, one of many lunchtime spectators who watched as workers demolished the Tampa Gas Co. and First National Bank buildings.

Kimmins Contracting Corp., which Lykes Bros. hired to tear down the buildings, rolled its equipment into place after dark Monday and began ripping the facade off the Tampa Gas building.

Demolition began in earnest Tuesday.

"A lot of people have commented that it's sad," said Mary Hadfield, a produce vendor known to customers on the Franklin Street Mall as "the fruit lady."

"People who have come up are a little sad that it's coming down," she said.

Although Hadfield said she wouldn't mind if Lykes actually does follow through with plans to build its corporate headquarters on the block, company officials have not said when that project might begin. Neither Lykes nor Kimmins representatives returned telephone calls Tuesday.

Faced with the prospect of walking by a vacant lot every day, some downtown office workers said they will miss the buildings' distinctive architecture.

"You don't find the workmanship that went into those buildings anymore," said Pam Johnson of Brandon. "It was all hand-crafted. Now, everything's all glass."

As he watched a backhoe drop huge pieces of pipe into a trash bin the size of a railroad car, Collier said he thought Lykes executives were "crazy for tearing this building down,"

"I think it was one of the prettiest buildings in Tampa, actually," he said. "They could have refurbished it."

That, however, is not what the Tampa City Council decided last week. Council members cleared the way for this week's demolition when they reluctantly agreed that the agri-business conglomerate could not earn a reasonable return on its money by renovating the buildings.