How do you make more than 11,000 historic red bricks disappear?
Hire a magician? Or put them in the city of Tampa's storage yard?
Just what happened to the bricks is debatable. But preservationists and the state Department of Transportation are calling for tighter security measures at a city storage facility at 34th Street and Adamo Drive.
"Nothing else seems to walk away," said Elaine Illes, a historic preservation consultant to the DOT. "But you leave bricks, you could have a whole street missing overnight. The bricks are like gold. It's amazing."
Illes wants the city to either beef up security or find a safer place to store bricks that the DOT removes while working on streets.
City Council member Linda Saul-Sena said she would also work with the city's Public Works Department, which oversees the storage yard.
"The disappearance of the bricks indicates serious theft," Saul-Sena said. "They were valuable, and we have a professionally run city that safeguards our resources. We need to treat the bricks as local, historical resources."
The disappearing act started in spring 2003, when state transportation officials began clearing bricks at several Ybor City intersections to widen Interstate 4.
The DOT promised to remove and clean the bricks, put them on pallets and deliver them to the city's storage yard for safekeeping. When work on I-4 was done, transportation officials would return the bricks to several intersections, including 14th Avenue and 14th Street.
A year later, DOT workers went to retrieve the bricks from among the storage yard's discarded traffic lights, barricades and street signs. But the bricks were gone.
Illes said a DOT contractor's own records indicate he delivered the bricks to the storage yard.
But Roy C. LaMotte Jr., transportation manager for the city's Public Works Department, said the contractor has no receipt of delivery.
"The natural reaction was to say show us proof that the bricks were delivered and somebody signed for it. No one could produce those documents, including FDOT," he said.
As a compromise, LaMotte said the Public Works Department will replace half of the missing bricks at a cost of about $4,000. He also plans to improve security at the storage yard.
While preservationists continue to question the bricks' whereabouts, Illes has moved on. She said the city needs to tighten security before the DOT starts removing bricks as part of the widening of Interstate 275.
"I don't think we will be delivering any large amount of bricks to the city unless we know that they'll increase security for the bricks," Illes said. "They'll just walk. It's like I said, they're gold."
Sherri Day can be reached at 226-3405 or sdaysptimes.com.