1. Hillsborough

Challenge grants preserve Hillsborough County's history

TAMPA — Each year, Hillsborough County government nods its approval of preservation efforts with cash. And this year, $1.4 million is promised for projects that range from the restoration of a 1976 Ford fire truck, to a "forensic analysis'' of the paint in Tampa Theatre, to a detailed, three-dimensional digital recreation of the Jackson House, the boarding house that welcomed famous African Americans who were denied accomodations in whites-only hotels in Tampa during the segregation era.

The Hillsborough County Historic Preservation Challenge Grants range from $5,000 for the fire truck work to awards of $250,000 — the top amount the county gives — for exterior restoration work on the German American Club, 2105 N. Nebraska Ave., and on the venerable Ebenezer Baptist Church, at 1212 E. Scott St. Through the grants, the county reimburses half of a project's cost after the project is complete.

The active and retired firefighter members of the Hillsborough Fire Museum Foundation want to turn the beat-up fire truck into a gleaming rolling museum. Others want to use it in antique fire truck events, demonstrating its pumper. Benjamin Ressler, a retired Hillsborough County fire captain, said he's interested in preserving the accurate history of that era, when much of the county was protected by volunteers. He also wants to salute the late Ross Macaluso, longtime chief mechanic for Hillsborough County Fire Rescue. He built the 1000-gallon water tank and added the skid-mount pump to the bare chassis of the truck.

Ressler, 62, said volunteers have so far rebuilt the engine with help from United Speed World, and Reliable Transmission donated a $7,500 transmission. They're working to remove rust and refurbish the body of the vehicle, which was used by a volunteer fire department in the Cork-Knights area near Plant City.

At Tampa Theatre, "forensic paint analysis'' sounds like something a Crime Scene Investigation unit would undertake, but it's merely a very careful method of working through the layers to discover the original color of the auditorium walls. It's part of the ongoing restoration of the ornate, 93-year-old theater, said Jill Witecki, the theatre's marketing director.

"They scrape down to the original colors, using Q-tips, acetone and X-Acto knives. It's very, very painstaking work,'' Witecki said.

EverGreene Architectural Arts, which restored the theatre's lobby, is doing the paint analysis and also making an assessment of the condition of original furnishings being stored in the theater. The county promised $8,425 to help pay for the analysis.

At Tampa Bay History Center, visitors will be able to take a virtual look at the Jackson House, a boarding house that provided African American entertainers and other celebrities a place to stay when they were banned from hotels that catered to whites only. Walking through the real house is not an option now. The dilapidated structure with broken windows and leaning walls looks like it could collapse at any moment, though it is braced and reinforced inside.

Rodney Kite-Powell, curator of the Tampa Bay History Center, said it's possible the exhibit would be open in the fall of 2020.

"We're really excited about it,'' he said.

The challenge grant program was started in 2012 to "promote historic preservation, heritage, tourism and related business or economic development'' within the county, according to the county web site.

Other grants announced Aug. 7 are:

$15,281 for the SS American Victory, a World War II cargo ship museum at Channelside, to improve lighting and electrical systems and provide additional awnings and update exhibits.

$99,470 to the Ybor City Museum Society for the development and installation of exhibits for the opening of the Tampa Baseball Museum at the Al Lopez House

$106,729 for the rehabilitation of the Perfecto Garcia Cigar Factory, 2808 N. 16th St.

$50,000 for architectural and engineering plans for the rehabilitation of Florida College's Sutton Hall, which was originally part of the Temple Terrace Golf Club

$56,500 fore the rehabilitation of the Gulf Millwork and Fixture building, 1925 E. 2nd Ave.

$125,000 for improvements to the JC Newman Cigar Factory, 2701 N. 16th St.

$65,595 for the exterior rehabilitation of a historic residential building at 1402 N. 19th St.

$120,000 for the restoration of the historic brickwork of the Ritz Theatre, 1503 E. 7th Ave.

$78,500 for phase III of the renovation of Centro Ybor, 1526-1536 E. 7th Ave.

$99,500 for stabilization and repair of the foundation of the University of Tampa's Plant Hall.

Contact Philip Morgan at or (813) 226-3435.