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Tampa Armature Works (the company, not the food court) turns 100

They manufacture and service motors and related equipment for theme parks and the U.S. military.
Tampa Armature Works in Riverview.
Tampa Armature Works in Riverview. [ IVY CEBALLO ]
Published Mar. 24
Updated Mar. 30

RIVERVIEW — Tampa Armature Works manufactures and services motors and related equipment. Clients include theme parks and the U.S. military. They do not prepare food for or serve coffee to the public.

None of their nine Florida locations — a total 60 acres of factory and office space — include a bar.

Yet, people wander onto Tampa Armature Works’ Riverview campus, which serves as corporate headquarters, and ask where they can grab a drink and meal.

“They are looking for reception dinners or business lunches,” Lisa Cunningham, marketing manager for Tampa Armature Works, said with a laugh.

It is easy to understand why they mistakenly drive to the 40-acre site, she said. More than a decade after the company sold the building, Tampa’s popular downtown food court and public market bears their old sign and part of their name.

Tampa Armature Works owned the building on Ola Avenue for nearly 50 years.

Still, Cunningham said, it is just a part of the story of their company, which celebrates 100 years in business in April.

“We started as a small mom-and-pop shop,” she said. “And we evolved into what we are today,” a $200 million company employing more than 500 and providing services to customers from as far away as Central and South America.

Rob Linihan, a machine operator, works at Tampa Armature Works in Riverview.
Rob Linihan, a machine operator, works at Tampa Armature Works in Riverview. [ IVY CEBALLO ]

“The company started very humbly, learned early to adapt with change, and was always interested in developing long-term relationships with its customers and employees,” James Arthur Turner III, the third generation of his family to serve as CEO of Tampa Armature Works, said via email. “This approach got us through the first 100 years, the Great Depression, WWI, WWII. We will use this strategy for the next 100 years.”

According to a company history provided to the Tampa Bay Times, his grandfather James Arthur Turner Sr. was born in Griffin, Georgia, dropped out of school after seventh grade and rode the train to Florida. He found work as a meter reader and lineman for Lakeland Light and Water Co.

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In 1919, he took a job as shop foreman for Tampa’s Electric Motor Co. and founded Tampa Armature Works two years later. He “saw the opportunity for an independent company that could rewind and repair motors for phosphate companies,” according to the company history.

Advertisements with Tampa newspapers list the company’s original address as 203 Tampa St. and boasted it was “probably the most thoroughly equipped electric shop in this part of the state.”

According to a Tampa Tribune story in 1926, the company was already outgrowing that location and began building “one of the largest armature plants in the entire south” at 401 Morgan St.

Alex drives by on a forklift at Tampa Armature Works in Riverview.
Alex drives by on a forklift at Tampa Armature Works in Riverview. [ IVY CEBALLO ]

Still, the company history says Tampa Armature Works was down to its last $25 in the early 1930s. The Turner family donated that money to the Salvation Army. “An hour later,” the Florida Asphalt Block Paving Plant in Pinellas saved the company with a “$24,000 order.”

In 1956, the company further expanded by purchasing Tampa Electric Co.’s 70,000-square-foot trolley barn on Ola Avenue. The red, white and blue sign they painted on the side of the brick structure remains today and, though the mixed-use building is branded Armature Works, residents still refer to it as the Tampa Armature Works building.

The old Tampa Armature Works sign remains painted on the Ola Avenue building in Tampa.
The old Tampa Armature Works sign remains painted on the Ola Avenue building in Tampa. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]

An advertisement published in the Times in 1956 lists Tampa Armature Works’ customers as J.C. Penney Co., F. W. Woolworth Co., Tampa Theatre, the Hillsboro Hotel and Tampa Electric Co.

“Turner said he started the firm with $300 nearly 40 years ago, and last year the company’s sales volume was $5.5 million,” the Times reported in 1960.

Tampa Armature Works closed its Morgan Street headquarters in the 1970s to make way for a Selmon Expressway ramp and moved to Riverview. When the Morgan Street campus was demolished in 1975, the Tribune reported that a “Tampa landmark falls.”

As the Riverview campus grew, Tampa Armature Works’ building on Ola Avenue was no longer needed. The company sold it in 2005.

Despite having to occasionally provide directions to the old downtown location, Cunningham said they are glad the building kept the company’s name.

“It has created confusion,” she said. “But it is also great advertising.”