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Efforts to save Tampa's historic Jackson House get new support, money, energy

The historic Jackson House, at 851 Zack St., needs repairs estimated at $1.5 million in 2013, according to officials. The building, more than a 100 years old, served as a boarding house.
The historic Jackson House, at 851 Zack St., needs repairs estimated at $1.5 million in 2013, according to officials. The building, more than a 100 years old, served as a boarding house.
Published Jul. 24, 2015

TAMPA — After years of its structural condition and future prospects going from bad to worse, there is hope for Tampa's historic Jackson House.

Over the past year and a half, owner Willie Robinson Jr. has deeded the storied rooming house to a nonprofit group, the Jackson House Foundation.

A local firm, Bracken Engineering, has donated the time and expertise to design a plan to shore up the ramshackle, wood-frame house. That, supporters hope, can buy enough time for them to raise money for a larger renovation and repair job. A contractor, R.W. Tymewell, has signed on to do the stabilization.

And the Tampa Bay Lightning have given $50,000 to help save the two-story building on E Zack Street.

"We were hoping that we would be able to say to you tonight that (work had) started," Carolyn Collins, chairwoman of the foundation's board of directors and past president of the Hillsborough NAACP, told the City Council on Thursday night.

It hasn't, but Collins said efforts continue to raise matching funds and donations of supplies from private donors, local or state governments, building supply companies, contractors and others. She hoped the $63,685 job to shore up the historic boarding house could start as soon as next week.

While plans are still coming together and there's more work ahead raising money for the project, supporters and City Council members sounded more optimistic about the future of the Jackson House than they have in two years or more.

"If dreams can come true, they are coming true for me," said Robinson, who has spent years looking for ways to save the Jackson House, perhaps the only structure that remains from the Central Avenue black business and entertainment district.

More than 100 years old, the Jackson House started as a two-room house in a segregated neighborhood known as "The Scrub." In the Jim Crow South, black music artists, such as Count Basie, James Brown, Ray Charles and Nat King Cole were banned from staying in whites-only hotels, but they were welcome at the Jackson House.

Jackie Robinson and other baseball players also were known to stay at the Jackson House. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stopped there for a sandwich on a trip to meet civil rights workers in Tampa.

The house stopped taking boarders in 1989 but later won spots on the National Register of Historic Places and Florida's Black Heritage Trail.

By 2007, the building's age, structural flaws and lack of maintenance had rendered it beyond repair, according to an analysis by Wilder Architecture in Ybor City. A consulting engineer found skewed window frames, a chimney pulling away from the wall, wood rot, insect damage and walls that had begun to settle.

By late 2013, Tampa officials talked about issuing an order to demolish the structure as "a serious threat to the public health, safety or welfare." Repairs had been estimated at $1.5 million, more than 10 times the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser's estimated market value of $121,888.

Radio shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem talked about buying the house and restoring it, then dropped the plan.

When prospects looked bleak, the NAACP stepped in to try to rally support for the house. City officials have met with the NAACP, Robinson and others to work on the plans to seek grants.

Once supporters get to the point where they are ready to move forward with stabilizing the building, City Attorney Julia Mandell said Tampa officials will be in a position to resolve some of the outstanding code enforcement violations and fines that have been assessed against the property.

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