TARPON SPRINGS — If buildings could talk, this one would tell stories, lots of stories, about late night blazes and the volunteers who fought them, about cops and robbers and about all the people, from farmers to sponge divers to politicians, who walked through the front door.
The Tarpon Springs Cultural Center, at 101 Pinellas St, known to old-timers as “Old City Hall,’’ is undergoing a facelift. The two-story, Neoclassical Revival-style building, designed by Atlanta architect Ernest D. Ivey, was built in 1915 as the first civic building for Tarpon Springs.
Along with serving as city hall, it once housed the police department on the north side and the fire department on the south side. However, for the last three decades it has been used as a venue for arts and cultural programs.
“When the Cultural Center was built in 1915, there was a lot of industry here. It was a boom time for Tarpon Springs,’’ said Tarpon Springs historian Phyllis Kolianos. “They needed a place for their (civic) business.’’
Through Penny for Pinellas funding, the city is spending about $550,000 on the project, which started in 2018. Work includes repairing dozens of original windows, replacing damaged wood and renovating the original four-faced Seth Thomas clock. Clock work includes restoring the dome, the louvers as well as the wood trim.
Except for rare breakdowns, including one in 2000 when repairs were required after a lightning strike, the clock has served as a reliable community timepiece for decades. With the refurbishment, that will continue, said Nick Makris of the city’s project administration department. “All the internal guts are good, and it should be chiming every half hour and on the hour.’’
Ed Hoffman, president of the board for the Tarpon Springs Area Historical Society and founder of Hoffman Architecture on Orange Street, considers the building an invaluable piece of the city and forever linked to his childhood.
“I remember being an 8-year-old Cub Scout in that building. It was a career day and we visited the fire house,’’ he said.
For Hoffman, 68, buildings like the Cultural Center are key to telling his hometown’s important story.
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“There are lots of memories. I think of times like being in the old movie theater, which was not far from the building, and halfway through you would hear the fire alarms going off,’’ he said. “Men would suddenly get up and leave to go volunteer and fight the fire.’’
The last time the building had major renovations was in 1987, when the city government portion of the property moved out. By then, the fire and police division had already relocated to new headquarters (now on Huey Avenue).
At that time, the old city meeting area was transformed into an 84-seat performance space, and the walls and wooden floors were refurbished. In 1990, the building was officially listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
During construction, the building has been wrapped in scaffolding with safety signs posted in different spots around it. Although the construction site has not been enjoyable to look at, nearby business owners like Pete Frissini, have maintained their regular operating hours.
Frissini owns Sweet Pete’s Barber Shop, a stone’s throw from the Cultural Center at 100 E. Lemon Street. From his shop’s front window, the construction is in clear view.
“It has not hurt my business, but to be honest, I am tired of looking at all the construction. It’s been a long project, over a year,'' Frissini said ”But, it is an important building. I know it means a lot to everyone to have it look good. I just prefer to get the whole thing done.''
The project should be completed in March.