Matheson exhibit highlights 20th Century Gainesville

This poster promoting a Holiday Celebration in 1979 at the Gainesville Downtown Plaza is among eight posters promoting plaza events in the late ’70s that are part of new exhibit opening Monday at the Matheson Museum.

Courtesy of Paul Kittas
Published: Thursday, September 19, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, September 17, 2013 at 6:54 p.m.

Venture downtown on any given Friday and you may happen across 2,000 people packing the Bo Diddley Community Plaza to hear the sounds of everything from Beatles songs to classic R&B, original folk or vibrant reggae.


‘20th Century Gainesville, Through the Decades’

What: Photographs and posters depicting historical eras of Gainesville’s history
When: Opens Monday and continues through Nov. 1; hours are 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday
Where: Matheson Museum, 513 E. University Ave.
Wednesday reception:
Exhibit contributors Paul Kittas, Jeffrey Meldon and John Martin will speak during the opening reception, refreshments served; 6 p.m. Wednesday

Such performances in the ever-popular “Free Fridays” Concert Series have their beginnings 35 years ago when expos, school concerts and even a disco dance were among the first events sponsored by the city of Gainesville in the then brand-new “Gainesville Community Plaza.”

In 1978, the plaza’s original incarnation had no cover over the stage, and events were staged around a fountain planted in the middle of the plaza. Yet the city presented performances ranging from the Gainesville Civic Ballet to a music group called “Stars Anonymous.” And the people did come, planting the seeds of plaza performances that have flowered, decades later, into the free, weekly series that virtually packs the plaza out on Friday nights these days.

“The one that I really liked was before a football game they had a parade down University Avenue, and I had a disco dance that night,” says Paul Kittas, the first director of the downtown plaza. “And they said at the time that was the biggest crowd they had in downtown [1,200], because everybody marched west to east down University Avenue and they just walked into the plaza.

“And I looked at the band and said ‘start playing,’ and we danced for quite a while. I do remember being tired that night.”

Posters promoting such events during Kittas’ time at the plaza are featured in a new exhibit opening Monday at the Matheson Museum.

The exhibit, called “20th Century Gainesville, Through the Decades,” features photographs depicting the city’s history from as far back as the Alachua County Courthouse in 1885 to recognizable scenes in the 1970s.

The 30-to-40 photographs come from the Mark V. Barrow Archives at the museum as well from the collections of contributors Jeffrey Meldon and John Martin, says Betsy Albury, a museum technician at the Matheson. “It’s the very history of downtown Gainesville, and these are some very interesting photographs of the history of Gainesville.”

On Wednesday at 6 p.m., Kittas, Meldon and Martin will speak during a reception for the exhibition, which will have Kittas talking about his eight posters that will be featured along with the historical photographs. The exhibit will continue through Nov. 1.

Kittas, who is coming from New York City to participate in the reception, says he is looking forward to revisiting those early days when the plaza first attracted crowds to downtown.

“My job was to get people down there and kind of get the plaza going, and that’s what I did and showed: That yes, it will work and people will come downtown.”

Contact Entertainment Editor Bill Dean at 374-5039 or at, and follow on Twitter @SceneBillDean.

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