Renovations give downtown Firestone building new lease on life

Guests gather inside the main entrance during a gathering of people who worked to rebuild the Firestone building at 304 W. University Ave. on Wednesday in Gainesville.

Matt Stamey/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Thursday, July 24, 2014 at 5:33 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 24, 2014 at 5:33 p.m.

The historic downtown Firestone building has sat empty since the 1950s. A forgotten piece of Gainesville's past, the desolate building from 1927 was to be torn down, city officials said.

But Phoebe Cade Miles, Gainesville native and lover of historic buildings, wouldn't let that happen.

On Wednesday, Miles hosted the people who played a part in bringing the building back to life to celebrate the weeks of remodeling finally coming to an end.

Contractors, builders and architects were in attendance, each representing a small part of a bigger project.

“When you see an ancient building, you often wonder, 'Who were the hands that built this building?' You will never know who they were, what their names were, what their stories were, but yet, it was a work of art by hundreds of people,” Miles said.

“So I was thinking of this restoration in the same way. I just thought it would be really, really neat to be able to pull them all together at one time to see the fruits of their labor.”

SharpSpring, a local startup specializing in marketing automation, will be the building's first tenant in more than 50 years. Miles, daughter of Gatorade lead inventor Dr. Robert Cade, said the new tenant embodies the entrepreneurial spirit consistent with her other project, the Cade Museum.

Miles remembers looking at the building as a child and wanting to bring it back to life. Such buildings exist in small towns all over the U.S., remnants of a national expansion by the Firestone Company when the automobile became a commodity, she said.

“I would drive by, and it always made me so sad that it wasn't using its potential,” she said. Miles and her husband, Richard, bought the Firestone building and its annex in 2008.

Their first project was to remodel the area next door, which now houses Starter Space, a startup co-working space. Once that was finished, Miles began planning out her dream restoration.

“When the city first came through, they wanted to condemn the thing,” said Richard Wagner, president of Joyner Construction, which worked on both projects. “It was even scary to walk up here.”

Although renovated, the building carries an undeniably authentic feel.

An industrial fan sits in a wall upstairs. An oil stain can be seen on what used to be the garage floor, now a spacious room with a remodeled, garage-style entryway.

“Anything that could be repurposed, I did not want to throw out,” Miles said, motioning toward a window-turned-mirror hanging on the wall.

Upstairs, Miles tried saving as much of the wood flooring as possible, which resulted in a rectangular, oriental-like pattern at the center of the floor. Surrounding the restored wood is river-recovered heart pine wood, provided by the Goodwin Co.

Heart pine wood was dominant in the Southeast before the 1930s, when it was mostly cut down and transported to sawmills by river. The Goodwin Co. recovers the wood from river bottoms to make flooring.

The peachy brick wall extending from the first floor to the balcony on the second is another historic relic. The brick was made by the Camp family, which moved to Alachua County and founded the Campville Brick Co. in the 1880s.

“The whole building is tied together with these different stories,” said Jeff Forbes, marketing manager at Goodwin. “It's a very well-represented building for Gainesville and Alachua County.”

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