United States Department of the Interior National Park Service NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES REGISTRATION FORM
Sept. 13, 2013, entered in the National Register Oct. 23, 2013

 

 

DESCRIPTION
SETTING
PRESENT APPEARANCE AND ALTERATIONS-Exterior
PRESENT APPEARANCE AND ALTERATIONS-Interior
SUMMARY
HISTORIC CONTEXT
CRITERION A: MILITARY HISTORY
CRITERION A: ENTERTAINMENT/RECREATION
CRITERION B, PERSONS SIGNIFICANT IN OUR PAST
CRITERION C: ARCHITECTURE
ART DECO STYLE
 
DESCRIPTION

Built 1938-1941, the former Fort Homer W. Hesterly National Guard Armory located at 522 North Howard Avenue in Tampa, Florida, is a fine example of Art Deco styling. It features a reinforced concrete structural system which rests on a continuous concrete foundation. Its exterior walls are surfaced in stucco. There are three main sections to the building: the main two-story flat roofed section which encompasses the footprint of the building; a central four-story domed section; and a prominent central five-story stepped tower decorated with geometric bas-relief designs. The main flat-roofed entrance on the east side is recessed and features the name "Fort Homer W. Hesterly" and a crest above the doorway. A hallway runs through the center of the building and joins similar recessed entrances on the north and south sides. These entrance are topped with an Art Deco bas-relief design in stucco. The property boundaries are North Howard Avenue on the east, West Gray Street on the south, North Armenia Avenue on the west, and West Lemon Street on the north; however, that portion of the property north of the motor vehicle parking lot next to the armory building has been excluded from the historic boundaries, because the buildings were constructed outside the period of significance of the armory and did not play an important role in its history. Fort Homer W. Hesterly remained an active Florida National Guard Armory until October 2004, when the guard moved to a new facility in Pinellas County. In addition to providing arms storage, operations and drill space for the guardsmen, the Armory also served Tampa's community as a central venue for sporting events, social gatherings, and speaking engagements.

SETTING

The city of Tampa is located in the western part of central Florida and lies at the mouth of the Hillsborough River that empties into Old Tampa Bay, an inlet to the Gulf of Mexico. It occupies the entire Hillsborough peninsula, spreading north and west from the north edge of Hillsborough Bay. Tampa is the seat of Hillsborough County and a major seaport. It is a financial center of the state, and light manufacturing plays an important role in the economy, as does tourism and sports. Cigar manufacturing, which once employed thousands of workers, no longer contributes significantly to the economic life of the city; however, the industry has left its mark on the population with a high percentage of residents of Latin background, the majority of whom are of Cuban origin. Tampa is a city of approximately 300,000 residents and part of a metropolitan area in west Florida having a population of about 2,000,000. The nearby beaches and other attractions, the sporting facilities, and the climate bring thousands of tourists to the area each year, adding to the economic vitality of the area.

Fort Homer W. Hesterly is located in the West Tampa neighborhood of Tampa, an urbanized, mixed residential and commercial area, approximately one mile west of downtown. It is found near the West Tampa National Historic District (NR 1983). The property is bordered by North Howard Avenue to the east, Gray Street to the south, Armenia A venue to the west, and the northern half of the original Armory property to the north. The site originally extended north to West Lemon Street and was used as a public park. In 1921, the City of Tampa leased the land to the Armory Board for use as a National Guard drill facility. During its early use by the 116th Artillery Battalion, ten wood frame buildings, including an armory building, drill hall, stables, an officer's club and boxing ring were constructed at the site, evidenced by the 1931 Tampa Sanborn Map. The building was home to the National Guard from 1941 until October 2004, when the guardsmen moved to a new facility in Pinellas County. However, the National Guard will continue to occupy the northern half of the original site, not included in this designation.

PRESENT APPEARANCE AND ALTERATIONS Exterior

Built 1938-1941, the former Fort Homer W. Hesterly National Guard Armory is a fine example of Art Deco styling. It features a reinforced concrete structural system which rests on a continuous concrete foundation. Its exterior walls are surfaced in stucco. There are three main sections to the building: the main two-story flat roofed section which encompasses the footprint of the building; a central four-story domed section; and a prominent central five-story stepped tower decorated with geometric bas-relief designs (Photo 1). The main flat-roofed entrance (Photo 2) on the east facade is recessed and features blue tile and four single-glazed metal doors topped with transom windows. Above the main entrance is a colorful, circular bas relief element in the shape of a cross and shield, and the name "Fort Homer W. Hesterly" in black lettering (Photo 3). To the left of the main entrance is a smaller recessed entry with two doors, which contains stairs leading to the second floor.

A similar recessed entrance is found on the west elevation of the building (Photo 4). These entrances are topped with bas-relief Art Deco designs in stucco. A flagpole in front of the main entrance (Photo 5) has a plaque that reads "Named in honor of Homer W Hesterly, Soldier Patriot and Civic Leader." A historic marker erected by the 1st U.S. Cavalry Regiment Rough Riders, Inc. (Photos 6-7) recognizing the site as the encampment of Rough Riders of the Spanish American War in June 1898 stands near the main entrance to the building. The marker is capped with the seal of the Tampa Historical Society. Concrete barriers line the street boundaries of the armory property (Photo 8), placed there after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The building exhibits an unusual number of garage bays (Photo 9), a feature not found in any of the other historic National Guard armories in Florida. The south elevation has twelve garage bays, the north elevation has sixteen, and the rear (west) facade has two bays. These are covered by doors that provide access to individual vehicles, although the interior space is not partitioned.

The fenestration on the main facade is symmetrical, consisting of steel fixed and hopper windows with 3/3- light, 6/6-light, and 8/8-light configurations. Centered and set back from the main facade is the five-story tower (Photo 10). The tower exhibits typical Art Deco detailing: stepped massing with geometric shaping and fluting.

Just beyond the tower, the upper portion of the rounded roof covering the drill hall (Photo 11) can be seen, forming an arch which tops the structure. Evenly spaced chimney stacks with parapet caps are found on each side of the tower. Except for the garage bays, the remaining elevations contain similar Art Deco architectural features. The fenestration patterns echo those of the main facade. Other exterior ornamentation includes scored stucco and concrete sills. Modifications to the main part of the building include metal glazed doors and the appendage of a one-story concrete block addition on the rear (west) elevation.

PRESENT APPEARANCE AND ALTERATIONS Interior

The building contains 83,500 feet of interior space, making it one of the largest armory buildings in Florida. The interior consists of a drill hall (Photos 12-16) surrounded by storage rooms, offices, and open spaces. Significant interior features are arched doorways, and projecting metal stairs providing access to the mezzanine. Most of the interior doors in the offices surrounding the drill hall appear to have been replaced with newer metal or particle board doors; however, a few of the original, solid wood doors still exist.

Alterations to the Armory are relatively minor. In 1959, a one-story concrete addition was added to the rear (west) elevation (Photo 17). Glazed metal doors replaced the original wooden doors in each of the entrances, circa 1960s. Interior modifications include an acoustical tile dropped ceiling in both the drill hall and several offices, and industrial vinyl flooring throughout. Historic photographs show that the steel bowstring roof trusses in the drill hall (Photo 18) use to be exposed. Although the steel trusses are now covered by the acoustical ceiling, they remain intact. The acoustical tile will be removed in the renovation of the building. Photos of the armory from the 1950s and 1960s show the inverted bell-like decoration that sat upon the central tower (Photo 19). It appeared to be constructed of iron bars and at night it was lit up from the inside.

SUMMARY

The former Fort Homer W. Hesterly National Guard Armory is significant at the local level under Criterion A in the area of Military History and Entertainment/Recreation and under Criterion C in the area of Architecture. It is also significant under Criterion B for its association with Lieutenant Colonel Homer Wynne Hesterly, who was the commanding officer of the 116th Field Artillery Battalion stationed at the armory from 1934 to 1954, and who was instrumental in reorganizing the Florida National Guard in Tampa after the First World War. The Armory is designed in the Art Deco style, a modem architectural style popularized from the 1920s through 1940s. The Armory is an outstanding example of the shift in function and purpose of the National Guard during the early twentieth century nationwide. A product of the Works Progress Administration, the armory remained an active Florida National Guard Armory until October 2004, when the guard moved to a new facility in Pinellas County. In addition to providing arms storage, operations and drill space for the Guardsmen, the armory also served Tampa's community as a venue for sporting events, social gatherings, and speaking engagements

HISTORIC CONTEXT

In 1821, Florida officially became a United States territory after its acquisition from Spain in 1819 through the Adams-Onis Treaty. Although Spanish explorers were familiar with the Tampa Bay area as early as the 16th century, they did not colonize the area, and Americans did not settle in the area until the U.S. Army established Fort Brooke at the mouth of the Hillsborough River in 1824. In 1834, Hillsborough County was created from Alachua County,  but three years earlier in 1831, a post office had been established for Tampa Bay to serve the small settlement and trading post, the name being shortened to Tampa shortly thereafter. Although the population consisted mainly of military personnel during the Second (1835-1842) and Third (1855-1858) Seminole wars, by 1858 Tampa had about 1,000 inhabitants and was dotted with houses, churches and businesses. At the end of the Civil War in 1865, Fort Brooke was abandoned by the military and the population of Tampa began to decline. By 1880, the population stood at only 720 residents; however, several events launched Tampa on its course to becoming a large, modem city.

In 1883, the old Fort Brooke military reservation was opened to civilian settlement, causing a flurry of real estate speculation. January 1884 saw the completion of the South Florida Railroad, linking Tampa with Jacksonville and the discovery of phosphate in the vicinity of Tampa. The mining of this essential ingredient in commercial fertilizer would bring a new wave of settlement and transform Tampa into a major port from which the mineral was shipped all over the world.

The arrival of Vicente Martinez-Ybor and other major cigar manufacturers from Key West was far more important to the rapid and spectacular growth of Tampa after 1885. Ybor was a Spanish citizen, who had begun manufacturing cigars in Cuba in 1856. At the outbreak of the Cuban Ten Year's War rebellion against Spanish rule in 1868, Ybor was forced to flee the country under suspicion of disloyalty to Spain. He reestablished his cigar operations in Key West, Florida, and persuaded other Cuban and American cigar manufacturers to join him. Labor was readily available among the thousands of Cuban refugees who had fled the conflict in their homeland.

After more than fifteen years in Key West, Ybor decided to seek a more favorable place to operate his business. Shipping traffic between Key West and major U.S. and Caribbean ports was irregular and unreliable, hindering access to both raw materials and markets. The conflict between Spanish and Cuban workers over the fate of Cuba, coupled with the workers demand for better wages and working conditions, also caused constant labor problems, resulting in costly strikes in Key West. After examining other locations, Ybor decided in 1885 to :relocate to Tampa. His decision was heavily influenced by the availability of transportation and incentives offered by Tampa businessmen who provided him a large tract of land northeast of town on which to build factories and houses for cigar workers. Within a year, Ybor City had become a separate community standing almost in the shadow of downtown Tampa. Its independence, however, was short-lived. In 1887, Tampa annexed Ybor City, creating a community with a population of 5,000 residents. 6 Tampa's population increased dramatically over the next several decades, especially after a second cigar-producing center was established in \Vest Tampa on the western side of the Hillsborough River.

Hugh C. Macfarlane (1851-1935), a Scotland native, came to Tampa in 1883 to practice law and soon found himself involved in city activity, being appointed city attorney in 1887. In addition, by 1892, Macfarlane had platted 200 acres of land he owned just west of the Hillsborough River for development and began offering factory sites and three story brick buildings to cigar manufacturers willing to locate there. 7 He also erected an iron drawbridge at Fortune Street in 1892 to facilitate the crossing of the Hillsborough River, as well as financing a streetcar line between Tampa and the new area of development. The cigar companies poured in, resulting in capital investments of over $2 million and producing over 50 million cigars a year. On May 18, 1895, the city of West Tampa was incorporated, boasting 3,500 residents with businesses and community services already in place.

The site of Fort Homer W. Hesterly was originally part of a tract of land located several blocks west of downtown West Tampa that belonged to George Nelson Benjamin, an orange grower and West Tampa developer, city councilman, and businessman. Along with Hugh C. Macfarlane, Benjamin was instrumental in developing West Tampa. "He was one of the first pioneer builders of West Tampa, where he built several cigar factories. These were all gifts to promote business and to make the town prosperous." Benjamin donated to West Tampa the land on which Fort Homer W. Hesterly is now located, for use as a public park. "Benjamin Park" was later renamed "Benjamin Field."

Rough Riders Encampment June, 1898

At the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, Benjamin Field, a sand flat without a tree and surrounded by undeveloped woodlands, was the camp site of Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders shortly before their departure for Cuba in June 1898.  It was the most unusual regiment in the history of the U.S. Army. The Rough Riders, the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment included cowboys, Indians, polo players, ranchers, hunters, socialites, lawmen, and fur trappers. The Rough Riders were a small subset of the roughly 30,000 U.S. troops who came to Tampa and made it their base from which to group, plan, and prepare for the Spanish-American war. When the time came, the troops were sent to Cuba on ships embarking from Port Tampa, at the southern terminus of Henry B. Plant's railroad system. While much of the 1,200-strong Rough Riders regiment camped here, Colonel Roosevelt and some general officers enjoyed the comfort and elegance of Plant's Tampa Bay Hotel, across from downtown along the Hillsborough River (now the University of Tampa, and a National Historic Landmark, 1976).

For Tampa, the 1890s were a time of phenomenal growth. Henry Bradley Plant, who had brought the railroad to Tampa in the late 1880s, built the luxurious Tampa Bay Hotel on the west bank of the Hillsborough River. By 1894, West Tampa was established as a second cigar-making city, incorporating in 1895 and remaining independent of Tampa until1925. Growing prosperity saw the spread of residential development from downtown to the new suburbs of Hyde Park and Tampa Heights, areas that had previously been wilderness and farmland. By 1900, streets were being paved and the downtown business district saw the installation of electric streetlights. Masonry buildings began to replace older wooden structures. Tampa's first "skyscrapers" were constructed during the 191 Os, and the expanding business district spread into the old Fort Brooke area that had been absorbed into the city of Tampa in 1907. Because Tampa was a major staging area for the training and embarkation of military forces during the Spanish-American War in 1898, the U.S. Congress provided funding for the improvement of the city's downtown docking facilities. Tampa became a major deepwater port and a major phosphate shipping port with warehouses lining the railroad spurs that ran along the city's harbor.

The World War I era was particularly important to the development of Florida's port cities and Tampa was no exception. Tampa and Jacksonville were locations chosen by the Federal government as supply depots, embarkation points for troops and materials, and the construction of transport ships. The Ybor Channel was widened and deepened so that larger ships could be berthed near downtown, not just at Port Tampa located miles from downtown. Thousands of people flocked to Florida to work in war-related industries. Others saw Florida for the first time when they were stationed here or waiting to embark for foreign shores. There was heavy demand for the state's natural resources, agricultural products, and other goods and services. Although the demand for these goods and services waned when hostilities ceased, the word was out among businessmen and developers that the area was still enough of a frontier that a shrewd investor could make a fortune with a relatively modest amount of capital.

In July of 1929, Tampa had a financial scare with a run occurring on three major banks. While the banks were prepared and avoided disaster by quickly bringing in cash overnight, just months later in October, the stock market crash that started the Great Depression caused great hardships on Tampa's economy. Tourism, upon which the city's livelihood partly depended, was nearly at a standstill. Federal relief jobs did not start in Tampa until the spring of 1932, and then only sparingly. By 1935, however, Works Progress Administration (WPA) projects were underway in the Tampa area, employing many and building some of Tampa's finest architectural features, including the Cuscaden Swimming Pool in Ybor City; the Bayshore Boulevard, a waterfront road on Hillsborough Bay in South Tampa; and the 116th Field Artillery Armory, later named Fort Homer W. Hesterly. Tampa managed to limp through the Great Depression and was able finally to find a use for the old Tampa Bay Hotel, which was then vacant and owned by the city. The University of Tampa was incorporated in 1930 and by 1933 the campus had moved into the old Tampa Bay Hotel, bringing life and activity "that hadn't been seen since the gold-braided army officers departed for Cuba in 1898."

In September of 1939, Germany invaded Poland, leading to the Second World War. The U.S. government saw that American involvement in the conflict was inevitable and had already begun preparations. Tampa's shipyards had been enlarged and retooled and were ready for action. Tampa built over 100 ships and repaired or converted more than 500 others, employing over 18,000 workers. By the end of 1939, work began on the construction of the Southeast Air Base, a pivotal Army Air Corps base during the war. The base was later renamed MacDill Field, in honor of Colonel Leslie MacDill of Monmouth, Illinois, a veteran army aviator who was killed in a 1938 test flight crash at Washington, D.C. 13*

During World War II, Tampa, like most communities, placed concentrated war efforts high on the list of priorities. But at the war's end in 1945, the economy had benefited from all the servicemen at MacDill and Drew Fields, as well as those coming to Tampa from the Pinellas County Air Base and the Air Corps from St. Petersburg. Servicemen who remained in the area after the war were quickly absorbed into the community. As the travel restrictions were lifted, thousands flooded into Florida for vacation. In addition, the Tampa area was rapidly becoming a favorite spot for retirement. Prosperity returned to the Tampa area as MacDill's status as a military base became permanent, real estate investments grew, new industries flourished, and residential building boomed. 

Development of the Florida National Guard Prior to 1903, the National Guard had evolved from a loosely organized, state-based and funded, volunteer militia into an "agency of the state, a means of maintaining order and protecting property." This was during the late nineteenth century, in the post-Civil War climate ripe with civil unrest due to numerous labor strikes and economic depressions. 14 The first third of the twentieth century brought about further evolution to the National Guard, a result of the Spanish-American War and World War I and a border conflict with Mexico. Between 1903 and 1933, several acts passed by the U.S.Congress federalized, organized, and strengthened the National Guard. Although still state-based, federalization resulted in the National Guard becoming a supplementary component of the U.S. military, instead of solely a civil defense organization. About this change in function and purpose, historian Robert Fogelson stated,

After 1900, ... the National Guard underwent a remarkable transformation. By the end of World War I, it was a federal as well as a state force-a force that served as the backup for the army, rather that as the "policeman of industry," a force whose mission was to defend the country against foreigners, not against other Americans. Once the guardsmen took on this new role, they stopped thinking of the lower classes as potential rioters, other Americans stopped looking at the armories as symbols of repression, and it became possible to tum what had long been a fortress into a coliseum and community center.

Beginning in 1903 with the Dick Act, the National Guard was formally recognized as the Army's primary reserve force. In 1916, the National Defense Act was passed, which affirmed the term "National Guard," gave the president of the United States the authority to utilize the National Guard during times of national emergency or war, and for the first time authorized pay for active duty guardsmen. Amendments to this act in 1920 federalized the National Guard and reorganized its administration. Finally, the National Guard Mobilization Act of 1933 made the National Guard a component of the U.S . Artillery.  Under these acts, two modem divisions vrere created within the National Guard: the Army National Guard and Air National Guaid. These divisions were directly accountable to the United States Department of Defense, although still operated by each state.

With the passing of the Dick Act in 1903, Florida was the first state to organize its militia under the new federal standards, creating 1st and 2nd regiments. Guard units were formed under each regiment, and guardsmen began attending military service schools. The state funded active-duty pay, training camps and a state arsenal, while federal funds gave the Florida Guard equipment and uniforms. In recognition of its organizational efforts, the state militia underwent an official name change in 1909 from the Florida State Troops to the Florida National Guard. 18 From 1903 until 1916, the Florida National Guard was utilized mostly for keeping civilians peaceful. For instance, it was called upon eleven times to protect prisoners from lynch mobs. With the passing of the National Defense Act in 1916, however, federalization of the Florida National Guard began in earnest. From June 1916 until spring 1917, it was called upon to provide protection to the Mexican border, due to that country's revolution. The second calling of the Florida National Guard into federal service came during the World War I. However, guardsmen were inducted into the Army to serve in the War as individuals, not as Guard Units 19 After World War I, membership the Florida National Guard dwindled, as did state and federal funds. Nevertheless, Florida guardsmen continued to protect and assist the state's citizens by subduing civil uprisings, rebuilding after hurricanes, and helping to control the 1929 Mediterranean Fruit Fly outbreak.

CRITERION A: MILITARY HISTORY

Prior to 1935, there were only ten National Guard armories in Florida. Scattered throughout the state, most of these armories were built according to the late nineteenth century ideal of castellated fortresses. Individual counties funded construction of Florida armories until1901, when a Florida Supreme Court decision ruled that the state was responsible for funding armory construction. Although bound by the court decision, state coordination of armory funding was slow, sparse, and unpredictable. 21 It was not until the mid-1930s and the availability of Works Progress Administration funds that armory building in Florida caught up to the needs of the Florida National Guard. The Florida National Guard has served in almost every war and foreign conflict since the Second World War, in addition to aiding the State of Florida during times of domestic emergency, such as dealing with the aftermath of hurricanes. Today, the Guard is a "highly trained force" over 15,000 soldiers strong. 22

After assessing its armory facilities in the early 1930s, the Florida National Guard determined that most were inadequate, and searched for ways to fund new facilities. By this time the nation was in the midst of the Great Depression, and approximately a third of the national population was unemployed. In order to provide work and reliefto the many unemployed, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt introduced the Works Progress Administration (WPA), renamed in 1939 Work Projects Administration. The WPA provided funds for hundreds of public buildings and construction projects in Florida, including National Guard armories. "In order to be considered for WP A funding, individual counties had to submit proposals for local projects. Some local money also had to be pledged to the project. By the end of 1941, the WPA had funded the construction of seventeen county-sponsored armories in Florida, bringing the total number in the state to twenty-seven. " 23

Fort Homer W. Hesterly

Established In 1921, three batteries of field artillery were established in Tampa as a result of the National Defense Act. In 1922, the City of Tampa and Hillsborough County donated Benjamin Field to the Florida National Guard and provided "funds for the construction of stables, gun sheds and armory buildings." Ten wooden buildings were constructed on Benjamin Field under this directive (Photo 20). Tampa's first unit of the Guard, the 116th Field Artillery Battalion, was officially recognized on January 20, 1924.

Construction of the armory began in 1938. The armory was completed in 1941, dedicated and named for Lieutenant Colonel Homer Wynne Hesterly on December 8, 1941 (the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor). The guardsmen of Fort Homer W. Hesterly served honorably in World War II after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called all National Guard units into active military service by March 1941. Soon after the dedication ceremonies of the Fcrt Homer W. Hesterly armory, Tampa's 116th Field Artillery battalion was incorporated into the Arm.y' s 31st Division. Soon after being called to active duty the 31st Division conducted training maneuvers in preparation for wartime combat, eventually receiving orders to join General MacArthur's Army in the Southwest Pacific in December 1943. The men of the 116th Field Artillery took part in several missions, including establishing beachheads and defensive perimeters at Maffin Bay, defending Morotai Island, and liberating Mindanao Island, Philippines. For their outstanding service in the war, several guardsmen from the 116th Field Artillery were awarded Bronze Stars.

The Florida National Guard saw extensive federal participation during World War II. Again serving as individuals rather than Guard units, Florida guardsmen, as a part of the Army's 31st "Dixie" Division, took part in various missions in the Pacific Ocean against Japanese forces. To accommodate its loss of guardsmen to service in the War, the state legislature enacted the Florida Defense Act in 1941, creating the Florida Defense Force. This was a purely volunteer, civilian militia, and was disbanded in 1946. 26 After the war, the Tactical Air Command established its first headquarters in Tampa at Fort Homer Hesterly Armory in 1946, but soon moved to its permanent base to Langley Field, Virginia. The armory also served as the headquarters of the 53rd Infantry Brigade from the late 1960s to 2004, when the brigade moved to Pinellas Park.

On December 1, 2001, the Florida National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve announced plans to replace three existing outdated and overcrowded armories in Tampa and Clearwater, including Fort Homer Hesterly. Construction of the new $53.5 million project, a 216,424-square foot facility to be built at Gateway Center in Pinellas Park, was begun in 2002, and was expected to be completed by the Spring of2003. Fort Homer Hesterly remained in use as the National Guard Armory until October 2004.

CRITERION A: ENTERTAINMENT/RECREATION

In addition to serving its military purpose, the Fort Homer W. Hesterly Armory provided the venue for social, entertainment, and political events for over five decades. Continuing in the practice of a modem, community-centered national guard, the Fort Homer W. Hesterly Armory hosted company dinners, community dances, and school recitals from the 1940s through the 1960s. According to the 1931 Sanborn Maps, a wooden boxing arena existed near the Armory's present site. Boxing continued to be a popular draw for the residents of Tampa after the current armory was built. Wrestling matches were also frequently held at the armory through the 1980s, and local legend states that professional wrestling in Florida was born at Fort Homer W. Hesterly. Music concerts were another common event at the armory, such as Elvis Presley's July 31, 1955 show (Photo 21), during which a photograph was taken of the rock and roll legend that was used as Presley's first album cover. 27 Presley would appear again at the armory on August 5, 1956. During segregation in Tampa, the armory was used for many African-American social events. Fort Homer W. Hesterly also hosted many famous speakers, including the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who spoke at the armory on November 19th, 1961 (Photo 22), and President John F. Kennedy. 28 Kennedy's speech (Photo 23) at the Armory to Florida Chamber of Commerce businessmen occurred only four days before his assassination in Dallas.

CRITERION B, PERSONS SIGNIFICANT IN OUR PAST

Lieutenant Colonel Homer Wynne Hesterly

Born in Georgia, November 16, 1889, Homer Wynne Hesterly earned an undergraduate civil engineering degree from the Georgia School of Technology. He moved to Tampa in 1916, where he enlisted with the Florida National Guard, serving in the 2nd Florida Infantry. He registered for duty in World War I and was called into service as a First Lieutenant on September 2, 1917. He served overseas in France from December 4, 1917 to August 20, 1918, as a member of the Sixth U.S. Army Engineers and was promoted several times, ultimately to the rank of brevet brigadier genera1. 30 After the war, Hesterly accepted the reduced rank of lieutenant colonel and was appointed the commanding officer of the 116th Field Artillery Battalion in Tampa. He was instrumental in reorganizing the Florida National Guard in Tampa after the First World War. 31 He performed valuable service during the flood of Lake Okeechobee in the aftermath of the hurricane of 1928. Shortly after the Guard's determination of inadequate armory facilities, Hesterly lobbied the city of Tampa and Hillsborough County to sponsor a modem armory for his battalion. While doing this work, he advanced to the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1934 and remained in service at that rank until his retirement in 1954.32 His persistence was rewarded by two Works Progress Administration (WPA) allocations totaling $361,880, the first of which was appropriated on August 26, 1938.33 Shortly thereafter, construction of the 116th Field Artillery Battalion armory building began. The armory was completed in 1941, dedicated and named for Homer Wynne Hesterly on December 8, 1941, in honor of the colonel's efforts and service to the Florida National Guard. 4 Hesterly's commanding officer Brigadier General Sumter L. Lowry delivered the principal address at the dedication ceremony, noting that only through Hesterly's "untiring effort, far-seeing vision and sterling leadership" was the armory obtained.

During World War II, Hesterly served with his I 16th Field Artillery Battalion in the South Pacific, earning a Bronze Star and the Florida Cross for his service.36 In addition to an honorable and venerated military career spanning both world wars, Hesterly was also a prominent Tampa businessman, as the president of both Turner Marble & Granite Company and First Federal Savings and Loan Association. He was also active in several fraternal organizations and civic clubs, as well as his church, Bayshore Baptist. Hesterly married Daisy Claire Johnson in November 1923, and the couple had no children. Hesterly died on December 15, 1957, three years after retiring from the Florida National Guard. 37

CRITERION C: ARCHITECTURE Architectural Context The Armory emerged as a distinctly American building type in the late nineteenth century. Built to resemble medieval castles, Florida and other National Guard armories were used mainly to provide a centralized urban structure for the arms storage and drill practice of the local regiment. They also served as both a social club and place of learning for the guardsmen. 38 More importantly, armories in the late nineteenth century were designed as intimidating, defensible fortresses in a time when fears of class warfare were common. 39 The function and design of armories began to change in the early twentieth century, as a result of the federalization and reorganization of the National Guard. The castellated, fortress style-armories gave way to less menacing architectural styles, such as Beaux Arts, Art Deco and Art Moderne, an outward symbol of the Guard's change in purpose and direction.40

Reflecting this change, many National Guard armories built from 1935-1943 with WPA funds were designed using the Art Deco style, looking more like "municipal auditoriums," than the castellated and battlemented armories of the late nineteenth century.41 Although American Art Deco had been used primarily for commercial buildings, the style suited armories as well, expressing the "progress and modem efficiency"42 of the modem National Guard.

ART DECO STYLE

In the chaotic climate of post World War I, architectural design changed dramatically. Art Deco grew 0ut of ~Jarious Modernist movements of 1920s Europe. Taking its name from the Paris 1925 Exposition Intemationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes, Art Deco was immediately embraced by Americans as both a fashion statement and an expression of freedom, liveliness, and modernity without commitment to the ''socialist Modernist movement." The style, characterized by geometrical shapes and lines, was utilized not only for architectural design, but also in interior design, fashion, jewelry, and printed literature.

American Art Deco evolved as a sort of compromise between the austere, geometrical forms of the Modernists and the more traditional and classical styles put forth by the Beaux-Arts school. The style captured the "frivolous mood" of the Jazz Age, combining modern and stripped-down classical form with opulent materials and ornate motifs. In American architecture, Art Deco is typically characterized by elements that suggest energy and movement: chevrons, sunbursts, zigzags, and stylized floral and geometric motifs. These elements are usually in low relief with a flat front plane. Rectilinear and geometric patterns, curved parapets, dramatic angles, and use of highly reflective materials, such as gold leaf, polished metal and glass, are also indicative characteristics of the Art Deco style. 43 Verticality is often emphasized in Art Deco structures by the use of towers and other vertical projections, as well as fluting. 44 Smooth, polychromatic surfaces are yet another characteristic of Art Deco buildings. As the style evolved, it took on a variety of themes, from such regional influences as Egyptian, Mayan, and Chinese, to abstracted reflections of industry and machine. 45

It is important to note that the Works Progress Administration was introduced during the same era that Art Deco was a popular architectural style, and it is no coincidence that this style was used for many buildings the WPA helped to construct. In Florida, Miami Beach's Art Deco District, which encompasses more than 650 buildings in a 125-block area, epitomizes the relationship between the WPA and Art Deco architecture. During the Great Depression, "the clean, uncluttered lines of the buildings styled in Art Deco echoed that same honest, spare and simple thrust" as Roosevelt's New Deal itself. 46 The streamlined, modem aesthetics of Art Deco characterized one of the WPA's practical purposes: create jobs and rebuild cities in disrepair.

Architectural Significance

Fort Homer W. Hesterly was one of three National Guard armories designed in the Art Deco style during the period from 1935 to 1939. The first of these was the Leon County National Guard Armory (Photo 24), which now serves as the Tallahassee Senior Center. Constructed in 1935, the building has a dramatic main facade, whose rectilinear divisions and dramatic sculptural elements cast it as a version of Art Modeme. Unfortunately, later incompatible alterations and additions have diminished the historic integrity of the building. The West Palm Beach National Guard Armory (NR 1992), constructed 1939 is a more modest representative of the style (Photo 25). It is divided into three major bays and features scored vertical pilasters and a stepped cornice. It now serves as the Montgomery Armory Art Center.

The former Fort Homer W. Hesterly Armory is the most elaborate and largest of the three Art Deco buildings and has suffered the fewest alterations. The building retains all of its major exterior character and interior divisions, including the ground floor drill hall, front and rear entrances, and interior divisions. Of particular note are the numerous garage bays found on the north and south elevations of the building. These provide access to individual vehicles, although the interior space is not partitioned. Still extant is its mezzanine walkway that borders three sides of the facility. Clerestory pivot windows illuminate the drill hall. The most notable alteration was the installation ofthe drop ceiling installed in the 1970s. The drop ceiling obscures the metal trusses that support the barrel-shaped roof over the drill hall that gave a curvilinear aspect to the otherwise rectilinear building, maintaining the overall geometric form common to Art Deco. The drop ceiling will be removed as part of the building's rehabilitation. As one of the few Art Deco buildings erected in the city, Fort Homer W. Hesterly remains an important architectural landmark in Tampa.

 

 

Ft. Homer Hesterly Armory       Tampapix Home          Detailed history and concerts

MORE West Tampa pages at Tampapix:
Albany Avenue
- See the orignal "Academy of the Holy Names" and cigar factories on Albany Ave.
Columbus Drive Bridge - The Gateway to West Tampa, Hillsborough River & Rivercrest Park
Fire Station No. 9 at Tampania and Chestnut St.
Fort Homer Hesterly Armory has showcased everything from NWA wrestling to JFK, Pink Floyd and Elvis.
George Guida house at MacFarlane Park - Once the home of "Mr. West Tampa"
Howard Avenue - Travel along Howard Ave. from Main St. to St. Louis St.
La Ideal Cafeteria at Tampa Bay Blvd. and Gomez Ave., a popular West Tampa landmark
La Teresita Grocery Store at Columbus Drive and Lincoln Ave.
Macfarlane Park - A favorite of West Tampans, named for the father of West Tampa
Raymond James Stadium - Home of the 2002 NFL Champions Tampa Bay Bucs and Super Bowl 43
Tampa Bay Blvd. Elementary School - Built in 1926 to educate cigar workers' children
West Tampa Little League Ball Park - Home of the 1970 Senior Little League World Champs
West Tampa History - The cigar that sparked a revolution, and Fernando Figueredo, West Tampa's first mayor.