Fort Homer Hesterly Armory, 500 N. Howard Avenue, Tampa

 
Nov. 13, 2016
The "crownless" Armory sat neglected for decades.  It is being restored and renovated for a new purpose.


Location History

George Nelson Benjamin, a native of Indiana, was the 2nd mayor of West Tampa, serving from 1897-1901 after West Tampa's first mayor, Fernando Figueredo. Benjamin came to Tampa in 1875 and was a leading West Tampa developer, bringing in cigar factories and donating land for a park which became the eventual site for Fort Homer Hesterly Armory.

 

Benjamin donated land to the city of West Tampa in 1896 for use as a park. During the summer of 1898, Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders used Benjamin's open land as their campsite in the days leading up to the Spanish-American War. The space later came to be known as Benjamin Field.

 

 

 

Rough Riders Encampment
June, 1898

At the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, this area, a sand flat without a tree, but surrounded by forest, was the camp site of Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders, the most unusual regiment in the history of the U.S. Army.

The Rough Riders (1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment), 1,200 strong, included cowboys, Indians, polo players, ranchers, hunters, socialites, lawmen, trappers, and others from all walks of life.  This hodge-podge group left Tampa to fight in the hills of Cuba for their belief that "All Men Should Be Free."  Roosevelt and his horsemen became a legend in their own time.

 

 

 

 

Rough Riders encampment - West Tampa 1898.
State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

 

Lincoln Beachey and his plane
Photo from Wikipedia

In the early 1910s, Benjamin Field became an airfield. Aviation was still in its infancy, and pioneering pilots like Lincoln Beachey participated in several air meets at the field. In 1911, both the first night flight and a new world altitude record were documented over the City of Tampa. Pilot Lincoln Beachey successfully completed a flight after dark in March and later the same year achieved a height of 11,500 feet, then a world record.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Beachey and his plane in Tampa during the Census Celebration, Feb. 19, 1911.
Burgert Bros. photo from the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library.

During the 1920s, a wooden boxing arena was constructed at Benjamin Field. Matches were held there on a regular basis.


L to R:  Mess hall, Officers quarters & guard house of the Florida National Guard at Benjamin Field, 1920


Florida National Guard at Benjamin Field, Howard Ave. at Cass St, 1922
Click to see full size

In 1922, the city of Tampa and Hillsborough County donated the land to the Florida National Guard. The 116th Field Artillery unit of the Florida National Guard used Benjamin Field as its home base.  Early in the same year, the City of Tampa's transfer of street lighting from Tampa Gas to Tampa Electric led to the installation of 36 flood lamps at Benjamin Field so that the Field Artillery could conduct drills after dark.  As the need for a large facility to house the men and armaments continued to grow, construction of two brick buildings, through the Civil Works Administration (CWA), provided some room for the 116th, but a larger structure proved necessary.

On Aug. 26, 1938, funding through the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the amount of $270,730 was approved for the construction of the main armory building, followed by another allotment of $91,150 on Dec. 23, 1940

Construction of the armory began in 1938. The armory was completed in 1941, dedicated and named for Lt. Col. Homer Wynne Hesterly on Dec. 8, 1941 (the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor) and served the 116th Field Artillery Battalion of the National Guard. It was also the headquarters of the 53rd Infantry Brigade from the late 1960s to 2004, when the brigade moved to Pinellas Park. 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. 


Construction of the 116th Field Artillery Armory (Ft. Homer Hesterly Armory), July 25, 1940
Burgert Bros photo from USF Digital Collections

In addition to providing arms storage, operations and drill space for the National Guard, the Armory served Tampa’s community as a venue for sporting events, social gatherings, speaking engagements and political events for over five decades. Continuing in the practice of a modern, community-centered national guard, the Armory hosted company dinners, community dances, and school recitals from the 1940s through the 1960s. The armory was a place for servicemen to bond; World War II veterans who remained active in the Guard often returned to the armory to share their war stories. Vacated by the national guard, plans were to redevelop the site with a hotel, day spa, farmers' market, restaurants, office space, artists' studios, and 5-acre park. The historic building will remain intact.

See photos of events pertaining to the armory and an excellent detail of the armory's history at:
 http://www.scottymoore.net/FtHomer.html


Florida Education Association conference at Fort Homer Hesterly Armory, 1947
Robertson & Fresh photo from USF Digital Collections

 


Florida Education Association conference at Fort Homer Hesterly Armory, 1947
Robertson & Fresh photo from USF Digital Collections


Fort Homer W. Hesterly Armory at 500 North Howard Avenue, 1955
Burgert Bros photo from the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library

 


Fort Homer W. Hesterly Armory at 500 North Howard Avenue, 1962
Burgert Bros photo from the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library
Photos of the armory from the 1950s and 1960s show the inverted bell-like decoration that sat upon the central tower.  It appeared to be constructed of iron bars and at night it was lit up from the inside.
 

                     Read "Armory Shook Up History of Tampa" by Rodney Kite-Powell, Dec. 11, 2011        

 


Oct. 27, 2009

 

Oct. 27, 2009
Concrete barriers line the street boundaries of the armory property, placed there after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Wrestling matches were also frequently held events at the Armory through the 1980s, and local legend states that professional wrestling in Florida was born at Fort Homer W. Hesterly.  Musical concerts were another common event at the armory.

A "Wall of Fame" is planned honoring CWF wrestlers at the armory, for which funds are currently being raised.
Check out CWF Wall of Fame at Hesterly Armory on Facebook.


Photo from the above Facebook page, artwork by H.K. Schwarz

Visit Wrestling At The Armory on Facebook
 

 


Oct. 27, 2009


Oct. 27, 2009

The motto, "Vestigia nulla retrorsum" means "No retreat" or "We never go backward."

 

Elvis Presley performed there four times from 1955 to 1956. Billed as “Country Music’s Mr. Rhythm,” he appeared as the final act in country star Hank Snow’s All-Star Jamboree tour in 1955, starring Faron Young, the Carter Sisters, Slim Whitman, Bill & Scotty, and the Davis Sisters. Others who have performed here include Nat King Cole, Andy Griffith, Ferlin Husky and Marty Robbins.  In 1972, Pink Floyd, Spirit, Blue Oyster Cult, Big Brother And The Holding Company, and REO Speedwagon held concerts there.  Jim Morrison's "The Doors" performed there in 1974. President John F. Kennedy and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. have given speeches there.

                The Armory is Hot Property      Dream For Armory Has Faded

 

 

More old Burgert Bros photos of the Armory at the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library Digital Collection

 

 

 

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

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 entrances 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.


Photo courtesy of FleischmanGarcia (Facebook)
The lead architect of the restoration/renovation project as the new Glazer Family Jewish Community Center


First floor plan from the Historic Register application form


Second floor plan from the Historic Register application form

 

From the registration form:

The main flat-roofed entrance (Photo 2 below**) 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.

**Incorrect photo reference

This image presented as Photo 2 on the application is not the east facade (main, Howard Ave.) entrance as described.  It clearly shows only 3 doors, not 4, no colorful bas relief element or shield above the blue tile, and a window with single door to the left of it, not a recessed entry with 2 doors.

From the layout presented on the registration form, rotated so north is down and oriented as the photo at left, can be seen the same arrangement as the photo at left.  The recessed entrance (A) with 3 doors, the recessed double door (B) to the right, the small window (C) to the left, and the single door (D) left of (C).  This is the north entrance (where significant renovations are taking place, see Jewish Community Center below.)
 

At right can be seen the West (main, Howard Ave.) entrance (rotated) fitting the description given to Photo 2:

 "...entrance 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."

 
From the registration form:

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.

**Incorrect reference to photo 4

 

Above is Photo 4 of the registration form, incorrectly described as the west entrance.  The west entrance is the rear of the building, facing Armenia Ave.  Though the form doesn't describe details of the west entry, the layout at right shows that the photo is actually of the south entrance, facing Gray St.

From the layout presented on the registration form can be seen the same arrangement as the photo at left.  The recessed entrance (A) with 3 doors, the recessed double door (D) to the left, the window (B) to the right, and the edge of the window (E) to the left of the doors (D). Also, the opening (C) in the wall between (D) and (A)  This is the south entrance

 

Above is Photo 17 of the registration form, the actual west entrance.  The concrete structure added to the rear in 1959 can be seen at left.

Alterations to the Armory are relatively minor. In 1959, a one-story concrete addition was added to the rear (west) elevation (Photo 17)

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.  

From the layout presented on the registration form can be seen the same arrangement as the photo at left.  The recessed entrance (A) with 2 doors, the recessed double door (B) to the left, and the 1959 addition (C) to the left of (B)

 

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 below) 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.

 

 

 


 

The armory's National Register of Historic Places registration form contains an excellent short history of Tampa as well as explanations of the variouis historic significances of the armory.
See it all here at TampaPix:  NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES REGISTRATION FORM

 

 


Renovation of the Armory as the new Bryan Glazer Family Jewish Community Center
 


Artist's concept of the main entrance on the north side of the armory; the front facade will maintain it's original appearance.
Image from the article below
 

Renovated Fort Homer Hesterly Armory in Tampa renamed for Bucs' Bryan Glazer
Caitlin Johnston, Tampa Bay Times Staff Writer, Monday, May 11, 2015

The Tampa Jewish Community Center on Monday celebrated the launch of its $26 million project to transform the historic Fort Homer Hesterly Armory into a new community center. The organization also unveiled a new name for the facility: the Bryan Glazer Family JCC, in honor of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers co-chairman who has pledged $4 million to the project. When work is completed next year, the armory at 522 N Howard Ave. should have more than 100,000 square feet of community space. The center is expected to open in September 2016.

"This is the beginning of something special," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. "This is the beginning of what Tampa will look like 10 years from now."

"The (building's) iconic history will never take a back seat to what this is going to offer, but what is going to happen is, this will be a catalyst for change," Hillsborough County Commission chairwoman Sandy Murman said. "We're all referring to Jeff Vinik. He's given us the redevelopment bug, and it has certainly hit West Tampa."

Facilities will include an event center with seating for more than 650, an outdoor pool, indoor track and gym. The space will also house an Innovation Center for Israeli startup companies that wish to do business in the United States, said Jack Ross, executive director of the Tampa Jewish Community Center. In April, City Hall signed a 10-year lease to put a new city art studio in the building. The studio will host programs that have been crammed into the city's dilapidated Hyde Park Art Studio near Swann Avenue.

In 2013, the armory, vacant since 2004, was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The military history of the site goes back to 1898, when Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders camped on the property before sailing for Cuba during the Spanish-American War. Completed in 1941, the art deco-style building hosted speeches by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and President John F. Kennedy, who spoke there four days before he was assassinated. It also welcomed crowds for pro boxing and wrestling matches, plus concerts by Buddy Holly, James Brown, Elvis Presley, the Doors, Pink Floyd and the Ramones.

"This area needed a spark," Glazer said. "The most important thing for me is that it's actually for the entire community. It's for not just the Jewish community, it's everybody. … It's going to be a fabric of this area." The idea, Ross said, is to make these programs and opportunities available to all residents while honoring the historic relevance of the armory and the city with collages adorning the revitalized site.

"It's like a YMCA on cultural and educational steroids," Ross said. "Imagine bringing this broad spectrum of relevancy to the Tampa Bay community, all encompassed with a historic restoration project."

 


It's BACK!
The crown of the Armory, the inverted bell-basket which used to glow so eerily
in the muggy West Tampa night, as if filled with smoldering coals, has been resurrected!
Photos by TampaPix, Nov. 12, 2016
 

 


Nov. 12, 2016

Photos by TampaPix, Nov. 12, 2016
 

 

 
 

 


New sod and some landscaping has been placed at the east facade along Howard Avenue--the original front entrance of the armory.  The north side of the building is being remodeled with the striking new entrance.

 

Nov. 12, 2016
The east facade of old Ft. Homer W. Hesterly Armory gleaming brightly in the West Tampa autumn sunshine as it proudly shows off its new crown.

 

 
 
 

Construction taking place along the north facade, formerly the side entrance of the armory.

 

Close up of the northeast corner of the armory, showing the new windows and doors in place.

 

Construction in progress on the center's most striking feature, the north entrance.

 

The shelter canopy over the north side drive-up

Creative Contractors is doing a beautiful job on the JCC site.

 

Visit their website

 


Working on a Saturday.

 

Construction photos from the project architect's Facebook page--FleischmanGarcia

    

Drop ceiling removed.

See more photos of the construction at the FleischmanGarcia Facebook page

 

   

The tower from the old abandoned Samuel I. Davis cigar factory at Howard Ave. and Cypress St. can be seen looking north from the armory parking lot.

The Howard-Gray building in front of the armory.

 


Plants ready to plant.
 

 


Landscaping along Gray St., the south side of the building.

 

Evening photos of the armory
Nov. 15, 2016
 

 

                                     

 

 

 

 

The original inverted bell "cauldron" on top of the tower used to glow red-orange as if it was filled with glowing red-hot coals.

According to Alan Holderith, C.O.O. of Creative Contractors, the "cauldron" is brand new, though obviously inspired by the original. Unfortunately, they had no luck locating the original, based on a few leads they had received during the project. Incorporating the feature into the project was driven by lead architect Sol Fleischman, Jr. of the firm of FleischmanGarcia.  Sol, a son of former Big 13 outdoors newsman "Salty Sol," is a Tampa native and also had vivid childhood memories of the eerie, glowing light.


Sol Fleischman, Jr
Photo courtesy of FleischmanGarcia website

 

 

Hesterly was a prominent Tampa citizen, recognized for his long and distinguished military career, business interests and civic involvement. He was proprietor and President of the Turner Marble and Granite Company from the 1930s to 1950, (founded in 1908 by H.G. Turner an his brother, A.O. Turner) and president of the First Federal Savings and Loan Association. The Turner Marble and Granite Company was a well-established supplier of marble, granite, building stone and mosaic tiles. They provided the materials for many monuments and mausoleums in the Tampa Bay area, throughout Florida and in other parts of the country.

Hesterly passed away in Tampa on Dec. 15, 1957 and was buried in Myrtle Hill Cemetery, Tampa.  Though he and his wife Claire had no children, he still has kin in the Tampa area who are descendants of his sister, Addie Hesterly Turner.

Homer Wynne Hesterly

Homer W. Hesterly, son of Vancouver Bartow Hesterly and Lena K. Hancock, was born on Nov. 16, 1889 in Villa Rica, Georgia. He graduated as a civil engineer from Georgia Tech in 1910 and began his military career at Tech. He registered for duty in WW1 while he was living at 7th Ave. and 26th St. in Tampa, and was called into service as a 1st Lt. Engr. on Sept. 2, 1917. He was stationed at American University Training Camp in Washington DC, Washington Bks, DC, and Hoboken, NJ before serving overseas in France from Dec. 4, 1917 to Aug. 20,1918, He was a member of the Sixth U.S. Engineers and among those who stopped the German breakthrough on the Somme in March 1918. He then returned to Humphreys, VA. He was promoted to Capt. on Nov. 7, 1919 and was honorably discharged on July 21, 1919.

Hesterly married Daisy Claire Hutchinson on Nov. 24, 1923 in Auburndale, Florida.  He returned to Tampa where he became active in the organization of the Florida National Guard. While doing this work, he advanced to the rank of Lt. Colonel. During the flood of 1926, he performed valuable service in the Lake Okeechobee district.

A terrible crime enraged the Tampa community in 1927. Five members of the Merrill family were murdered by a man named Benjamin Franklin Levins. A large mob formed outside the Hillsborough County Jail, intent on lynching the murderer. Some of the mob disarmed police and deputies trying to control the situation. The 116th Field Artillery was called out, with Col. Sumter L. Lowry and Col. Homer W. Hesterly in charge. The situation was described as "completely out of hand" when the troops arrived on the scene. Machine guns were put in place, even the mob had one. Shots were exchanged. The crowd finally became convinced the law meant business - and dissipated.

Hesterly was promoted to the rank of Colonel in 1934 and remained in active service to his country throughout his life. He was honored toward the close of 1941 when the new Florida State Armory at Tampa, Florida, was named Fort Homer Hesterly Armory. The 56th Field Artillery Brigade paraded to mark the outstanding occasion. Brigadier General Sumter L. Lowry delivered the principal address at the dedication ceremony on Dec. 8, 1941 (the day after the Pearl Harbor attack), and praised Col. Hesterly’s ability as an army officer.
   
 

Armory National Register of Historic Places    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.