By CARl MARIO NUDI
Published May 26, 2016
The Palmetto Community Redevelopment Agency soon will own the historic National Guard Armory building to use for its offices.
“We will close on the building within the month,” said Jeff Burton, director of the CRA. “We’re waiting for the attorneys.”
The owners, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2488, will remain as tenants on the first floor, while the CRA will occupy the second floor of the two-story building.
Burton said the CRA paid $130,000 for the building, and it will take another $400,000 to $500,000 to renovate.
“If you look at constructing a new building of that size, it would cost significantly more,” he said.
Built in 1937, the building at 810 6th St. W. will need a new roof, air conditioning and the removal of the cement blocks from the windows.
Also, an elevator will have to be installed.
The red brick building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012 through the efforts of Bob Marble, who recently retired as a strategic planner for the CRA.
“It took about 18 months to complete the process,” Marble said.
Local historian Alice Myers started the paperwork for the historical designation in the mid-1980s, he said, but the project lay unfinished after her death in 2007.
“I went to the Carnegie Library (in the Palmetto Historical Park on 10th Avenue West) to do research,” Marble said.
“I learned what it was like to live in Palmetto during World War II,” he said.
During the war, the building was used for community activities in support of the war effort.
“Women would can produce that farmers brought into town,” Marble said. “This was for community food banks because everyone was on rationing.”
The women also did baking in the large kitchen and sent the baked goods in packages to the troops.
Marble said he had a personal connection with the Armory.
Raised in Palmetto, he remembers as a young boy going there to play basketball on the second floor.
The 70-foot by 86-foot hall also was used as a gym for the female students of Palmetto High School, which at the time was located behind the Armory.
The high school boys’ gym was a Works Progress Administration project built during the Depression, as was the Armory.
The Armory was as much a community center as a National Guard facility.
Fundraising dances, dance lessons, various types of concerts, and community meetings were held in the building through the years.
The VFW took possession of the building in 1963 in a land swap of property the military service organization owned on 17th Avenue West that was needed for the construction of a new National Guard Armory for Company I, 124th Infantry.
Through the years, the VFW made several interior changes on the first floor, but the upper level has remained basically unchanged.
An article printed in the Oct. 21, 1937, edition of the Palmetto News described the large second floor as having a floor of “1×3 B grade pine, sanded, filled and varnished. There are two seats permanently built, running the full length of the room, on the east and west sides. There is an orchestra pit, 8×14, in the northwest corner, and there is a refreshment booth.”
Marble said as an Army veteran, it was an honor to work on the historical designation.
He also felt it was important to preserve history and has been a member of the Palmetto Historical Commission for 16 years.
Dick Pack, the commission treasurer and a past president, said Marble did a great job in getting the building listed on the registry.
“And the CRA moving there is a wonderful thing,” said Pack, who is a retired Army lieutenant colonel and served in the National Guard when the unit was located in the old building.
“It’s important to save these old buildings,” he said, “because as you get older you want to remember how important these things are.”