Innovate September 2017

Creating A Beautiful City: From Locomotive Crossroads to Urban Metropolis


Written By: Genevieve Howard

The history of the railroad industry has also been incorporated into local office buildings such as the Nimbus building.

Each year, Gainesville’s Beautification Board awards a prestigious selection of projects for their commitment to enhancing the city through the renovation and development of local buildings and public spaces. The 2017 ceremony honored projects in categories ranging from Environmental Enhancements to Gainesville Apartments and recognized their significance in improving the city’s natural and urban landscapes.

Over the past several years and particularly in 2017, many winning projects share a common bond: They nod to Gainesville’s oft-forgotten history as an epicenter for railroad travel. In a time of rapid growth throughout Gainesville, local government and developers have taken extra care to preserve this meaningful part of the city’s history by emphasizing it in their project designs.

While the city’s railway history is more prominent in certain projects, if you look closely enough, the past subtly comes forward in places you’d least expect all around town.

The Southwest 13th Street Overpass

The old Gainesville Depot was built as the city’s central station in 1860.

For city visitors, the intersection of Archer Road and Southwest 13th Street may seem a peculiar location for a pedestrian overpass, especially one resembling the structure of a double helix. For the city, however, the overpass — informally known as the “DNA Bridge” — holds significance for multiple reasons. It’s not only perceived as a symbol of the groundbreaking medical research that occurs at the nearby University of Florida Health Shands Hospital, but it is also a subtle reminder of Gainesville’s past.

The introduction of the state railway system in 1859 completely changed Gainesville’s narrative. A rail line from Fernandina Beach was constructed along the northeastern region of the city, now known as Waldo Road, and intersected 13th Street and Archer Road, continuing southwest all the way to Cedar Key by 1861. The Old Gainesville Depot was built as the city’s central station in 1860. In the 1880s, railroad tracks were placed along Main Street.

Locomotives made Florida’s marshy roads travelable, and Gainesville’s position as a popular stop on the state’s railway system created a booming tourism market. Over the next century, the railroads continued to play a major part in the economy until the passenger service ran its final trip in 1971.

While you won’t find many trains passing through Gainesville today, projects such as the overpass pay tribute to this history. Originally a rail bridge that was converted into an overpass in the 1980s, it was renovated by the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) in 2012 to resemble a railroad track contorted into the spiral shape of a DNA molecule. The renovation wove history into the structure’s framework, juxtaposing the city’s old life with the new.

For its aesthetic reinvigoration of the area, the project won a Beautification award in 2013. Around the same time, rehabilitation was starting on another building that is fundamental to the city’s locomotive history.

The Historic Depot Building and Park

In 2012, the CRA began restoring the Old Depot Station and its surrounding grounds after acquiring the building and land through a grant in 1997.

Now known as Depot Park, the site, located at South Main Street and Depot Avenue, includes 32 acres of recreational grounds filled with amenities such as a playground, water park and promenade that overlooks a pond. Completed in 2016, elements of Gainesville’s railway history are woven throughout the design of the park, visible in elements such as the viaduct-shaped signage, rail line peak and train-shaped jungle gym. The Depot building is now home to the Pop-a-Top General Store.

Running along the side of the park is one of Gainesville’s Rails-to-Trails nature paths, improved in 2016 by the addition of landscaping and decorative train rails that play on the design theme.

For their enhancement of the city, the restoration of the Depot, the park itself and the Rails-to-Trails projects all won 2017 Beatification awards.

Civilization

Civilization, which won a Beautification award in 2016, currently inhabits a building that also has roots in the locomotive industry. Originally constructed in 1929 by Gulf Oil Co. as a maintenance facility for the railroad, the building later served as a distribution center for petroleum goods.

Today, the building has been transformed into a restaurant with an ultramodern, eclectic interior design and menu. Its unique shape and industrial-inspired interior design, which features exposed brick walls, trusses and steel beams, pay modern homage to the past.

Nimbus

The history of the railroad industry has also been incorporated into local office buildings. The Nimbus Building was built on the same location of a facility that offered support to a rail line constructed in 1895 that led to Micanopy along 6th Street.

The building was eventually used as a dojo for multiple decades until local developer Trimark Properties acquired the land and decided to add a modern office building to the city’s growing business district, Innovation Square, in hopes of attracting more entrepreneurs and tech companies to Gainesville.

Due to the land’s former function as a railway facility, it has an ultra-narrow shape, measuring only 55 feet wide. This meant Trimark had to construct a slender office building in order to fit the allotted grounds. The resulting two-story, 15,000-square-foot building stands 42 feet across and 190 feet long.

Trimark was careful to preserve elements that defined the land’s former purpose by incorporating them into the design of Nimbus. With help from the Goodwin Heart Pine Company, Trimark salvaged wood from the original building and used it as an interior feature wall.

Although the modern building, characterized by floor-to-ceiling, automatically tinting windows and metal panels, strays far from the original building’s appearance, its unique shape serves as a reminder of the city’s history. Nimbus won a Beautification award in 2017.

“It was important to us and the other companies involved in the project to integrate the land’s historical narrative into Nimbus’ design in all stages of the process,” said John Fleming, managing partner of Trimark Properties. “Our goal was to provide an office building that would make cutting-edge businesses excited to come work in Gainesville while still paying respects to the history of the town we love so much.”

Using the Past to Define a New Future

Gainesville’s railway system transformed the once small town into a thriving metropolis now known for its nationally ranked university, groundbreaking medical institutions and family friendly neighborhoods. These selected projects are only a few of the many that have been honored by the Beautification Board over the past several years for their contributions to the city’s landscape, but they have especially worked to preserve and celebrate the story of an industry that propelled the city into what we know today.

 

GENEVIEVE HOWARD is the marketing coordinator at local real estate firm Trimark Properties. A 2016 graduate from the University of Florida’s Heavener School of Business and devoted Florida Gator fan, she is passionate about her career that allows her to blend her love for communications, marketing, real estate and history.

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