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City council set to vote on historic marker for tornado site

POSTED: March 29, 2014 11:35 p.m.

Gainesville City Council appears poised to approve the placement of a long-awaited historical marker at the site of the former Cooper Pants Factory, which burned during the April 6, 1936, tornado that devastated much of the city.

Jessica Tullar, the city’s special projects manager, pitched the proposal Thursday to council members in a work session, with Councilman Bob Hamrick suggesting a ceremony to commemorate the occasion.

The council is set to vote Tuesday on a resolution that would obligate the city to pay $2,500 of the $5,000 total cost for the marker. The other half will be paid by the Savannah-based Georgia Historical Society. And the marker’s upkeep, including replacement as needed, would be the city’s responsibility, Tullar has said.

She is excited about the marker finally being realized.

“You get to honor those who lost their lives (in the fire),” Tullar said. “It’s bittersweet, really, because it’s such a sad, sad story to be commemorating. But it is a part of who we are, as Gainesville.”

The factory was at the intersection of Broad and Maple streets. The property, owned by the city, is now vacant, an area covered in dirt and grass.

Along with much of Gainesville, it was caught up in the tornado, which killed an estimated 203 people and became one of the deadliest in U.S. history.

Accounts say the twister caused the factory to collapse, sparking the fire that trapped and killed between 40 and 125 people, mostly young women.

“To move forward with this long-due recognition on the 78th anniversary of this horrific event will be significant,” said Garland Reynolds, a Hall County architect who has helped spearhead the effort.

“I look on this as a positive step that placed Gainesville back then ahead of most other cities lying in a traditional path for tornadoes and for which the city itself should at last be recognized.”

The historical group’s Marker Review Committee approved the city’s application in May, but the society wanted the city to find documentation that the fire led to new regulations on building fire codes.

Tullar has said city staff and Reynolds “have been working to gather information to address the (society’s) request for more details.”

“That search for information has been somewhat difficult and has been interrupted on several occasions by other project deadlines,” she said.

Reynolds said that “while exact records may not have been recorded, or even exist, on the effects of this catastrophic factory fire ... there is ample physical evidence that the event caused downtown buildings to be constructed in fire-designated districts, with materials such as concrete and steel, and spaced far enough apart for fire truck access.”

Examples of the new construction included the courthouse, Gainesville City Hall and fire station, and Hall County jail.

The council meeting is set to begin at 5:30 p.m. at the Public Safety Complex, 701 Queen City Parkway.


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