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Column: The rise and fall of buildings in Gainesville
Johnny Vardeman

Lots of demolition is going on in downtown Gainesville.

The old First National/Regions Bank building at the corner of Washington and Green is making way for a hotel. The old Turner, Wood & Smith building that once housed Big Star and Colonial Stores groceries is coming down for yet another parking deck. 

The ”fourth side of the square” has been vacant for years and is now the site of a multi-use building that will rise high over other buildings in downtown. 

Hall County Library’s original building on West Academy and Main streets was practically razed for an expanded and more modern facility. Other buildings, historic and otherwise, have gone the way of the wrecking ball.

Yet, one of Gainesville’s oldest landmarks still stands proudly and recently underwent at least its second facelift and renovation.

That’s the Gainesville Civic Center at the intersection of Ronnie Green Parkway and Thompson Bridge Road. That big old house has stood the test of time. 

Some Hall County residents, when the first bricks and stone were laid thought it, surely would be a white elephant. Perhaps if it had not been built during World War II to serve as an armory, it might well have not gotten out of the ground.

The Civic Building or Civics Building, as some called it once, was a Works Progress Administration project, one of several such programs the President Franklin Roosevelt administration birthed to provide jobs and jump-start the economy. 

Alas, the war intervened, and work stopped after the foundations were laid. Steel was needed for the war effort.

It stood like that until the war was over. Local leaders then wanted to finish the job, and both Hall County and Gainesville pitched in $112,000. That got to be a bit painful and controversial, so they looked to the state and federal governments for help. After all, the lower level of the building was to house the National Guard.

More state and federal funds came about, and the total cost of the structure ended with more than $150,000.

The finished building had critics. Some though it should have been a school. Others called it an “architectural monstrosity” because it looked more like a roof than anything. Yet, there the Civic Center has stood, outlasting the Georgia Mountains Center downtown, which many had said would replace it. The building underwent a major renovation in 1991 to 1992 and again earlier this year.

The National Guard now has its own armory, so the building houses only the Gainesville Parks and Recreation agency. It has been used for Saturday night square dances, weddings, proms, banquets, political rallies, beauty contests, boat shows, charity balls, concerts and many other events.

For eight decades, guarding the north end of Green Street and overlooking City Park, it has housed memories for many, and it looks poised now to inspire more for the next generations.

Home sweet home

The Civic Center has served as “home” for a few people. Jean and Rad Bonds, a former Gainesville police officer, and their two daughters lived in an apartment in the building from 1949 to 1962. Jean was manager of the building.

Likewise, Walt and Carol Snelling and their three children lived in the Civic Center for five years while Walt was the Parks and Recreation director.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; phone, 770-532-2326; email, His column publishes weekly.

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