A couple of downtown Gainesville landmarks that hold special memories for a lot of people are undergoing yet another series of renovations.
One is what became known as the Gym of ’36, the former Gainesville High school gymnasium that survived the tornado of 1936. After Gainesville High School moved to its present location on Century Place off Pearl Nix Parkway, the school building itself was demolished, but the gymnasium remained. Billy Peck turned it into offices and an entertainment venue.
Since, it converted into all offices, and under new ownership now is undergoing yet another transformation.
For those who attended Gainesville High into the 1950s and earlier, the gym had special memories. It was where basketball games were played, spectators watching from floor-level stands as well as a balcony above the court. “Clean Play, Courteous Applause,” signs were posted, and students never booed their opponents.
For many, Coach A.D. Watson presided over physical education classes. Class plays were performed on the stage, where football players also nervously stood during pep rallies and promised before games, “Y’all come on out there, and we’ll get ’em.”
PTA functions, cake walks, square, round and folk dances kept the hardwood basketball court throbbing.
Martha Moore Thom, Class of 1955, remembers Halloween carnivals and crowning of Mr. and Miss GHS, chorus practices with Donald Rich directing show tunes and patriotic songs. In her junior play, Doug Patterson was supposed to kiss her in the last act, but during rehearsals missed the mark. Teacher Laura Sue Hawkins removed the kiss part just before the play debuted.
David Harrison remembers male students being called on to put up and take down chairs on the gymnasium floor according to the numerous events that were held there.
Kay Scoville remembers being so scared when she had to talk during assemblies in the gym she squeezed hard on the brass rails on the Roosevelt lectern, so named because it was specially built for President Franklin Roosevelt when he visited Gainesville after the 1936 tornado.
The other landmark having a face-lift is on West Spring Street, new home of Ninth District Opportunity. That same building most recently housed an insurance company, before that Sawyer Advertising and before that was the Press-Radio Center, home of what was then called the Gainesville Daily Times or simply The Daily Times.
The Times, as it is known now at 345 Green St. NW, moved there in 1952 from its first home at the corner of West Washington and Maple Streets just off the downtown square. Many men today remember their first business enterprise as newspaper carriers when many papers were primarily delivered by boys running routes on bicycles.
Many reporters, advertising salespeople, printers and pressmen also cut their career teeth in that building. Likewise, numerous radio people first sent their voices out over the Northeast Georgia airwaves to begin their careers.
Only a few months into that West Spring Street location, a fire heavily damaged the newspaper side, especially the production department. However, the paper didn’t miss a lick, borrowing equipment from other printers around to continue to get an edition off the press daily.
Years before that, however, the buildings along that stretch of West Spring housed everything from car dealerships, auto parts stores to an ice cream company. Most were destroyed or heavily damaged as they were in the heart of the 1936 tornado. Photos of that storm show devastation along that street.
Crescent Ice Cream Co. rebuilt to resume business in part of the building that the newspaper eventually moved into.
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The Gainesville Daily Times, as it originally was named, printed its first issue Jan. 26, 1947. You could get your newspaper delivered to your door for a quarter a week. A year after it started, the newspaper profusely apologized for raising the rate by a nickel a week to 30 cents. The increase was attributed to rising newsprint and circulation costs.
The Daily Times suggested that the rate hike was only temporary and would be dropped as soon as costs permitted. Didn’t happen, but you still could get the paper for $14 a year paid in advance.
The name of the paper was shortened to the Daily Times in April 1949 and to simply The Times in September 1972.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.