The historic Gym of ‘36 is fully renovated and open for business.
Hall County native Wes Hunt, who built Homestar Financial from the ground up nearly 14 years ago, bought the building in October 2013 for $1.75 million, and has been renovating it ever since. A nearly $1.5 million face-lift is finally complete, and the three-story brick building at the corner of West Academy and Washington streets is the fully-operational headquarters for Hunt’s 400-employee corporation. Nearly 200 of those employees work in Hall County now.
“We’re already out of space again,” Hunt said, laughing. “What amazes me the most about this building is that it’s 80 years old, and now it will probably be here for 100 more years.”
The structure’s conversion to a single-tenant building was the most recent of countless overhauls for the Gym of ’36. It was originally the old Gainesville High School gym, but it’s also served as an entertainment venue for touring musicians. In the late 1970s, it was a 150-seat restaurant.
The gym holds much history, including a tragic beginning.
On April 6, 1936, it was under construction — along with a GHS auditorium, library and additional classrooms — when a tornado tore into downtown, destroying buildings around the square and killing some 200 people. The construction site survived major damage from the storm.
Having survived the disaster and its many reinventions over the years, the building remains a local landmark.
Melody Cooley, an administrative assistant with Homestar Financial, said it’s “exciting to be in a place that’s historical and old but fresh and new at the same time. It’s really something to see the old photos and know there was once a school over here and a gym.”
Added Cooley: “I work on the second floor, so I’m where the original basketball courts used to be. I walk on the floors every day. You can still see the outlines of the free-throw lines.”
Claudia Campa, an underwriter at Homestar Financial, said she, too, loves the new building.
“I like the atmosphere around here, and I watch a lot of restoration shows, so this (renovation) has been very interesting to watch,” Campa said.
Cooley said the building’s history is “part of the draw. A lot of people like coming to work here, because this place has personality. It’s not your standard office park.”