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A peek at Walton Jackson Building’s diverse past, uncertain future in downtown Gainesville
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The historic Walton Jackson Building consists of several different tenants in downtown Gainesville. - photo by Scott Rogers
About this series 

As the pace of development in Gainesville reaches a fever pitch, The Times is examining the history of some of the buildings downtown and nearby in this weekly series. Other stories in the series include:

Walking on the Green Street side of the Walton Jackson Building, Jeff Payne recalls several occupants of the art deco-style building that fills a city block in downtown Gainesville.

From a car dealership at one end to people paying their bills at Georgia Power, the 35,000-square-foot building off Green and Washington streets has had many uses and served many residents over the years.

“There were so many uses at one time because it had so many storefronts,” said Sarah Ward of Savannah-based Ward Architecture + Preservation. “That’s part of what makes it a vibrant downtown is having multiple businesses on that corner.”

Capstone brought in Ward to help him delve into the building’s architectural and historic significance as his company, Capstone Property Group, looks to potentially redevelop the site as part of The National project.

“We don’t know what this (building) will look like,” said Payne, Capstone’s chairman. “We don’t have a definite plan of what to do with it.”

The National is a $50 million project featuring a seven-story, 130-room Courtyard by Marriott hotel, convention space, apartments, outdoor plaza and dining areas.

Space in Walton Jackson that once housed the Turnstile Deli and later Midland Station Coffee Co. that closed in 2019 now serves as construction offices for The National. 

There are a few other tenants, including Dental South, where one wall features an original Coca
Cola mural from the 1930s.

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Jeff Payne, of the Capstone Property Group, tours the Walton Jackson Building where a Pontiac dealership was once located. The historic building now consists of several different tenants in downtown Gainesville. - photo by Scott Rogers

The building was built after the 1936 tornado that devastated much of downtown Gainesville.

It was “one of the most significant additions to downtown during the reconstruction after the 1936 tornado,” said Jessica Tullar, Gainesville’s housing and special projects manager. “It replaced a residence that was destroyed during the tornado.”

She said the structure has been identified in the city’s Historic Resources Survey “as an example of the ‘business block’ commercial architectural form, which was frequently constructed at the end of a row of commercial buildings. Its larger size served to anchor visually the buildings along the streetscape.”

Originally built by Walton Jackson, “ownership of the property stayed continuously within the Jackson family throughout the building's history,” states a report pulled together by Becki Harkness of Ward Architecture + Preservation.

The American Red Cross, Hall County chapter, occupied space in the building between the 1940s and the 1960s, according to the report.

The report cites a newspaper article from Sept. 24, 1936, saying that Walton Jackson had been named as chairman of the organization. He also was “praised in an article for his involvement in Red Cross efforts to stage the emergency response” to a disaster.

The Red Cross presence in the building “is likely due to his connection with the group,” the report says. “In later years, the space had several different types of occupants, including an insurance agency, gift shop, and a copy shop.”

Overall, the building “survives as an excellent example of an art deco commercial building within the commercial heart of historic Gainesville and is representative of a significant period of construction within the city resulting from the natural disaster of the 1936 tornado,” the report says.

“It retains its original footprint and maintains a high level of integrity, possessing its original location, design, materials and associations as a prominent commercial space within the Gainesville commercial historic district.”

For Shannon Davidson, owner of Dental South, a lab that specializes in dental restorations, the building represents historic character.

When he began to remove drywall from an interior wall, a friend began to notice the beginnings of red brick and a Coke mural. More removal revealed the words “Coca Cola in sterilized bottles” and a date at the bottom of the mural, June 1, 1937.

The mural on the neighboring building had been covered when Walton Jackson was built, according to the historic report.

Davidson was thrilled with the discovery and even installed a spotlight to showcase the mural.

“If I ever have to leave, that might be what I miss most,” he said.