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Behind the stones and concrete of The Times building, first dedicated July 4, 1970
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The Times newsroom, pictured in 1970, the year the building on Green Street opened. Pictured from left are Charles Renfroe, Bimbo Brewer, Ted Oglesby, Neil Hunt, Johnny Vardeman, Eddie Stowe and Johnny Solesbee.

What stands today as a landmark on Green Street is a far cry from the building in which The Times began nearly 75 years ago.

On Jan. 26, 1947, the paper published its first edition in the basement of a building that was formerly Ward’s Funeral Home, located at the corner of Maple Street and West Washington. 

In 1970, The Times moved to what was described then as a modern megalith capable of cranking out tens of thousands of newspapers in no time flat.

The building was dedicated on July 4, 1970, and cost about a million dollars, roughly $7 million in today’s money. The basement housed a $250,000 offset press that increased the production capacity of The Times enormously — from 4,000 papers in a few hours to almost 14,000 in less than one. The press was expanded in later years as was the building.

The 1970 dedication ceremony was held on the old parking deck at the rear of the building. 

The next day, The Times published a dedication edition recalling its humble origins and remarking on the significance of its new building.

Above all, the 30,000-square-foot structure was visible proof that “The Times is here to stay,” the front page reads.

“Starting with a nucleus of aging equipment leased from the Gainesville Eagle and adding a rickety old second-hand press, Charles Smithgall launched into a new career of newspaper publishing, which most of his friends considered sheer folly,” the front page reads. “In just over 23 years, The Times has progressed from a used flatbed press in the basement of a former mortuary to an ultra-modern offset operation located in a million-dollar facility on North Green Street.”

There used to sit a six-bedroom house on the property with towering white columns and two sleeping porches, flanked by a cabin in the backyard, the chimney of which still stands behind the building. It was owned by the Carter family and had been around since 1900. Times founder Charles Smithgall purchased the property in the late 1960s to make room for what would soon become the paper’s new headquarters.

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:

Former Georgia Tech classmates Garland Reynolds and Jack Bailey were brought on as the lead architects. Reynolds had been the Smithgalls’ newspaper boy years ago, delivering them their copy of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution — though not always to Lessie Smithgall’s satisfaction.

“One day I threw the paper behind the bushes and she let me have it. ‘Don’t you do that again,’” Reynolds recalled in an interview last week with The Times.

Years later, he found himself charged with a much greater task.

“Designing a building for Green Street is a heavy responsibility, and we decided early in the work that we would go about it in a way which would be sympathetic to the neighboring structures,” Reynolds wrote in the 1970 dedication edition. “The Times is an important part of the community and we designed the building to reflect this position.”

The Times building was a monumental feat. A dozen contracting companies assembled from all over Northeast Georgia, bringing with them hordes of men, tons of concrete, steel and glass and all the equipment needed to transform an earthy plot into a local media powerhouse, according to the special edition.

With zero mortar joints, the building is something of a modern megalith, made of barren concrete with sharp lines and few architectural embellishments or frills. Native materials were used in every instance possible, and Smithgall, who Reynolds described as “a man of great taste who knew what he wanted,” took it upon himself to acquire the stone from a Dawson County quarry, according to the edition. 

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A special edition published July 4, 1970, marks the dedication of The Times building at 345 Green St. in Gainesville. - photo by Shannon Casas

The result was a building that appears at once natural and modern — “subtle but powerful,” as Reynolds put it.

“The architecture, we thought, was real fitting, kind of fit in with the nearby mountains and the stonework,” said Johnny Vardeman, former Times editor who began working for the paper in 1957. “Everybody was very proud of the building, and it became somewhat of a landmark on Green Street.”

“It was a statement that the newspaper was there to stay and expanding its reach and improving the quality both in appearance and in content,” he said.

Reynolds said he is particularly proud of the sign out front, which “hovers out like a flying saucer.” 

The new building also saw the adoption of The Times’ mission statement, enshrined on a plaque out front: “Guided by the constitutional principle of the public’s right to know, we dedicate this building to the continued enlightenment and freedom of the people of North Georgia.”

The plaque at the entrance of The Times building on Green Street in Gainesville, dedicated with the building in 1970.

That mission and its embodiment formed a point of immense pride for Lessie Smithgall.

“Every time you talked with Lessie or met with her, she would mention that plaque,” said Keith Albertson, who worked at The Times from 1985 to 2018, including as editor in his last few years. “She was just really proud of it.”  

In the mid 1990s, as the summer Olympics approached, The Times tore down its parking deck to create space for a separate newsroom and its growing staff. Up until then, the news team and advertising department shared the main room, separated by felt-lined metal dividers. Every so often, Albertson said, some of the news staff would move the dividers ever so slightly to give themselves more space.

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Times staffers work in the newsroom in the early 1990s. Standing at left is then editor, John Druckenmiller.

The building itself has remained mostly unchanged since the expansion in the ’90s. The press remains on site, a unique position in recent years as many newspapers have outsourced printing to offsite facilities. 

Pages are designed using software and then exported to a direct to plate system in a room by the press. Plates are then hung on the press to produce the newspaper.

Giant rolls of paper and barrels of ink are also stored on the first floor. There is also a smaller commercial press and other machinery used in production. 

On the second floor are offices for advertising, news and other staff. The exterior stonework lines one side of the newsroom, where the parking deck once sat.

The news industry, however, has changed dramatically in recent years with increasing focus on digital products including email newsletters, the newspaper’s website and app and its E-paper, which provides pages that appear like a print edition that can be read on a desktop, tablet or other device.

“Some things never change,” said Editor in Chief Shannon Casas, who has worked in the building since 2006. “The dedication issue highlights familiar complaints about the size of the paper — just a few pages in its first years — but also a familiar dedication from the news staff to its community. 

“The Times newsroom is still an important place for Gainesville and Hall County and the many journalists who devote their time and energy inside and outside of these stone walls to inform the public.”

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The Times building at 345 Green St. in Gainesville. - photo by Shannon Casas
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