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A look into the past and future for old Coca-Cola building in downtown Gainesville
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The old Coca-Cola building in Gainesville, photographed in 1974, was occupied by the Coca-Cola Company from 1940 to January 1968. - photo by Hall County Library System

Doug Ivester recalled sipping ice-cold Coke from a 6½-ounce glass bottle as a youngster at the old Coca-Cola Bottling Co. building on Green Street in Gainesville.

“It was a great day for all of the third graders, and the day obviously had a great impact on me,” said the Gainesville native, who would grow up to become CEO of Coca-Cola.

Recalling a class field trip, the retired executive said, “The bottles were flipped upside-down to mix the drink.”

The trip ended with students getting a bottle of Coke, Ivester said.

The Coke building has since become something of an iconic downtown fixture — and one that’s about to start a new era.

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:

“When I say 301 Green St., most people are like, ‘Huh?’ When I say the old Coke building, they’re like, ‘Oh, yeah, OK,’” said Karen Baston of SVN Hokayem Company Inc., which is trying to sell the building.

The old Coke building, which operated as a bottling plant from 1940 until 1968, sits just off the downtown square, one of many bottling plants built in the 1900s with the Coke logo etched in the facade.

By 1940, Coke was firmly entrenched in bottling and distributing the drink, according to the company’s website.

During its years on Green Street, the Coke building had become something of a local tourist attraction.

“It was on schools’ agenda to always take the children to the Coca-Cola building,” said Gainesville native John H. Smith of Smith, Gilliam, Williams & Miles law firm, which has occupied the building since 1980. “It was state of the art.”

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A vintage photograph shows the interior of the Coca-Cola building.

The building wasn’t the two-story collection of offices that it is today. It had more of an open floor plan with conveyor belts and a second-floor balcony that wrapped around the inside of the building to give visitors a glimpse of the bottling process.

“It was a big event for kids to go up there,” Smith said.

The bottles had Gainesville’s name marked on the bottom — as was done at bottling companies elsewhere.

“It was interesting to collect the Coca-Cola bottles and see where they were actually bottled,” Smith said. ”And, as I recall, you’d get 2 cents if you turned your bottle in.”

Jane Wilgus, who grew up in Gainesville and now lives in Vinings in Cobb County, recalled a school trip to Coke.

“I just remember the bottles going around,” she said. “They showed us the whole process of how it worked. And they gave us a bottle as we left and there was Gainesville, Ga., on the bottom. From then on, whenever you’d go somewhere to get a Coke, the first thing you would do would be to turn (the bottle) over to see where it was made.”

And if it happened to be bottled in Gainesville, Wilgus said, “It was like, ‘Do we save it, do we save it?’”

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An old Coca-Cola bottle from the old Gainesville Coca-Cola bottling plant on Green Street. - photo by Scott Rogers
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An old Coca-Cola bottle from the old Gainesville Coca-Cola bottling plant. - photo by Scott Rogers

After the plant closed, the building went through several owners, including First United Methodist Church of Gainesville, which was across the street until 1985.

Smith, a church member, recalled the church being interested in the building for Sunday school classes in the late 1970s.

When that didn’t happen, “that’s when I acquired the option on the property,” Smith said. They did not purchase it at first but leased it and then bought it. 

“When I came here in 1984, the exterior was brick,” said Kelly Ann Miles of the law firm.

She recalled the original brick being refinished soon after she arrived, but the process didn’t work.

“It knocked the seal off and made it porous, and we started having leaks,” Miles said. “That’s why we have the stucco over the brick.”

But the limestone facade showing off the Coke bottle and logo remained untouched.

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The original exterior of the former Coca-Cola bulding had a red brick exterior which was covered later. Coke moved out of the building in 1968 - photo by Scott Rogers
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The Coca-Cola Company occupied this building on Green Street in Gainesville from 1940 to January 1968. - photo by Scott Rogers

The building’s interior barely resembles its Coke heyday, except for a narrow elevator that creeps up to the second floor. The plant’s old boiler room in the basement now serves as a storage room for the law firm, containing shelves with old law books.

The basement also serves as a storm shelter.

“This building is rock solid,” Miles said. “You don’t hear the floors creaking or anything.”

But it’s time for the firm to move on.

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Gainesville attorney Kelly Anne Miles tours the offices of Smith, Gilliam, Williams & Miles, which is also known locally as the old Coke building. The Coca-Cola Company occupied the building from 1940 to January 1968. - photo by Scott Rogers

“Six of us own the building, and with us all getting older, we decided it was probably a good time to sell,” Miles said.

The company is now looking to move perhaps by early November into the Gateway Professional Center or the old Wells Fargo building at the corner of Jesse Jewell and E.E. Butler parkways, less than a half mile away.

“As hot as the downtown market is right now, there is definitely interest in the (Coke) building, not only from an investor viewpoint but from a user viewpoint,” Baston said. “We’re also trying to lease the space — but with the end result to sell the building.”

The building is being marketed primarily for office use, with “walkability” to the square being the big lure.

And does the Coke emblem on the building draw any curiosity?

Oh yes, Miles said.

“It always intrigues them,” she said.

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An old wall switch inside the basement of the old Coca-Cola building. The Coca-Cola Co. occupied the building from 1940 to January 1968. - photo by Scott Rogers
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