The old Federal Building, now the Hippodrome State Theatre, is Gainesville's finest example of Palladium Classical Revival Architecture. It was begun in May 1909 and completed in March 1911 at a cost of $160,000.00.
The building rests on granite block. A riveted steel frame construction supports carved limestone trim which was also used for the columns, capitals, entablature and ballustrade. Individual blocks provide bases for six Corinthian limestone columns which support the pediment. The hipped roof is constructed of clay tile and is surrounded by ornate limestone scroll work. Bronze entry doors, an elevator, steam heat, terrazzo floors and richly plastered interiors were considered very elaborate for Gainesville in 1911.
The first floor was used as the Post Office, the second floor was designed as a the Courtroom, richly trimmed inwood and accessed through leather covered doors, and the third floor was used as office space, including the U.S. Land Office.
The building was designed by Federal Architect Thomas Ryerson, with Supervising Architect J.K. Taylor and the Superintendent of Construction was John Young.
Above material compiled by Mark V. Barrow, Sr. of Historic Gainesville, Inc.
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The Old Federal Building: A Time Line
The following dateline narrative is a brief history of the "old Federal Building" and how it became the Hippodrome Theatre.
March 20, 1903
B.F. Hampton and James M. Graham sell the land fronting the south end of East Main Street (S.E. 1st St.) at Magnolia Street (S.E. 2nd Pl.) to the Federal Government for one dollar.
May 1, 1909
Construction begins with James Knox Taylor as Supervising Architect, E.C. Heard as Structural Engineer. J.E. Powell as Mechanical Engineer and John Young as Construction Supervisor.
The Federal Building houses: the U.S. Post Office, the Federal Court, the District Attorney and the U.S. Land Office.
The above offices moved to the new Federal Building, 401 S.E. 1st Ave. The Old Federal Building is Listed as "surplus property" by the General Services Administration. The G.S.A. assigns the building to H.E.W. which leases the property to the Alachua County School Board for 20 years on a "Quit Claim Deed."
July 15, 1974
The City of Gainesville grants research funds to the University of Florida College of Architecture under the direction of Harry Merritt to evolve comprehensive planning concept for downtown Gainesville. The finished plan first proposed the transformation of the Old Post Office into a performing arts center.
October 24, 1977
The City of Gainesville receives a report from the College of Architecture: "Renovation and Uses of the Old Post Office." a detailed feasibility study and pictorial design for renovation of the Old Post Office into a performing arts complex. Dr. A.F.C. Wehlburg of the University's Dept. of Theatre and Bruce Cornwell of the Hippodrome assist the students in listing needs for a 450-seat theatre.
The Hippodrome Board of Trustees and Artistic Co-directors meet with Harry Merritt and conclude that undertaking the old Old Post Office renovation is a possibility.
The Hippodrome launches a letter-writing campaign through its subscribers to demonstrate to the City Commission public support for such a project. Hippodrome Artistic Co-director Gregory Hausch and Managing Director Jim Peeples travel to Washington, D.C. and speak with aides to Senators Chiles and Stone, Representative Fuqua, and with the National Endowment for the Arts Challenge Grant Program. Several meetings with officers of the National Registry of Historic Buildings lead to a Gainesville visit by that office.
July 10, 1978
The Old Federal building is placed on Register of Historic Places.
July 23, 1979
The City Commission approves the purchase of the Old Post Office from the School Board for $150,000.00.
November 19, 1979
The Hippodrome is awarded a $175,000.00 Challenge Grant from the N.E.A. on a matching basis of one federal dollar to every four local dollars raised. The Hippodrome however, must raise the first $175,000.00 local match by July 1, 1980, in order to fully qualify for the grant and maintain funding over a two-year period.
The Hippodrome hires Al Dompe as project architect.
February 25, 1980
Linda Cirulli is hired to manage the fund-raising drive. Chiles Communications of Tallahassee is hired as consultants. Artistic Co-directors Kerry McKenney, Gregory Hausch and Marshall New design and co-ordinate the fund-raising drive.
March 16, 1980
Official Kick-off for the fund raising drive includes a ribbon- cutting on steps of the Old Post Office with Rep. Fuqua, Director of Cultural Affairs Becky Kushner, Mayor Bill Howard and Hippodrome landlord and patron George Kirkpatrick.
The Hippodrome conducts a media campaign to educate the community in regard to its fund-raising goals. This includes media events such as "Wet Hippo Night" at Wild Waters, Skeeter's Biscuit-Eating Contests, Roller Skating, Scavenger Hunts, a "Hippo Fund Run," a televised "Hippothon" on Channel 20, "Recycle for Art's Sake," concerts, raffles, contests. parties, slide presentations, benefit performances, etc.
May 15, 1980
Bob Hester, representing the Board of First Federal of Mid-Florida pledges $50,000.00 to the Hippodrome restoration project.
May 31, 1980
The first public event to be held in the Old Post Office puts the Hippodrome over its goal. Over $175,000.00 is raised in three and a half months ... 31 days before the Challenge Grant deadline of July 1.
July and August, 1980
Over 15,000 volunteer man-hours by more than 350 people enables the Hippodrome to open its administrative offices on the third floor of the Old Post Office by Sept. 1.
September 15, 1980
Contributions total $326,933.00 as construction of the second-floor mainstage begins by M.M. Parrish Construction Company.
January 16, 1981
THE ELEPHANT MAN inaugurates the newly renovated second floor, 266-seat mainstage theatre.