Much of Hillsborough County's notable 20th century history took place at the Fort Homer Hesterly Armory. Now the completely renovated landmark is beginning a new era as the Bryan Glazer Family Jewish Community Center.
Bryan Glazer's family provided the largest amount of any private donor to the building's renaissance. Hillsborough County contributed $1.35 million.
Decades before the building's initial construction, Teddy Roosevelt camped at the site on his way to Cuba and the Spanish-American War. Elvis, Buddy Holly, the Doors, and other big-name acts performed at the Armory. President Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke there - Kennedy, four days before he was gunned down in Dallas. Crowds rooted for their favorite boxers and professional wrestlers inside the Art Deco structure.
The Armory, at 522 N. Howard Ave., was a primary Hillsborough County venue before Amalie Arena, the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre, the USF Sun Done, and the former Curtis Hixon Hall.
On Dec. 8, 75 years to the day after the Armory opened in 1941, local dignitaries, Jewish Community Center members, and area residents gathered to dedicate the $30-million Bryan Glazer Family Jewish Community Center. JCC leaders promised a community-oriented future for the facility that once housed units of the Florida National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve, along with hosting politicians, entertainers, athletes, and others.
The upgrades were made while preserving the building's coveted status on the National Register of Historic Places.
The renovated structure and additions will include an event center, a fitness and aquatics center, a gymnasium, a senior center, an art center, a café, a health and wellness center, and space for the Florida-Israel Business Accelerator, which helps Israeli businesses get a foothold in Florida. Many of the facilities are for everyone, not just members of the Jewish Community Center.
Among other attributes, the Center is touted as a catalyst for rejuvenation of the surrounding West Tampa neighborhood.
"This is a building that will create memories for families," said Bryan Glazer, co-chairman of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, whose family has a membership at the new Center. "We are so pleased as a family to be a part of this."
After a 50-minute dedication ceremony, attendees toured the building and marveled at its diverse offerings.