(NOTE: This was first posted in 2014, shortly after this website debuted. The old Thompson Cigar Factory, in Bartow, Florida, is STILL unused…which is a damned crime.)
One of the things that has always bothered me the most is how ready – make that eager – some communities are to destroy huge parts of their heritage in the name of some sort of highly-suspect “progress”. Some of this is driven by real estate developers, always on the lookout for some ‘antiquated” building that’s standing in the way of their big plans for turning a profit off a piece of land that could be used for “better things”, but some of it, to be brutally honest, is driven by the stupidity, shallowness, and lack of any pride in local heritage of the simpletons who run most smaller American cities and towns.
This morning, I read a pending response from The Pour Fool reader,Trish Pfeiffer, of Bartow, Florida, who wrote asking me to help her and those in her community who are frantically searching for a way to save one of the most architecturally significant buildings in that section of Florida. As the photos included here will show, this is a one-of-a-kind structure – the old Thompson Cigar Factory – that’s recently been given a face-lift and has easily enough room around it to accommodate all the parking any aspiring BrewPub or Taproom will ever need, plus the space for storage out-buildings, barrel house, brett building, or whatever an ambitious, slightly-crazoid modern brewer will ever need. I have NO idea at all about the zoning or what kind of hoops the City of Bartow may require jumping through to get a brewery open but it’s located about twenty-five miles from the booming Tampa-St. Pete brewing mecca, so larger breweries like Cigar City – Joey Redner, are ya reading today? – should find Bartow fertile ground for a satellite taproom or BrewPub. I found out, with a quick google search, this morning, that there is the usual amount of pin-headed opposition to the idea of saving a landmark (the place is listed in the National Register of Historic Places) and making a few quick bucks off its demise, but that’s always true because, of all the resources America may eventually exhaust, our supply of civic idiots will never run dry. But the last new article I saw predicting its imminent demolition was dated 2010, so the forces of Good seem to have a pretty good grip.
In the view of someone pondering a well-funded start-up, Bartow might seem like starting out Where the Action is Not, but consider these words: “Asheville”, “Vermont”, “Poulsbo, Washington”, “Bend, Oregon”, “Hood River, Oregon”…etc., etc., etc. Up here, Poulsbo is a sleepy little outpost of displaced Norwegians, population about 9,000, that used to be notable mainly for a downtown that looks like a small Scandinavian village and as the last stop on the only land route to the trendy enclave of Bainbridge Island. Today, “P-bo“, as we hip locals call it, boasts FOUR genuinely top-shelf breweries: Sound Brewery, Valholl Brewing, Rainy Daze Brewing, and the delightfully-weird Slippery Pig Brewing. Just down the road is Washington icon, Silver City Brewing. Four miles the other way, Hood Canal Brewing. And more are being developed. Being the first in a beer-starved small town is sometimes a very good thing and with Florida’s exploding craft-beer consciousness, Bartow’s quaint charms and relatively modest tax base, it might just be the ideal place to get started…or to expand.
You may have already asked yourself why some doofus in Seattle gives a rat’s ass about some old building all the way across the country, in semi-rural Florida. Easy: When I enrolled at The University of Maryland, back in 1970, I was an architecture major. I didn’t change major to Theater (really smart move, eh? Like taking a vow of poverty that even a monastic novice would balk at.) until the middle of my sophomore year. My idea of a good time, to this day, is to visit some place I’ve never seen before and walk around looking at buildings. (And then find a brewery.) I once walked the streets of Mobile, Alabama for nine hours, staring in slack-jawed disbelief at an absolute cornucopia of architectural treasures, most sitting empty. I’ve done this everywhere I’ve ever traveled, from Griffin and Fort Moultrie, Georgia, to Astoria and Enterprise, Oregon, to Holbrook, Arizona, and Minonk, Illinois, and Ogden, Utah, and Greenwell Springs, Louisiana, and Whistler, BC, and Crossville, Tennessee…and I’m not done by a long shot. When I see beautiful old buildings – structures which were crafted, built entirely by hand, not slapped together by computer-generated guidelines and high-tech shortcuts – I have to think of the love and skill that went into them, the pride that the builders and specialty craftsmen and bricklayers and the artisans who provided the grace notes took in standing back and saying, “I helped this beautiful thing come to be.” I f__king hate, with a blind passion, to see those people dishonored by deeming their work – most of which is still viable, now, fifty, eighty, one hundred years after the doors opened – “obsolete” and watch it be demolished in favor of yet another strip mall or block of disposable condos or – especially, Dear God! – by another one of those monstrosities that litter the streets of Bellevue, Washington, the obscene “McMansions”. I watch fine, modest, livable older homes get smashed flatter than roadkill within blocks of my home all the time, to make way for some tacky, flimsy Monument To Ego that will be falling apart in twenty years and which the new owners use to convince themselves that their 3,000 square feet and Bellevoid address are signs that they have “arrived”. I watched in utter amazement and horror as the imbeciles who run Roanoke, Virginia, gave the city’s permission to destroy a grand old theater building, just because it happened to be standing in the way of some developer’s plans to erect a butt-ugly office building with all the aesthetic appeal of a mill-town shanty. And I’ve seen that sad tale repeated hundreds of times, in all parts of this country.
I don’t know Trish personally and have never set foot in Bartow, Florida. I see photos of that building and don’t know beans about what the structural integrity of the framework is or what kind of hell it might be to bring it up to code. But I look at those pictures and Google Street View (IMHO, one of the great innovations of the past..well, ever) and I see a wonderful deck off that left side, lined with tables sporting festive umbrellas to ward off the, uh, generous Florida heat, and see happy citizens of Polk County, Florida, who love craft beer but don’t love the forty-minute drive into Tampa to have a pint. I see people who live in Bartow, smiling with pride in what their community now offers them. I see a small business – that literal gift unto the American economy and the absolute remedy for future recessions – taking shape and life and supporting their area suppliers and employing people from the communities of Bartow and Wahneta and Alturas and Mulberry and Eagle Lake, keeping dollars within their own community and helping grow, quite possibly, a whole local culture of craft brewing; of old-fashioned craftsmanship and entrepreneurship and initiative. I see me walking up those front steps, one day, and grabbing a bar stool, ordering a pint of that brewery’s Belgian IPA and a plate of conch fritters, and listening to the excited voices of those around me – because that’s what you get with a new brewery; that sound that’s as life-affirming and positive and hopeful as any music ever written: the sound of a small American community celebrating itself.
Trish Pfeiffer…I hope this helps. Thanks for reading. Thanks for writing. Thanks for letting me vent about something that cuts right to the center of my heart.
Hi Steve, Love this piece. I feel the same way about saving still viable structures, esp. those with aesthetic elements that are no longer cost-effective to produce and thus not commonly found in contemporary buildings. I have been an on and off member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. I had no idea you had been an architecture major – I have a strong love and appreciation of architecture and one of my best friends growing up is an architect in NY. – Laurie
What a great article! Trish has worked so hard on this, and I would love to see this wonderful old beauty saved. Thank you so much for helping to get it out there!