Add historic to world class when describing MacDill
by Nick Stubbs
They may not rank with majestic Don Cesar in St. Petersburg, the oldest wooden hotel in Florida like the Belleview Biltmore resort in Largo or the ornate Tampa Theater downtown, but MacDill has a few historic places of its own and base engineers have been preserving them.
To qualify as historically significant, a structure has to be 50 years old. If architecture falls into a category deemed "of interest" and the building has not been modified or updated to the point the integrity of the original look and design is compromised, the building takes on a new status.
Five such structures on base are General Officer Quarters on Staff Circle featuring Mediterranean Revival architecture. As MacDill moves into the future with new housing popping up, these houses have remained in place, said Jason Kirkpatrick, the conservation program manager for the 6th Civil Engineer Squadron. Among his duties is assessing and making recommendations regarding the historic assets at MacDill, which are more numerous than most might realize. There are about 30 buildings on base old enough to be considered for special status, among them are Station 1 on Florida Keys Avenue and all of the hangars. In addition, MacDill has at least five sites of archeological interest.
None of MacDill's buildings are registered as historic places and Mr. Kirkpatrick doubts that they will be nominated for the special status due to the strict guidelines and restrictions that would accompany the recognition. He said because of the age and design of some of the buildings, care always will be taken when it comes to new construction and modifications that may impact them, which federal law requires.
"We notify the state of our plans and they advise on what should or should not be done," said Mr. Kirkpatrick, who notes that the state has been very flexible in considering MacDill's needs as an active military base. "They (the State Historic Preservation Office) have never said 'no' to anything we wanted to do to help continue the mission."
Most of the concern centers around structures that feature the Spanish/Mediterranean architecture that marks the design period of the 1940s and early 1950s, said Mr. Kirkpatrick. While remodeling interiors is not so closely scrutinized, the exterior is. An example was an objection from the state recently when MacDill planners submitted a proposal to convert carports on a couple of the GOQs on Bayshore into enclosed garages.
"That didn't go over too well (with the state) because it changes the look of the house," said Mr. Kirkpatrick.
Fortunately a compromise was reached in which detached garages were built on the back side of the homes out of site from the road.
The state oversight can hinder plans somewhat, said Mr. Kirkpatrick, but he doesn't see where the needs of an ever-expanding and improving base must collide with state interests in preserving the past.
"Just about anything can be worked out," he said. "We have a good working relationship with SHPO."
While few realize it, MacDill's oldest buildings pale in comparison to the Native American villages and tool-making sites on the base. Mr. Kirkpatrick said human bones were discovered on the base in the 1980s and were studied by archeologists who determined they were part of the Weedon Island primitive culture. Seminole Indians came to base after the discovery and in a ceremony reburied the bones that were found, said Mr. Kirkpatrick, who notes the sites are protected today and information about their location is not publicized to help ensure they are not disturbed.
In addition to the buildings and sites already catalogued, Mr. Kirkpatrick said there soon may be a few more added. The last survey of the base was done in 1994, he said, and since then several other buildings have passed their 50th birthday. A new survey is pending.
"Not every building is important and we have plenty of buildings that are old that are not significant because the architecture is nothing special or they have been modified or updated," said Mr. Kirkpatrick. "But I suspect there will be a few more that will fall into the category of possible importance once we do the new survey."