First, a few pictures of the Ferlita Macaroni Factory in Tampa’s Ybor City.
As the name suggests, the Ferlita Macaroni Factory was once the site of a pasta making enterprise that served Tampa’s Italian-American population. (It’s near the famed Columbia Restaurant.) The building was constructed in 1924 and served for a decade before the business moved elsewhere. The building was then home to a cigar company (Ybor City is known for them) for many decades, and it was bought for $150,000 by Les Thompson in 1985. Thompson planned to renovate the building and use it as a storage facility for his roofing business, but he never received the necessary permitting, insurance, and funding. Thompson just let the building fall apart (hence the roof collapse a few years ago) and applied for a demolition permit last year.
Because the structure is in a historic district, the permit application had to go before a review board, which denied Thompson’s application. Thompson was furious and threatened to fight their decision, but it appears the building is going to be saved. Thompson is going to donate the building to the Italian Club, which plans to make it into a community center. Worth just $51,000, a neighborhood redevelopment nonprofit has promised $100,000 toward stabilizing the structure. A rehabilitation is estimated at $460,000.
Sounds great, right? Yes and no. It’s good to see a historic district commission stand up to a neglectful steward who let this building fall into disrepair; the commission members should be commended for that. What concerns me about the Ferlita Macaroni Factory preservation fight is the amount of money the project will cost.
While the building definitely contributes to the historic district, it really isn’t all that special. No one famous is associated with it, it’s not particularly architecturally unique, nothing important happened there, and it’s unlikely to gain more importance in the future. It’s just a decrepit old building that once was the production site of a food source for one of Tampa’s most important ethnic groups (I dated an Italian girl too long to know not to get on their bad side).
All the money that is likely to be poured into a rehabilitation would be much better served going toward historic buildings in better condition. Also, losing the Ferlita Macaroni Factory may encourage better care for other historic structures in the district. I think us preservationists get so caught up in saving everything, we don’t take the broad view. Sure, it sounds good to save this building, but is this the best use of that much money in the long term? I don’t think so.
Bonus: Across the railroad tracks from the Ferlita Macaroni Factory is a gutted building that appears to be awaiting reconstruction. I understand why such extremes are being taken to save this building. It’s located on Seventh Avenue, a pedestrian-friendly street full of shops, bars, businesses, and restaurants. The Ferlita Macaroni Factory is on a heavily traveled thoroughfare.
Update: Here are two photos I took of the Ferlita Macaroni Factory on March 2, 2011.