Often considered one of the cultural centers of Northern Central Florida, The Thomas Center in Gainesville is many things at once. Guests who visit will be overjoyed to learn about its history, explore the art galleries, and even see a show. The Thomas Center, also known as Hotel Thomas, was built in 1910 and has also been known as Sunkist Villa. It was originally a private home to William Thomas and his family (wife Kathyrn and five children).
He converted it to a hotel after doubling it in size in 1928. It was officially considered a “historic place” in 1973. The gardens were designed in 1974 with the center’s renovation. The restoration plan was updated in 1978 in order to maintain the historical landscape while allowing for possible future renovations. For a seven year period, the center was even home to a local college (Santa Fe). The center celebrated its centennial year in 2010 and now hosts weddings, banquets, meetings, and musical guests in their performance space. It is considered a cultural hub and has concreted a place in Gainesville history.
The first thing to do when visiting The Thomas Center is to take a cell phone guided tour of the grounds. This self guided tour is a great way to take in everything there is to see and do when there. It will lead guests around the grounds, through the gardens, and also give them a history of the many rooms found at the center. Among them are the 1920s rooms that are maintained with historical, period accuracy. There are also local history exhibits, that pass through on a rotating basis.
Gardens: The gardens of the center are one of the biggest draws all year round. The gardens are planted with seasonally blooming plants and flowers so that there is something new and different to see, no matter the time of year. Mid-winter brings camellias, and azaleas come in the early spring. In the late spring, the dogwoods blossom, and the summer is often a favorite of many guests, as that’s when the roses bloom. There are also palms and ferns that are green all year round, as well as beautiful old oak and magnolia trees.
Art galleries: Many of the visitors to the center come to explore the art galleries, which feature a rotating selection of different art forms and styles. Online exhibitions are also available, so discovering the center’s art galleries doesn’t have to stop with a physical visit. An online exhibition focuses on the historic Gainesville cemetery, Evergreen. Both a history and an art exhibit, it was curated by Jimi Brown and Susan Stewart, and tells the story of the cemetery from its inception in 1856. It also goes into the many historical figures who are buried on the grounds. Another online exhibition goes into depth about some of the pioneers of blues and offers over 40 different folk art illustrations of them.
Regular building hours for the center are from Monday to Friday, 8am to 5pm. They are closed on both Saturday and Sunday, as well as all city holidays in Gainesville. The galleries have slightly different hours, open Monday to Friday, 8am to 5pm, but also open on Saturday from 1pm to 4pm. They are closed on Sunday, as well as all city holidays in Gainesville (the same as the regular building).
The center is home to many special events throughout the year, so guests should make sure to check the website prior to visiting to see what they will be lucky enough to see while there!
Jewel Box Concerts: This concert series features different genres (anywhere from jazz to folk to even classical) performing in the Spanish Court. With a range of both undiscovered and nationally and even internationally renowned artists. Check the website for ticket costs and dates and times.
Jest Fest!: Considered the “greatest show” in the city, this fest is offered free and showcases jugglers, clowns, sword swallowers, magicians, pony rides, ice cream, and more! It truly is fun for the whole family. There is even a fully set up food court filled with family friendly food offerings for visitors.
Holiday Tree Lighting: Often a part of many family traditions, the tree lighting at the center happens the first Saturday in December. The mayor of Gainesville is always on hand to call for the lighting and to meet the residents as well as tourists visiting. Come see Santa, view the beautiful lights, and make a tradition that can continue for years to come.
The Thomas Center, 302 NE 6th Avenue, Gainesville, FL, 32601, website, Phone: 352-393-8532
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