SULPHUR SPRINGS — The two-story gazebo is freshly painted; the landscaping newly manicured; and the carved maidens rightfully restored atop the domed roof.
It all shines in white splendor.
Tampa’s approximately $288,000 restoration of the more than 85-year-old gazebo at Sulphur Springs Park, 701 E. Bird St., is complete. The next step is to secure the structure’s future as a formally recognized local landmark before re-opening the gazebo to the public.
A public hearing, and a vote by Tampa City Council, to consider the gazebo’s nomination is scheduled Aug. 22. A final hearing and vote is slated for Sept. 12.
“It’s wonderful. It’s finished. It will be a great asset to the park,” said Greg Bayor, the city’s parks and recreation director.
The city plans to rent the gazebo for weddings, parties and other events.
The once “world famous” spring water, however, will remain off-limits.
For decades people could sip Sulphur Springs’ water free of charge from a small spring burbling inside the gazebo. Then, in 1988 state regulators closed the spring and gazebo, declaring the bacteria-tainted waters unsanitary.
It sat unused and nearly forgotten. But it’s historical significance was never in doubt to area residents.
“It was one of those do-not touch things,” said local historian Linda Hope, owner of the Penny Saver.
With restoration and landmark status, Hope said, “We’re just thrilled. It’s just outstanding. It’s above and beyond anything I thought they could do.”
During restoration, portions of the gazebo were torn down, including eight columns and seven benches. Cast molds were made so replicas could be made. Stairs, landings, balustrades, ceramic tiles and the dome were cleaned and patched.
Among restored details were sculpted “R”s in fancy curling letters that adorned the gazebo.
They served as family “crests” for developer Josiah Richardson who built the iconic Sulphur Springs’ arcade and hotel in the 1920s. The gazebo and the iconic Water Tower park are all that remain of Richardson’s tourist mecca along the Hillsborough River.
He bought about 100 acres surrounding the spring-fed waters of Sulphur Springs and built cottages, a swimming pool with a giant slide, a bathhouse, an alligator farm, a dance pavilion, a Ferris wheel and the European-style arcade with a hotel on the second floor and shops on the first floor.
By 1934 Richardson was broke and had to sell his property. The arcade thrived into the 1960s. Then in 1976 the arcade was torn down to expand a parking lot for the now-closed Tampa Greyhound Track next door.