George Firestone Building
This former prison is an Art Deco masterpiece with a past full of civil rights flashpoints.
The George Firestone building, having sat empty and largely un-maintained for years, hides a historic past from those who drive or stroll by on their way to downtown Tallahassee offices or the new Cascades Park area.
Designed by Tampa architect M. Leo Elliot, and completed in 1937, it is one of just a few examples of Art Deco architecture remaining in Tallahassee. The building, named for former Florida Secretary of State, was constructed as the 3rd jail for Leon County, and was the center of several major Civil Rights events of the 1960s.
Tragically, just months after the new jail was occupied, a pair of black prisoners were forcibly removed from the jail and killed in the county’s last case of lynching. In 1960, in response to the Greensboro Sit-Ins in North Carolina, students at Florida A&M University held a sit-in at a local Woolworth counter, then days later at another local lunch counter. The students were arrested when they refused to leave. Bailed out by a local minister, they were later convicted of disorderly conduct and unlawful assembly. Given the choice between paying a fine or serving time in jail, eight of the students chose “jail over bail,” finally serving 60 days.
In June, 1961, a group of ministers known as the Interfaith Freedom Riders challenged segregated buses by traveling from Washington, D.C. to Tallahassee, Florida. Upon arriving in Tallahassee, they decided to also challenge the segregation at the airport restaurant. They were arrested, charged with unlawful assembly, and jailed for the rest of the month. The ten returned to Tallahassee in 1964, after years of legal appeals. All spent four more days of jail time in the Firestone jail building.
A new jail was built in 1966, and the Firestone Building became state offices. Today, the angular building has sat vacant since 2007. Unfortunately, the future of the historic building looks grim: it appears likely that it will be torn down to make way for further development in the area.
Update March 2018: The Firestone Building, along with another Art Deco building that had just been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has been demolished to make way for a residential-retail-office complex.
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