Sometimes a building just excites, and the little building at 401 E. Washington in Downtown Tampa is such a building. Situated on the corner of Florida and Washington, the building is surrounded by parking garages and skyscrapers, right on the edge of the Southern downtown parking lot wasteland. You've probably driven by it dozens of times. It's usually open and lit at night, as you speed by you notice a spiral staircase leading up into the ceiling of the first. It just seems like an abandoned building spending its last days waiting for something else to come along. However, the building has been blessed with longevity despite recent turns in the downtown real estate market.
401 E. Washington was built in 1946 as built by a growing Ferman Motor Co. as the Ferman Olds sales and Chevrolet service center. It was directly across Washington from the original Ferman Chevrolet motor sales and service building on Jackson and Marion (You can see 401 Washington peeking out behind the Jackson building in the picture above). In the early days of the last century, just as with other major retailers, most automobile showrooms were placed in downtown shopping districts. The building is three floors, with a small showroom nestled into the Northwest corner of the building. The rest of building is open garage and service areas. As you can see in the picture above, one would just drive right into the service area on the first floor. A steep ramp in the center of the building takes you up to the second floor level, not sure if this level was more service or for car storage. (More pictures and narrative after the jump)
Once you visit the building in person and then compare it with historic pictures it strikes you, this building has been fairly unaltered over time. The original green glass tiling still adorns the Northwest side of the building, the original terracotta tiles also were left in the showroom. If you look hard enough you can see the outlines of the signage lettering on the front of the building (this does not show up in photographs). Inside the building, the stairs, signage, and even office areas look as if the original owners packed up and left only a few years ago. The columns are amazing, built in the old upside down cone style. All ceilings are painted wood lath. The day I ventured upstairs I had seen workers at the building that morning. Upon further inquiry the owners had ordered a demo of all the windows and doors. Any doors and windows I have photographed appear to have been original, but I'm sure several were broken and/or missing. Below is a photograph of the interior of the old showroom taken in January and below that a photo taken from the similar perspective just last week. You'll also see detail of the green glass tile that surrounds the window openings on the Northwest side of the building.
(Above all color pictures taken by me, B&W picture of construction from the Robertson Fresh Collection)
401 E. Washington is a hold out on the Southern edge of downtown. Despite the recent alterations it is my hope that this little gem can see a better reuse other than just parking. However, I also wonder if its utility is what has kept it alive during recent boom and bust times. While most buildings have been razed for parking this building was made for it. As the downtown Tampa real estate market slowly slumps towards more favorable conditions I will keep this guy on my radar. In the meantime I hope you all will stop and take a look the next time you drive by, I hope they'll keep the lights on for you!