Fort Homer W. Hesterly Armory
Tampa Bay's Sentinel to History
Tampa Florida’s military history is a deep and rich tapestry woven with elements from many conflicts spanning the entirety of our country’s history both internationally and domestically. The year was 1898 and the Spanish American War was under way with Theodore Roosevelt and his rough riders gathering in Tampa and eventually sailing to Cuba to enter the conflict. The encampment site would later become the location selected for the construction of the Fort Homer W. Hesterly Armory, so named for the former commander of the 1 16th Field Artillery Battalion which would be assigned to this post under Lt. Colonel Hesterly. Funded through the Works Progress Administration under Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938, this new facility would be constructed using the “Art Deco” style so prominent during the 1920’s and 1930’s. Though this facility was primarily used as the location for both the Florida National Guard and Army Reserve units the Armory itself became the site for many important events outside of the military that would appeal to the Tampa community as a whole. Of the many events hosted at the Armory were speeches given by the Reverend Martin Luther King JR., President John F. Kennedy, as well as performances by the then young budding star of Elvis Presley. To many locals such as this author the Armory was also the site of wrestling matches which would be the starting point of many nationally recognizable stars such as Terry Funk and Dusty Rhodes which would sell out the venue holding 5000 fans.
The Armory was also used in conjunction with military recruitment in the capacity of implementing the Armed Service Vocational Aptitude Battery exam for all the branches of the military. This exam, still given today, is the benchmark for accepting men and women into the armed services and used in determining possible career paths within those branches. Despite the Armory’s popularity for event hosting, its primary mission was always as a military facility and by 2005 had become obsolete in this capacity. By 2005 the facility was left vacant with none of the many plans for revitalization of the facility or site coming to fruition. However, in 2012 the Armory was leased by the Bryan Glazer family for 99 years to be converted into a mixed use community center catering to both the visual arts and family fitness. In 2013 the Armory was placed on the list of the National Registrar for Historic Places and by 2016 was completed as the new Bryan Glazer family Jewish Community Center and open to the public.