April 25, 2008 Friday

St. Petersburg Times (Florida)

I'm a fan of old buildings and old places and the old stories that go with them.

I could spend hours listening to people talk about a long-vanished downtown department store or a famous dime store soda fountain that years ago succumbed to the wrecking ball.

As a little girl, I loved listening to my grandparents - especially my Florida grandmother - tell stories about places from the past. Old houses, theaters, stores, schools, social clubs, public swimming pools - places that have disappeared from our daily routines but were once a significant part of the lives of others -have always fascinated me to the point of distraction.

So imagine my happiness when I met Cheryl Sivers. An executive assistant at Memorial Hospital of Tampa, she is a fourth-generation Tampa resident whose family came to Ybor City in 1895 by way of Key West to work in the cigar factories.

Since 2002, Sivers - with the support of her boss, Memorial chief executive officer John Mainieri - has been helping the hospital put together a small but noteworthy collection of works depicting old Tampa by local artists, including Lorriane Genovar and Roxanne Tobiason. Most recently she has collected a series of pen-and-ink-renderings of historic buildings and places by Tampa artist Nancy Henderson.

"We really wanted to give back to the community, especially older people who I often see looking at these images. I notice how everything starts to come back to them," Sivers said.

The collection's centerpiece is a series off old photographs of many vanished Tampa landmarks - some big, some small -exquisitely hand-colored by Genovar. The images depict places and events lost to memory, which makes them all the more fascinating to study.

There are the interior of the home of a prominent cigar factory owner in 1895, a local alligator farm circa 1917 promoting a menagerie of what looks like dozens of gators separated by wooden corrals, a lector reading the newspaper to cigar workers in 1917, the HB Plant Steamship in 1913, the Goldstein swimming pools in 1922, even a Tampa doctor carrying his medical bag and proudly sporting a gun in a holster in 1900.

Tobiason's watercolor paintings include prominent old local buildings as well as wildlife long spotted around the Tampa Bay area, including the roseate spoonbill and sea turtle.

Henderson's contribution to the collection includes, among other things, her beautiful pen-and-ink depictions of the Academy of the Holy Names, the Italian Club in Ybor City, as well as a collage she created using images from her collection of historic Tampa cigar wrappers.

Henderson, a Tampa history buff, was just awarded a 2008 individual achievement award from Tampa Preservation Inc., a group dedicated to the preservation of historic structures and neighborhoods as well as the education of schoolchildren about Tampa's unique heritage.

Memorial's growing art collection hangs in the hospital's public spaces, along well-traveled corridors and in the administration building. The public is invited to stop in and take a peek during regular hospital hours, Sivers says. Visitors interested in a special group tour should call Memorial Hospital to make arrangements. Sivers can be reached at (813) 873-6450.

"Come walk through the lobby and take a look," she says.