History

Nestled in the heart of Gainesville, Florida, the Thomas Center is the perfect spot for a visit at any time of the year. The idyllic climate and beautiful surroundings make a visit to our facility and the surrounding community a splendid place to spend an afternoon, a day or an extended stay.       

         

Sunkist Villa: Family Home

Construction for what is now known as the Thomas Center began in 1906 and was completed in 1910. It was named “Sunkist Villa.” Major William Reuben Thomas, his wife Kathryn and their five children made the impressive estate their home for 15 years.                  

Major W.R. Thomas: Innovative Thinker

Major Thomas began his career as an educator and later pursued his other interests which included general merchandising, banking, hotels, land development, retail furniture sales, and politics. Thomas served as an alderman, mayor and senator. Major Thomas played a key role in ensuring the growth and economic sustainability of the city by spearheading the committee to bring the University of Florida to Gainesville.

The Hotel Thomas: Thriving Business

With the addition of a three story wing, the family home was remodeled into a Mediterranean Revival-style hotel with Italian Renaissance decorative motifs. The Hotel Thomas was opened on January 10, 1928.

Its 94 guest rooms, three dining rooms and four lounges were the preferred lodgings of many distinguished guests including Helen Keller, Robert Frost, visiting athletic teams, vacationing tourists, wandering businessmen and newly employed university professors. The beautiful landscaped grounds and gardens provided space for quiet walks, garden parties, and annual Easter egg hunts.

Santa Fe Jr. College: Educational Facility

In 1968, the family decided to sell the property. The new owners leased the buildings and grounds to Santa Fe Junior College for seven years.

The Thomas Center: Cultural Hub

In 1972 when a rezoning request went before the city’s planning board to raze the hotel, the neighborhood residents began a resistance movement. The site was listed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1973 and was purchased by the City of Gainesville in 1974. The original house was restored and designated as a cultural center.

This nearly grand old building is the setting for contemporary art exhibitions, multiple period rooms and numerous historical exhibits. Its meeting rooms and performance spaces have become sought-after venues for weddings, conferences, and social events. The Thomas Center provides a versatile space which contributes to the cultural, civic and social life of Gainesville.

For more information on the Thomas Center and Tours contact Erica Chatman, CMP, at (352) 393- 8539 or chatmanej@cityofgainesville.org