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Construction on the two-story stucco building that is now known as the Hotel Thomas was originally started in 1906 as the private residence of a wealthy phosphate man named Mr. Charles W. Chase. Work on "Sunkist Villa," as the building was known, was halted by Chase's death in 1909. Maj. W. R. Thomas purchased and completed the building the next year and raised his family in the mansion. As the children grew up and scattered, Maj. Thomas converted Sunkist Villa into a first-class hotel.
A grand opening was held for the Hotel Thomas on January 10, 1928. The Hotel hosted a convention of "paragraphers" (newspapermen). An assembly was held in the University Auditorium, and all students were dismissed from class so they could attend. The program opened with an organ concert presented by Claude Murphree, University organist, and Dr. James M. Farr, president of the University, welcomed the visitors. The governor was present, welcoming noted visitors. After the assembly, Dr. Farr and Dr. Walter Matherly, Dean of the College of Commerce & Journalism, conducted visitors on an inspection of the University campus.
The Hotel Thomas dominated the hotel world in Gainesville for many years prior to the advent of comfortable motels, but in 1968 their doors were closed. For awhile the building was a temporary home for Santa Fe Junior College, but eventually it was purchased by the City of Gainesville for government offices. Today it is known as the Thomas Center, and it is Gainesville's "premier showplace" and an ideal spot for weddings, receptions, recitals, etc.
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