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This photograph, taken in 1924, is a view of the north side of the property behind Sunkist Villa, which had been the home of Maj. W. R. Thomas since 1909. At the time this photo was taken, Maj. Thomas was in the process of converting Sunkist Villa into the grandest hotel in Gainesville, the Hotel Thomas. The grounds of the home covered six acres and, in addition to the house and barn, there was a gymnasium and a gardener's cottage. Maj. Thomas had sold much of the land in 1922 to create the Highlands neighborhood (now called the Duck Pond neighborhood) and convert his home into a hotel.
The large building on the right was part of Thomas' barn, which had been vital to the production of food for the Thomas family and the White House Hotel, a hotel that Thomas had opened in 1907. The barn was separated into several parts—one section is lying on the ground—that was converted into a small cottage that is no longer in existence. Two large sections were moved to the north and converted into elegant homes that still exist today at 406 Northeast 7th Avenue and 708 Northeast Boulevard. The tower in the distance was a water tower that was removed after the hotel was completed. The house on the left still exists at 621 Northeast 5th Street.
By 1928 the Hotel Thomas was functioning as a popular hotel. It was at that time, with his family grown and scattered, that Maj. Thomas built a matching wing to the north. 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. It is also an ideal spot for weddings, receptions, recitals, etc.
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