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Wistful memories of Tampa Trib that no wrecking ball can change

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The final demolition of the venerable Tampa Tribune building has begun. Workers began taking down the grand old downtown structure on Parker Street along the Hillsborough River, with plans to replace it with an eight-story apartment building.

Forgive, please, my momentary wistful pause.

The Trib was my work home for nearly 42 years until the company was bought and immediately shuttered by our blood rival, the Tampa Bay Times.

I was in that building on the day it opened, Oct. 18, 1975.

I was in that building on the day it closed, May 3, 2016.

You know, it’s just a building – brick, mortar, desks, carpet and so on. Buildings get demolished all the time in the name of progress. Memories last forever.

The old lady has a lot of stories to tell, too, starting with the day we moved in. I was a member of the Trib’s sports department then, and it was in the middle of football season. On Friday night, with dozens of prep football games to cover, we produced the last paper in the smoky old building in another part of downtown.

Moving in on the weekend was supposed to help the newsroom ease into its new home, but that didn’t matter to the sports department. The day our bosses chose to move us in coincided with the Florida-Florida State football game, which is kind of a big deal every year.

The Gators won, by the way, 34-8. We barely had time to notice our new home.

Eventually, it became a place that was much more than just an office to work. It is where we gathered to celebrate our wins, complain about our bosses, suffer our losses, and mourn for members of our family who left us too soon. There were far too many of those.

It’s where we learned an enthusiastic and gifted young reporter named Todd C. Smith had been murdered while researching a story about drug trafficking in Peru.

It’s the place where senators, governors, mayors and too many other local and state officials to count came to visit and try to curry favor. It’s where I would pick up the phone in the Trib’s sports department and hear George Steinbrenner bellow, “Get me McEwen!” He meant Tom McEwen, the legendary sports columnist.

It’s the place where I was working the night the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won their first game ever, and we were going crazy. A guy called over from the Metro desk, “Hey, sports … any of you guys expecting a call from the White House?”

I was. I had called the press room so we could get official White House reaction to the historic occasion. I was stunned that they actually called back.

It’s the place where a former sports editor, after overseeing coverage of the first Super Bowl played in Tampa, had his car break down on the way home and had to hitch a ride with – wait for it – a circulation truck from the St. Pete Times.

I know of at least one fistfight that happened between a reporter and his editor over a story. It wasn’t me, by the way.

It’s where a former publisher, who was noted for frugality, invited all employees to celebrate coverage of one of the Super Bowls in Tampa. Unfortunately, he told us after a week of producing extra-large papers that were crammed full of expensive ads, we had to pay 50 cents for each hot dog.

It’s the place where a couple of mischievous editors took a portable swimming pool into the office of another editor who was on vacation and filled it with water. When that traveling editor returned, well … ever try to move a filled pool in the middle of an office while maintaining your dignity?

It’s the place where former publisher Doyle Harvill used to wander through the newsroom and put out his ever-present cigarettes in potted plants on various reporters’ desks.

In later years, it was a place where we huddled together as our numbers shrank because of layoffs. We hugged colleagues who had gotten the news. We were sometimes secretly jealous of others who got out while the getting was good.

And, yeah, it’s the place where the owners of Revolution Capital told us they had purchased the Trib from Media General and promised us they were in for the long haul. I think we all knew better. Those guys didn’t know much about running a newspaper and didn’t appear too interested in learning.

They got what they wanted when they sold our building to the group that had plans for the site that didn’t include a daily newspaper. We’re seeing the fruits of that now.

You know what, though? You can knock the building down, and you can even close the Trib, and life goes on. But a bunch of us know what we did, how much fun we had, what we meant to each other, and that we made a difference.

We were the Trib.

We were Tampa.

No wrecking ball can change that.

Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.

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