City of Gainesville honors local advocates at second annual historic preservation awards ceremony

(l-r) Gainesville City Commissioner Ed Book joins Roberta Campbell Lopez, the 2023 Vivian Washington Filer Award recipient; Bill Warinner, the 2023 Mary Besalski Barrow Award recipient; Murray D. Laurie, the 2023 E. L. Roy Hunt Award recipient; Historic Preservation Officer Kathleen Kauffman; and Special Advisor to the City Manager for Sustainable and Equitable Development Andrew Persons.

Press release from the City of Gainesville

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Roberta Campbell Lopez was suddenly at a loss for words as she accepted a City of Gainesville Historic Preservation Award during a ceremony earlier this month at the Matheson History Museum. The former mayor and city commissioner of nearby Archer had spoken before many a crowded room during her years of public service.

“I feel very emotional right now and so appreciative of this award,” said Lopez. “I thank (Historic Preservation Officer) Kathleen Kauffman and her board for this honor.”

2023 Vivian Washington Filer Award

Lopez was presented the 2023 Vivian Washington Filer Award, named for the local historian and preservation advocate who currently serves on the City’s Historic Preservation Board. Filer, chair of the Cotton Club Museum and Cultural Center, is the recipient of last year’s inaugural award recognizing a preservation champion. She selected Lopez for the honor.

Lopez, who works to preserve local African-American cemeteries, is perhaps best known for championing the restoration of the Archer High School Gymnasium. She spearheaded eight years of fundraising and grant-writing efforts, culminating in the building’s reopening as the new Archer Community Center in 2011. The transformation was more than a physical one; it became a transformation of legacy.

“Because of segregation, I never attended that high school or played in the gym,” she recalled. “Yet I envisioned it as a community space open to all.”

2023 Mary Besalski Barrow Award 

Mary Besalski Barrow was a local preservation pioneer who restored 24 historic Victorian homes in Gainesville during the last quarter of the 20th century. The City’s award named in her honor recognizes an individual who, similarly, has protected Gainesville’s rich heritage through preservation and restoration. This year’s recipient of the Mary Besalski Barrow Award is local architect Bill Warinner.

Warinner’s love for older buildings – his life’s work – is evident among the more than 30 homes he has preserved in Gainesville. Many of the residences he’s restored to their former glory after the interiors had been carved into apartment dwellings.

One example, he recalled warmly, is the 4,800 sq. ft. A.A. Murphree House built in the Duckpond Neighborhood in 1912. Some 30 years later, the interior of the stately home was converted into seven apartments, each with its own kitchen and bath. Its restoration back to a single-family home was a monumental undertaking he began after purchasing the property in 1975.

“My wife wondered, why buy the Murphree House, one of the biggest houses in Gainesville at the time,” he said. “To this day, she calls it, ‘Your dream, my nightmare,’” he quipped as he accepted the award.

2023 E. L. Roy Hunt Award

Author and historian Murray D. Laurie was honored with the 2023 E. L. Roy Hunt Award, which recognizes an individual who has been an exceptional leader and long-time advocate in the field of historic preservation. The award is named for Roy Hunt, a founder of the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation, and its inaugural recipient.

Laurie’s stamp on historic preservation can be found across North Central Florida in the many locations in Gainesville, Alachua, Keystone Heights, Newberry, and others she helped list on the National Register of Historic Places. Her work led to the recognition of two sites in Alachua County, each as a National Historic Landmark (NHL), the nation’s highest historic designation. First, she drafted the NHL nomination for the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings house and farm yard, and in 2006, traveled to the nation’s capital to present the nomination before the NHL Committee where it received unanimous approval. She later wrote the first draft of the NHL nomination for Dudley Farm, recognized in 2021.

Whether the properties she’s researching are homes, historic districts, or cemeteries, she remains passionate about documenting their histories for future generations.

“Even if the buildings are no longer standing, records should be preserved and available to the public,” said Laurie, after accepting the award. “Buildings are containers of history.”