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UPDATED: Multicultural Resource Center Highlights Pensacola's Diverse History

Voices of Pensacola is a multicultural resource center highlighting the city’s diverse history and it’s now open to the public. It officially opened on Tuesday, Oct. 7.

Voices of Pensacola is a project of UWF Historic Trust, which used a $605,000 gift from Gulf Power Company and its parent Southern Company, to transform one of its historic downtown properties, previously known as the Beacon Building.

Voices of Pensacola not only highlights the numerous cultural groups that have shaped Pensacola's history through dynamic, multifunctional exhibits, but also provides a place for local residents and visitors alike to gather, learn and tell their rich stories," said Gulf Power President Stan Connally. 

In addition to the exhibits, a digital recording station is available to record the oral histories of residents, visitors and others who have greatly impacted the region.

"Pensacola's heritage is a cultural gumbo - a cornucopia of flavors from around the world: Africa, Europe, Great Britain, Scandinavia, the West Indies and the Mediterranean,” said Jerry Maygarden, UWF Historic Trust board chair. “Our community is rich in diversity, and now we have a place to house and tell the stories of our people and past."

The first floor of the center includes a small book store, where books on the City of Pensacola and Escambia County will be sold. There’s a large exhibit space that highlights different aspects of the community, with displays such as “Threads of Pensacola.”

There is a small area where people can record their memories and stories, as well as a place for watching archives of what others have recorded.  The stories can be personal accounts of events people have witnessed in Pensacola; how things have changed, such as streetscapes, businesses, and houses; how your family came to live in the area.

Additionally, the first floor includes a small theatre space, where the walls are covered with murals depicting past events and people in Pensacola.

Looking around the room, Maygarden describes some of the depictions in the large photo collages or panorama’s covering the walls. “That’s part of the Greek Festival, this band. In the back is a 1950’s display of the Fiesta of Five Flags parades. This is an Asian gentleman who came to this part of the world, either as a steward in the Navy or as one of our Vietnamese families.” Maygarden continues, “Prize fighting has always been a part of our culture here. They used to fight in a ring out on the bay, and now we have Roy Jones, Jr. displayed on this wall.” Also depicted is a scene from the early days of the University of West Florida.  Maygarden called it 'panoply' of our culture, noting that he believes it will be a cultural heritage, and tourist attraction.

The second floor houses newly renovated archives and the new Hilton-Green Research Room, which was made possible through a bequest from the late Henry L. Hilton-Green, Jr. The space, a visible and tangible recognition and permanently named memorial to the Hilton-Green Family, is used to create an environment for researching and showcasing the local history of Pensacola. A permanent and comfortable environment for reading, research and historical reflection, the space provides for technology to be used in research, furnishing and equipping the space with supplies, shelving and lighting that is necessary to create a superior space and archival environment for public use and record collection.

A biography about the late Henry L. Hilton-Green, Jr., written and published by the UWF Historic Trust, will be housed in the archives in the second floor Hilton-Green Research Room.

Voices of Pensacola is going to allow the University an opportunity to engage with the community like never before,” said UWF President Judy Bense. “Pensacola’s rich history is preserved best in the stories of those who lived it.”  

Voices of Pensacola, located at 119 East Government St. in downtown Pensacola, was built in 1912 by S. F. Fulgham & Co. for D. Kugelman & Co., a wholesale grocer. Since then, it has housed several other wholesale grocers, wholesale liquor companies and the Pensacola Cigar and Tobacco Co. The Pensacola Historical Society purchased the building in 1990, renaming it in honor of G. Norman Simons, the society’s deceased curator and well-respected local historian.

For the renovation, efforts were made to show all of the different time periods from when the building was first built to when it became the Beacon Nightclub. 

“If brick was exposed, we kept the brick exposed. We actually took the drywall off the ceiling and exposed the original lumber that made up the structural framework of the building,” said historical preservationist Ross Pistera. Also, paneling from the days of the Beacon Club were kept. Additionally, the renovation included new elements that would have been typical of this period such as pine wood flooring, which was manufactured locally in Brewton, AL.

Voices of Pensacola is open to the public Tuesday-Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. For additional information about Voices of Pensacola, contact UWF Historic Trust at 850.595.5985 or visit www.historicpensacola.org.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.