Historic hotel is now in the heart of downtown FWB (PHOTOS)

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TONY JUDNICH @Tonyjnwfdn

FORT WALTON BEACH — Whoops of delight, the flashing of scores of cameras and rooftop bands accompanied much of the early stages of the about seven-hour trek of the two-story, 112-year-old Gulfview Hotel, which began Tuesday night and ended early Wednesday.

That parade-like atmosphere stood in stark contrast to the final hours of the building’s relocation from its original spot at 12 Miracle Strip Parkway SE.

As p.m. turned to a.m. and a chill set in, the crowd that earlier had numbered in the many hundreds dwindled to about a dozen.

Finally, at about 3:45 a.m. Wednesday, the 5,500-square-foot old building that was fashioned with bright white lights for the quarter-mile move finished its eastward crawl along U.S. Highway 98.

At the building’s new site at 115 Miracle Strip Parkway SE, employees from Marianna-based Ducky Johnson House Movers shut down the hydraulic pump that had faithfully sent oil to the remote-controlled hydraulic power dollies that carried the roughly 200-ton old hotel.

The new location at a city-owned parking lot is immediately west of Harris Insurance Services and southeast of De’ France Indoor Fleamarket Antiques and Collectibles.

A huge American flag attached to part of the building’s top wraparound porch flapped quietly at the new digs. While some tasks remained, the bulk of the relocation, which Fort Walton Beach City Manager Michael Beedie called a once-in-a-lifetime event, was over.

The heart of downtown had been injected with history.



New life

“It was a good turnout,” Brian Johnson from the house moving company said after the big haul ended.

Johnson, who is a nephew of the late Ducky Johnson, said he and his crew would place the donated building on its new foundation either later on Wednesday or sometime Thursday. Members of the crew had scurried around the building and the dollies like precise bees for just about every foot of the relocation.

“I think everyone is happy to see it moved,” Johnson said.

Gerry Jones, a homeless man who was one of the handful of viewers to watch the finish, agreed.

“It’s going to have a use,” Jones said of the city’s plans for the old hotel.

He added that he supports “anything around here that makes (downtown) look a little nicer.”

At its new site, the building will include a welcome center operated by the Okaloosa County Tourist Development Department, a retail shop operated by the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce, space for the William Augustus Bowles (Billy Bowlegs) Museum and leased office and meeting space.

City officials plan to assess the building to find out exactly what refurbishments it needs before it begins its new life. In addition, a property management firm is expected to be hired soon to manage the building.

The historic structure was built as a fishing and hunting lodge in 1906 and operated as a hotel from 1913-1986, but has stood mostly unused for the past few decades.

It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992 and underwent a massive renovation led by the Junior League of the Emerald Coast in the late 1990s and early 2000s


Tight squeezes

Earlier Tuesday, workers from Ducky Johnson House Movers moved the old hotel down the driveway at its original site to the edge of U.S. 98. The structure made it there well before the 9 p.m. closing of a portion of the road for the bulk of the relocation.

To reach the edge of U.S. 98, the movers had to squeeze the old hotel between buildings that remained behind, with about 2 feet of clearance on either side of the historic structure.

Turning the old hotel onto the highway took more than an hour. Like the wires further along the route, utility lines near the starting point were temporarily moved ahead of time.

The structure eventually inched past Docie’s Dock, where throngs of fans slugged beverages and cheered the spectacle.

Across the street, Shalimar attorney Harry Barr took in the moving scenery.

“I think it’s wonderful,” he said of the planned new uses of the building.

There was one problem, though.

“It’s getting cold,” said Barr, who soon headed home.

By 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, the old hotel had made it to just west of Marina Bay Resort. About 1 a.m. Wednesday, it was sliding over steel plates that had been placed over the grassy, triangular median on Eglin Parkway.

That part of the move was even a tighter squeeze than the move out of the driveway at the building’s former site. It was so compact that one side of the building briefly rubbed against the top of a traffic light pole while the other side rubbed against a utility pole and utility lines.

“It’s a lot of history,” Johnson said later about the structure. “We didn’t want anything going wrong.”

The building crawled past the De’ France market about 2:30 a.m. before making a gradual turn onto its new site. The road trip was halted just before 4 a.m.

Back in January 2017, the Fort Walton Beach City Council accepted the donation of the old hotel from its previous owners, Tom and Nicole Rothrauff and the Wyninegar family. The Rothrauffs plan to build a home on the old hotel’s original site.

The city has $300,000 in Community Redevelopment Agency money to pay for moving the structure, setting it up, making various repairs and upgrades and performing other tasks. The Chamber of Commerce has pledged to provide $50,000 from various donors for the overall project.

The expenses include $149,800 that will be paid to Ducky Johnson House Movers.

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