By Julie Montanaro
April 2, 2014
Flip this home.
It's exactly what a Tallahassee contractor expected to do with a 60 year old brick house near FAMU's campus.
Until he found out who used to lived there. Now he's making plans to turn it into a museum.
Cornelius Jones is in the business of building and renovating homes. He intended to refurbish and sell this one until he walked through the kitchen and into a small sunny room whose walls were covered with pictures and plaques.
"... and I said man this is Jake Gaither's house!"
This home on Young Street was once home to legendary FAMU Coach Jake Gaither. 25 years as head coach. Six black college national championships. One of the highest winning percentages ever and a spot in the College Football Hall of Fame.
"It's just got a lot of history in this house, and I want to keep it that way," Jones said as he stood in what was once Coach Gaither's trophy room.
Jones is restoring the house - with its hardwood floors, pine paneled walls, and vintage tile - to look like it did when Coach Gaither and his wife Sadie lived here.
He's working with FAMU to make this a museum and a gathering spot reminiscent of bustling football weekends back in the 50's and 60's.
"Everyone came here after the game. At night, there was a long line of food, there was the head coach of the opposing team, whether he won or lost, he came to Jake's house after the game," former FAMU spokesman Eddie Jackson said. "This is sacred ground. It's of cultural and historical significance."
"It is our hope that we are able to make this house into a memorial, the Jake Gaither Memorial House," said FAMU Vice President Thomas Haynes. "We can not allow Jake's legacy to get lost."
Jones wants students and visitors to see the old photos, trophies and films and recognize not just Gaither's gridiron glory, but all he did to integrate college sports including hosting camps for both black and white coaches in the 50's and a first in the south, taking his Rattlers to play against a white college team in 1969.
"That's one thing about this great game of football. There's no color line there," Coach Gaither said in an interview included in a Florida Department of State video.
"I felt like I met him just yesterday with all the pictures," Jones said as he gave us a tour of the house. "It gave you a life story."
Jones hopes everyone who walks through the door of this house on Young Street can feel the Gaithers' hospitality and appreciate what they did for FAMU, football and folks far beyond the sidelines.
Jones says right now there's no timeline for finishing the house.
Details of any formal agreement with FAMU have yet to be worked out, but both are optimistic.