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News Story
Updated: 01/17/2013 08:00:02AM

Surviving the flames

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S.L. Frisbie

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It must go down as one of the most ... ah ... interesting business decisions in the history of community journalism.

In 1931, during the depth of the Great Depression, S. Lloyd Frisbie moved to Bartow and, in partnership with his father, Sayer L. Frisbie, started a weekly newspaper in competition with an established five-days-a-week daily newspaper, The Polk County Record.

For 15 years, The Record and the Democrat competed in this market.

In 1946, the Gallemore family (Roy Trent Gallemore and his son, Roy Holland Gallemore), which owned The Record, determined they were more interested in their Naval careers than in the newspaper business, and sold The Record (by then also a weekly) to the Frisbie family. (Both Gallemores retired with the rank of captain.)

Granddad and the senior Gallemore, I am told, were leery of each other as competitors, but in the ensuing years, the next generations of Gallemores and Frisbies became good friends.

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With the purchase of The Record, The Democrat moved from quarters it shared with Bartow Printing Co. on North Broadway into a handsome two-story yellow brick building across the street from the post office, former home of The Record.

That building still bears the name Record Building on its face.

Frisbie Publishing Co. rented the ground floor from the Gallemores, an arrangement with which Granddad was never totally comfortable. In 1964, The Democrat moved into its present location on South Florida Avenue, a building that began its life as a livery stable.

A few days ago, a friend asked me what I knew of the history of the Record Building and its next door neighbor to the south. Both buildings, now joined, house the offices of the Boswell and Dunlap law firm.

The history of that building is seared — you should forgive the bad pun — into my memory.

———

In my teen years, after my entry into the newspaper industry at the age of 12 as a Junior Executive in Newspaper Marketing and Delivery Systems — what was then known simply as a carrier boy — I was promoted to a job called route foreman, which more properly would be called carrier wrangler.

Early in the afternoon of Nov. 16, 1954, I was called out of class and told that there was a major fire in the building next door to The Democrat — the Tomlinson Cadillac dealership — and I was to go around to all the classrooms to notify the carriers, and to tell them to be ready to work into the evening.

It was a publication day, and that day’s issue was being set in type and printed at the plant of The Lake Wales News. It is a matter of pride with a newspaper never to miss an edition, and the staff was keeping that tradition alive.

———

The Tomlinson showroom had been repainted (all paints were oil-based in those days) and a kerosene heater was set up to hasten the drying process. An employee kicked over the heater, and the flames, fed by both the spilled kerosene and the oil in the paint, quickly engulfed the building, whose north wall adjoined the south wall of the Record Building.

The employee called the fire department, but the flames drove him from the building, and he jumped through a jalousie door, leaving the phone off the hook. This prevented other callers from turning in the alarm.

Soon, witnesses to the fire ran the three blocks to the fire station, and the Bartow Volunteer Fire Department responded.

Those who witnessed the fire, notably my parents, Loyal and Louise Frisbie, later told me they saw no way the firefighters could extinguish the raging fire at Tomlinson before it also consumed the Record Building.

But they did, and our damage was minimal. I have had a special place in my heart for the BVFD for my entire adult life.

———

The building that had housed the dealership was rebuilt, and became the law offices of Holland, Bevis, McRae, and Smith. Bill McRae became a federal judge, and the firm morphed into Holland, Bevis, Smith, Kibler and Hall.

Today the firm is known simply as Holland and Knight, one of the biggest in the Southeast, with offices in many cities, all of them bigger than Bartow.

The Record Building survives, its interior still reminiscent of yesteryear, but beautifully restored by Boswell and Dunlap.

The Gallemores would have been proud.

———

(S. L. Frisbie is retired. He still enjoys walking through the old Record Building, pointing out where various desks and pieces of equipment were located half a century ago. Few people are around who know if his memories are correct.)




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