Ybor City architect explores history of race and building designs

It's a concept you may not really stop to think about: Buildings can make you feel a certain way. 

Mansions with grand walls have a sense of opulence. Small, cramped spaces are uncomfortable and make most people not want to stay long. These feelings are the focus of Jerel McCants' first book titled "The Architecture of Segregation."

"The book was initially inspired by my father telling stories about how you grew up in Alabama, in Jim Crow, and how he couldn't access certain buildings, or had to walk in the back of buildings to obtain service," said McCants. 

READ: City of Tampa to establish its first Black History Museum at historic church

Looking through Tampa, McCants sees remnants of such history, like the Italian Renaissance Revival style train station. 

"There was a dividing wall that was created when the building was built right down the middle," explained McCants. "So you had your colored waiting room and restroom restrooms, and then you had your white patrons on the other side." 

Other historic buildings include Middleton High School and Blake High School. Both schools were rebuilt in new locations, but historians said the original plans reflected their purpose. 

"The Brown v. Board of Education ruling was made in 1954, but our schools in Hillsborough County were still, for the most part, segregated until 1971," said Tampa Bay History Center historian Rodney Kite-Powell. "So the two Black high schools for Tampa and for Tampa's Black residents were Blake and Middleton." 

MORE: St. Pete Jai Alai group works to keep sport alive 50 years after Tampa Jai Alai closure

In public spaces, separate bathrooms, drinking fountains and more were marked with signs.

"They're gone and they weren't saved. They weren't put into a museum. So there are really very few physical examples of that left. That's why the building plans are important," said Kite-Powell.

As times changed, so did the architecture. One of the first buildings to reflect integration in Tampa was the John Germany Public Library in downtown Tampa. 

In the present day, McCants said architecture continues to carry power. He believes Tampa still has work to do. 

"When you look at construction is going on right now, you can obviously tell who it was probably made for or what class of people was made for," he said. "I think good design can be done whether you're poor or middle class or high class." 

McCants hopes more new spaces will reflect a better society for generations. His book "The Architecture of Segregation" will be available in locally owned bookstores.


SIGN UP: Click here to sign up for the FOX 13 daily newsletter