Gabe’s Tower: A look back

Local News

OWENSBORO, Ky. (WEHT) – After nearly six decades as one of Owensboro’s most iconic buildings, Gabe’s Tower, is starting to come down.

The start of demolition of Gabe’s Tower ends a nearly six decade era as one of the most iconic buildings in Owensboro.

Near the heart of Triplett Twist, with its single floor homes and businesses, was a tower that stood tall.

“I was just sort of fascinated by it, just the spectacle of it,” said John Lumea, who started the Save Gabe’s Facebook page.

It was built in 1963, named after Gabe Fiorella, a restaurant owner, and designed by Owensboro architect R. Ben Johnson.

“Gabe Fiorella was already on the corner of Triplett with the restaurant, Gabe’s Restaurant, that commercial block still had some things you could do on it and he had this idea of building a tower/hotel and wanted it to be really, really unique,” said Lumea.

This really unique tower had a restaurant, and indoor pool on the upper floors, and was once the tallest building in Owensboro and western Kentucky.

“I remember they had the restaurant on the bottom floor, and then the rooms were all in the middle and they had the swimming area and stuff upstairs on the top floor,” said Barbara Miller of Owensboro.

It held everything from business meetings, to live t.v. broadcasts, including some by WEHT-TV.

“In the Gabe’s Tower days, from ’63 to the late 70s, that was the convention center of town. All the business meetings, all the business groups would go there,” Lumea said. It was also a destination for groups and for the famous.

“Every once in a while, there would be, like, Jerry Kramer was there. A local celebrity. That was unique to meet them,” recalled Phil Sloan of Madisonville.

After Fiorella’s passing in 1977 , the tower got new owners. It was the site of a business college in the late 1970s and early 1980s until a Tennessee-based group bought it in 1983.

“It was very exciting for me,” said John Ferguson, whose grandfather, Burt, was part of that group. His parents managed the hotel, and lived there for a year.

“It felt fancy to me that I had my own hotel room,” he recalled. “I was in the room adjacent to my parents. We kind of had two rooms next to each other.”

Despite the excitement, that hotel only lasted through the 1980s. After an attempt to make it and assisted living center, the group sold the tower in 1990. Since then it kept changed hands. A Pennsylvania-based group, and local developer Bob Zimmerman, among those that tried to repurpose it for a hotel and housing for veterans. But none of those ideas succeeded.

“It’s kind of sad for me to see what that building could have been,” said Ferguson.

“There aren’t nearly as many people around in Owensboro who actually remember what it was like in the 60s and 70s. That’s a real challenge,” adds Lumea.

As this historic tower fades into history, some will remember its past glory and lament its demise.

“I think I will be sad about it, bit I will view it as a real missed opportunity because its’ probably very likely that what will happen on that block will probably be very standard,” said Lumea.

Photos courtesy of Save Gabe’s Facebook page, John Ferguson and AP Imagery.

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(This story was originally published on June 8, 2020)

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