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Unique Jacksonville: Independent Square

Known as the MODIS Building, Independent Square was completed in 1974 by Jacksonville-based Independent Life and Accident Insurance Company. Once Florida's tallest building, the structure still stands as one of the Southeast's most distinctive office towers.

Published February 4, 2009 in History      44 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article


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Independent Life and Accident Insurance Company

Independent Life was founded in Downtown Jacksonville in 1920.  As the company grew, it occupied various buildings throughout downtown before eventually moving into Independent Square.  Hurricane Andrew would lead to the fall of Independent Life, which was eventually sold to Houston-based American General Corporation in 1995.

Downtown Jacksonville's riverfront prior to the construction of Independent Square and The Landing.

 

Independent Square

The complex occupies the entire block where Independent Life's first company-owned building stood.  The tower's design concept included a sloping base and larger corner frames to provide a distinctive image not only for the company, but also as an identifying landmark for the city of Jacksonville.

The building was also intended to become a "city under one roof."  When completed, the first floor contained several retail spaces, restaurants, a bank, a 360 seat theater-style auditorium, and an indoor four story atrium of tropical vegetation.


The tower's 34th and 35th floors are occupied by the River Club of Jacksonville.  Purchased by Gate Petroleum in 2004, the private business club was established in 1954 and uses the space for a variety of meetings, parties and receptions.



 

Independent Square held the title of the tallest building in the state until 1981, when One Tampa City Center was completed.  The nearby Bank of America Tower surpassed it in height to become the city's tallest building in 1990.






 

 

















 


About Independent Square:

Address: One Independent Drive

Number of Floors: 37

Building Height: 535 feet

Underground Parking Stalls: 250

Amount of Exterior Glass: six acres

Elevator Time: 1 - 37 in 30 seconds

Construction Period: 1972 - 1974

Architect: KBJ Architects





 








 

Article by Ennis Davis








44 Comments

Charles Hunter

February 04, 2009, 05:58:00 AM
Another unique facet of the building ... those vertical window frames served as tracks for robots that ran up and down the building washing the windows.  Was strange to watch these little things crawling up or down the sides.  I also seem to recall (but without certainty) that they used one of these little guys as sort of a reverse "Times Square Ball Drop" on New Year's Eve - taking lights up to the top of the building.  I hope someone else can confirm that, because my memory on that is really shaky.

I also remember they had Morrison's cafeteria on the ground floor, and up one floor was a table service restaurant, with tables either against the glass outer wall (which was starting to slope inward) or overlooking the atrium.

Keith-N-Jax

February 04, 2009, 06:46:08 AM
Look at where now the Landing sits. As you can see Jacksonville practices of doing bad have been around for a long time.

Jason

February 04, 2009, 08:55:09 AM
Great article!  I have some neat shots of the building I'll have to dig up and post.

Jason

February 04, 2009, 09:00:19 AM
Here are a few.


See the window washer?   ;D







hanjin1

February 04, 2009, 09:10:54 AM
I guess those robot window washers don't work anymore

reednavy

February 04, 2009, 09:58:17 AM
I guess those robot window washers don't work anymore

A few weeks ago, I saw it actually working, instead of 3 guys hanging from practically swings with a bucket and squeegie.

Now, if only we can get some of the tinting that is peeling replaced, a few cracked windows fixed, and a nice pressure washing from top to bottom, it'll look spankin new.

stjr

February 04, 2009, 12:07:31 PM
Quote
I also remember they had Morrison's cafeteria on the ground floor, and up one floor was a table service restaurant, with tables either against the glass outer wall (which was starting to slope inward) or overlooking the atrium.

The table service restaurant was called "Tree Tops" as I recall.  Used to eat there and at Morrison's all the time when I worked downtown.  I don't know what the actual numbers are, but it seems that downtown had a lot more office workers in the early 80's, and correspondingly more restaurants, than they do now.  Another downtown favorite was Mugs (it had thousands of mugs handing on the walls).

By the way, the River Club was originally at the top of the Prudential (now Aetna) building before moving to the Independent Life/Modis building.  For most of its life, it was all male at lunch and women could only attend at dinner with a male member (no jokes here folks :D !).

It seems to me that JEA did a land swap with Independent Life, giving them the land where the parking garage on Bay Street is for the old Independent Life tower that became JEA's HQ's before JEA moved to the Universal Marion Building.

I liked the old lobby better.  They removed too much vegetation when they remodeled.  You used to feel you were in an indoor "forest".  I guess the trees got too big.

heights unknown

February 04, 2009, 05:10:03 PM
1) I still want to call it "Independent Life." As a kid, whenever I looked at this building, the music from "Phantom of the Opera" would always play within my head.

2) I remember seeing it being built in 1973 when I was 16 years old; at the time, it was the "center of attention" in the skyline and the only "true" tall building in the Jax skyline; therefore it looked extremely big and tall back then and could have been, or probably was, mistaken for a supertall (thought to be taller than it really is).

3) Though it is not a supertall, it's appearance and tallness is indeed misleading; you think it is taller than what it is when viewing it from afar or "in your face."

4) I was kind of sad two times for this building; 1) when Tampa City Center took away the tallest in the state title away from it; 2) When the new BOA Building took away the tallest in the City from it. Tampa City Center is only 2 or 3 feet taller than MODIS; and to this day I believe that Tampa did this on purpose so that they would have the "tallest in the state" title.

5) I always dream of them one day completely reconstructing and/or refurbishing this building by adding at least 30 more floors and making it over 900 feet tall instead of 535 feet tall; technological ingenuity would have to be at it's top uppermost in order for a feat of this magnitude to be accomplished.

6) MODIS, (Independent Life) is still the grandest building, in my mind and in my opinion, in the Jacksonville Skyline.  Even if they build four or more buildings taller than it, it will still maintain it's grip and awe on the Jacksonville skyline.  In my opinion, none other can compare.

7) Though BOA is taller, and more modern, this is my most favorite building in our skyline; I truly adore and love this building. :D  I hope I am dead and gone when the wrecking ball, or some other freak of nature or natural disaster destroys it.

Heights Unknown :)

Steve

February 04, 2009, 05:59:12 PM
I just wish it had better access from the street - it's kind of a mess to walk past.  If the shops opened out, it would help a bit.

thelakelander

February 04, 2009, 06:07:42 PM
After paying attention while walking through it, most of the ground level retail spaces are now empty.

stjr

February 04, 2009, 07:09:20 PM
I just wish it had better access from the street - it's kind of a mess to walk past.  If the shops opened out, it would help a bit.

I think the street frontage was planned to fit in with that 1971 city master plan or some other version like it where there were supposed to be elevated sidewalks connecting to the block.  Obviously, that never happened and now, it, like some other buildings designed around the same standard (e.g. the Atlantic Bank/Sun Trust/BB&T tower), look a bit awkward at ground level.

As I recall, the BofA tower, originally built by Barnett Banks as their executive offices, is supposed to be a "duplicate" or slightly modified version, albeit a different height, of a tower in New York.

billy

February 04, 2009, 07:29:36 PM
Helmut Jahn architect, out of Chicago

stjr

February 04, 2009, 07:51:53 PM
You gotta love the internet.  Look at this nifty page featuring Jax skycrapers in height order.  You can click and it will rearrange them in order of date built.  Very nice reference site for downtown building and history lovers!

http://skyscraperpage.com/diagrams/?cityID=135

27 Jax buildings are featured.

heights unknown

February 04, 2009, 08:59:33 PM
BOA in jax is supposed to be a duplicate of the slightly shorter 561 Foot tall "Park Avenue Tower" in New York City; they don't resemble each other all that much to me except for the pyramid shape at the top, and even the pyramid on Park Avenue is much smaller than Jax BOA's.

Please access http://www.emporis.com/en/wm/bu/?id=114550 to see for yourself.

Heights Unknown

jeh1980

February 04, 2009, 10:43:15 PM
I love this building. It was one of the best buildings ever built. There were still archives out there saying that the building was built in 1975 which I intend to believe. That was a good year for achitecture in this town. I hope that one day, they will put more local/national retail on the ground level real soon. But I would wonder what would it be like if Independent Square had a twin tower next door. Keep the faith!  :D 8)

Charles Hunter

February 04, 2009, 10:59:33 PM
Not a twin tower - an inverted twin, with the wide part at the top!!

\-------/
.\-----/
..|---|
..|---|
..|---|

BridgeTroll

February 05, 2009, 07:23:52 AM
You gotta love the internet.  Look at this nifty page featuring Jax skycrapers in height order.  You can click and it will rearrange them in order of date built.  Very nice reference site for downtown building and history lovers!

http://skyscraperpage.com/diagrams/?cityID=135

27 Jax buildings are featured.

Cool site... up to date too with the Strand and Peninsula.

Doctor_K

February 05, 2009, 08:42:48 AM
No Berkman though.  Odd.  Still, a cool find!

Tripoli1711

February 05, 2009, 09:10:47 AM
If you click on the BOA Tower on that skyscraperpage it reads:  "- At night, four of the Bank of America Tower's 8 triangular panels are illuminated, crowning the top of the building and the Jacksonville Skyline.".  Really?  Sigh.....

copperfiend

February 05, 2009, 10:42:53 AM
BOA in jax is supposed to be a duplicate of the slightly shorter 561 Foot tall "Park Avenue Tower" in New York City; they don't resemble each other all that much to me except for the pyramid shape at the top, and even the pyramid on Park Avenue is much smaller than Jax BOA's.

Please access http://www.emporis.com/en/wm/bu/?id=114550 to see for yourself.

Heights Unknown

There is a slight resemblence I suppose. It's amazing how small the one in NYC looks with it's surroundings.

Jason

February 05, 2009, 01:02:22 PM
I'm glad the BofA turned out better that its predecessor in NYC.  That thing it UGLY!

heights unknown

February 05, 2009, 08:46:17 PM
If BOA was in NYC it too would look small and insignificant compared to the surrounding buildings and skyscrapers; it would be just another building in the skyline.  Good thing it was built here because it (BOA) is the "bell of the ball" because of its "tallest building" status and the fact that there are no supertalls and/or very few talls in the skyline.

Heights Unknown

heights unknown

February 05, 2009, 08:47:24 PM
Are you serious?  I don't think that would go over well (an inverted twin tower MODIS building).

Heights Unknown :-\

jeh1980

February 06, 2009, 01:15:26 AM
I love this building. It was one of the best buildings ever built. There were still archives out there saying that the building was built in 1975 which I intend to believe. That was a good year for achitecture in this town. I hope that one day, they will put more local/national retail on the ground level real soon. But I would wonder what would it be like if Independent Square had a twin tower next door. Keep the faith!  :D 8)

Not a twin tower - an inverted twin, with the wide part at the top!!

\-------/
.\-----/
..|---|
..|---|
..|---|

Are you serious?  I don't think that would go over well (an inverted twin tower MODIS building).

Heights Unknown :-\

Yeah. It don't seem right. I thinking of a twin tower that would replace the Modis Tower garage! That is if they have room enough for it...

Charles Hunter

February 06, 2009, 05:51:15 AM
OK, I'm not really serious.  Anyway, getting an architect or business in this town to do anything out of the ordinary in this town is a dream anyway.  Another "Modis" on their garage site would be cool.

JeffreyS

February 06, 2009, 06:42:25 AM
The BCBS building kind of has that inverted look.

jeh1980

February 06, 2009, 10:44:19 PM
Alright! Now that we got Independent Square out of the way, is there any way we can dig up some history on the Riverplace Tower (formally Gulf Life Tower) and the AT&T Tower (Southern Bell/Bellsouth). As I recall, the AT&T Tower also have a little mall just like Independent Square and it too also a Morrison's Restaurant way back in the day.

copperfiend

February 06, 2009, 11:22:32 PM
I remember going to a mall inside one of the buildings on the Southbank as a child. There was a clothing store called Strawberry Fields I believe but most of the stores were empty. There was also a store that sold sports clothing on the Southbank. I think all of those storefronts are empty at the current time.

stjr

February 07, 2009, 12:24:15 AM
I don't know of a Morrisons in ATT/Bellsouth/Southern Bell.  But Riverplace, when it was Gulf Life, did have a Morrisons or equivalent on the ground level looking out over the river as I recall.  There also was a local bank in the lobby called St. Johns River Bank I believe.

The "mall" you may be recalling could be the mini-mall of stores that were on the street side of the once Hilton/Sheraton (now Crowne) hotel at ground level below the plaza.  There were also stores along the Southbank Riverwalk where the Wyndam (formerly Radisson/Sheraton) is - I think the complex was called "The Wharf".

Does anyone remember Diamond Head at the foot of the Acosta before River City Brewing?  Or the Travel Lodge at the Acosta on ramp from San Marco Blvd?  Or Brandons Camera on the Southbank before it moved to the Skateland building on Kings Road (now PRI Productions)?  Or when the Suddath Building was the IBM Building?  When the Aetna building was Prudential and the ground floor had a bank called "The State Bank"?

Charles Hunter

February 07, 2009, 08:22:49 AM
I remember all of that, except Brandon's, don't remember where it used to be.

Also remember that, when the Gulf Life Tower was finished and getting ready to open, there was a local rumor that (then) well-known 'psychic' Jeanne Dixon ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeane_Dixon ) predicted it would fall down.  When local reporters contacted her, she said she'd never heard of the building, so couldn't have predicted it's fall.

jeh1980

February 10, 2009, 05:17:18 AM
I don't know of a Morrisons in ATT/Bellsouth/Southern Bell.  But Riverplace, when it was Gulf Life, did have a Morrisons or equivalent on the ground level looking out over the river as I recall.  There also was a local bank in the lobby called St. Johns River Bank I believe.

The "mall" you may be recalling could be the mini-mall of stores that were on the street side of the once Hilton/Sheraton (now Crowne) hotel at ground level below the plaza.  There were also stores along the Southbank Riverwalk where the Wyndam (formerly Radisson/Sheraton) is - I think the complex was called "The Wharf".
To be honest with you, I read that there actually was a Morrison's @ in the Southern Bell Tower (AT&T). I was researching a 1985 issue of Jacksonville Magazine @ the old Main Library downtown and I saw a page with the picture of the Tower Mall sign with the building on the background. It was surprised to find out that Morrison's was actually listed as one of the tenants. Ain't that something!

YellowBluffRoad

February 28, 2009, 03:34:16 PM
Yes, there was a Strawberry Fields in that mini-mall under the Hilton.

I remember all of those places, including when Brandon's was on the Southpoint. I can't remember exactly which street, though. I used to go in as a kid with my dad, who's a shutterbug. They were very popular and the tiny store was crammed with stuff. They needed more space, and got it with the move to the former skating rink.

Yep, my parents banked at The State Bank. I still remember the long drive-through lines when Mom would take me after school to go cash Dad's paycheck before he could go spend it at Brandon's. :)

Jaxnative1

March 03, 2009, 08:17:57 AM
The Independent Life Building was the very first place I worked.  It brings back fond memories.  I worked in the "Personnel Dept" as part of a school-work program back in 1977.  I've lived away from Jacksonville (my birthplace) since 1981 but I fondly remember the Jacksonville Skyline from my youth. Jaxnative1 (Agnes Campbell)

nicktooch

March 04, 2009, 07:07:44 PM
how come there is no info about the switch to "modis"?

jeh1980

March 07, 2009, 06:39:09 AM
Independent Life Building became "Accustaff" in 1998 and lasted for a short time. Then Modis came on the scene shortly before the new millennium started. I think I have that right!

heights unknown

March 10, 2009, 05:21:28 AM
The AccuStaff sign on the building just didn't quite catch it with me; now the MODIS sign is large, and imposing, I love it!

Heights Unknown

johnsantangelo

March 22, 2009, 04:24:12 PM
MPS Group was once known as AccuStaff, then Modis Professional Services, and now MPS Group. The Modis name (now the IT staffing business unit of MPS Group) has remained on the building though.

Ocklawaha

March 22, 2009, 06:06:42 PM
Quote
HeightsUnknown, February 5, 2009, 8:46 pm
Re: Unique Jacksonville: Independent Square

If BOA was in NYC it too would look small and insignificant compared to the surrounding buildings and skyscrapers; it would be just another building in the skyline.  Good thing it was built here because it (BOA) is the "bell of the ball" because of its "tallest building" status and the fact that there are no supertalls and/or very few talls in the skyline.

This is not a slam on you HeightsUnknown, but I'm always amazed how we Americans tend to think we own the World. Yes our BOA building would vanish in the NYC skyline, like a drop of water in the sea.

But the funny part is our NYC would vanish into the skyline of SAO PAULO, BRASIL, or Hong Kong.


OCKLAWAHA

stjr

May 05, 2009, 01:42:00 AM
Does anyone remember Diamond Head at the foot of the Acosta before River City Brewing?  Or the Travel Lodge at the Acosta on ramp from San Marco Blvd? 

Well, here is the Travel Lodge!

Overstreet

October 14, 2009, 09:27:30 AM
The second picture is probably pre 1960. Notice the Civic Auditorium (built early 60s), Daniel Building, and old city hall are missing.

Independent Life building has several levels of parking garage under the building. They also used to shoot fire works off the building roof for the 4th of July.

When The Auchter Company was building the thing they found a rail road steam engine burried under the building. WHen it was docks a steam engine derailed and fell off the dock into the mud. It was too big to remove from the mud so they left it. It was too big and envolved to remove at building time so they removed the caisson layout and built the buliding around it.

Charles Hunter

October 14, 2009, 10:52:09 AM
When The Auchter Company was building the thing they found a rail road steam engine burried under the building. WHen it was docks a steam engine derailed and fell off the dock into the mud. It was too big to remove from the mud so they left it. It was too big and envolved to remove at building time so they removed the caisson layout and built the buliding around it.

Uh oh - now Ock is going to want to go spelunking to check out the choo choo!  :)

joydoy

December 04, 2010, 06:59:34 PM
Jean Dixon DID say Gulf Life would fall before it opened. It was (at the time) the tallest building in Jax. However, the letters fell into the St Johns....not the building, of course. So....in essence, Gulf Life did really fall. If she said she never heard of the building....she was lying.

Timkin

December 04, 2010, 10:41:59 PM
Pretty neat!

ricker

December 15, 2010, 02:24:12 AM
HOORRAAAAAY Laura street revitalization!

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