Remembering The Hotel Robert Meyer

December 24, 2010 68 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville takes a look at what was Florida's largest commercial hotel at the time of its opening on March 22, 1959: The Hotel Robert Meyer.

Grand Beginnings

Under construction in 1958.

The Robert Meyer Hotel was the brainchild of owner Jack Meyer of Alabama, a former World War II Flying Tigers squadron pilot.  The hotel was named for Meyer's father and brother, who both happened to be named Robert.

Standing 21 stories, the Robert Meyer Hotel was designed by New York Architect William B. Tabler Sr (1914 - 2004).  During his career, Tabler designed more than 400 hotels, including New York's 46-story slablike New York Hilton at Rockefeller Center.

Breaking ground on July 9, 1957, the hotel's early days recieved much fanfare, including a 'topping out party' that was covered by the Wall Street Journal.  Rising 215', it was the first hotel to be constructed in Jacksonville in 32 years and Florida's largest hotel at the time of its grand opening on March 22, 1959.

The $6 million tower was said to have everything including a block long marble lobby & tropical garden, jewelry store, roof-top pool, cabana-deck, three restaurants, a cocktail lounge and a two level, 190 space underground parking garage.  It was also the home of the Windsor Room, a space that would become the "great hall of Jacksonville's civic leaders" for over two decades.  Home to 160 employees, the hotel's 563 guest rooms didn't begin until the fifth floor, the same level as the roof-top pool.

A postcard showing the Robert Meyer's roof-top pool.

The hotel's main restaurant, Cafe Carib featured mosaic panels by noted Japanese artist Tetsuyu Kohchi and its Bali Hai Lounge was the home of a grand mural by famed artist Charles Cobelle (1902-1994).

Born in Alsace - Lorraine France in 1902, Charles Cobelle (born Carl Edelman) lived and painted in Paris until the late 1920’s when he moved to the United States.

Cobelle took his Bachelor's and his Master's degrees from the University of Munich and later studied at the L’Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. He also studied privately with Marc Chagall and apprenticed in the studio of Raul Dufy in Menton on the Riviera.

In the time before he moved to the United States, Cobelle had established himself as an artistic force in Europe and today is considered the last link to the great tradition of the Open Line School of Paris.

Cobelle had already become a U.S. citizen before the outbreak of World War II. In the United States his paintings were immediately sought after by galleries and private collectors alike. Throughout his long and prosperous career, Cobelle painted his favorite subjects; Paris street scenes, race tracks, ragattas and casinos.

In addition to his mixed media paintings his work has graced the covers of many of this countries leading magazines and his murals have adorned the walls of many elegant residences, public buildings, fine hotels and restaurants.

Hotel Lobby (Source: Jacksonville Public Library Special Collections Department)

Cafe Cribe (Source: Jacksonville Public Library Special Collections Department)

Hotel Ballroom (Source: Jacksonville Public Library Special Collections Department)

Failed Expectations

The hotel opened Jacksonville to the lucrative convention trade and gave the city exposure to state and regional groups who held annual meetings.

''It afforded an opportunity to bring a lot of conventions here that had never been able to come here before for lack of lodging,'' Corey said.

But the convention bonanza never materialized. Despite the early fanfare, the hotel soon began a downhill financial slide and closed in bankruptcy in 1977. In 1980, a group of Jacksonville investors that included developer Preston Haskell purchased the hotel and spent $10 million on improvements. They reopened it as the Holiday Inn City Center. But by 1982, the building was closed again due to lack of business.

The 387 room Holiday Inn City Center opened on April 7, 1980.  The complex included Old Orleans (a gourmet restaurant), The Big Apple Lounge, Palm Beach Cafe, a 1,000 person capacity ballroom and meeting rooms.  The 11 meeting rooms were named after U.S. cities such as Boston, San Francisco and Denver.  When it shut down two years later on July 7, 1982, 150 employees were laid off and $200,801 in annual tax revenue was lost.

The End

Francis Callahan of Madison, Wis., got into town Friday night to visit two daughters and didn't know about the implosion.

''Fantastic,'' said Callahan, 51. ''It's the first time I've seen one in real life. Boom. It was gone. It was just a rush. This is a good way to start off a week's vacation. It's going to be one helluva week.''

Source: Jacksonville Public Library Special Collections Department

The Federal Courthouse occupies the site of the former Robert Meyer Hotel today.

After 16 years of abandonment, the Robert Meyer Hotel was imploded in front of 2,000 spectators to make way for the Judge Bryan Simpson Federal Courthouse.

Article by Ennis Davis