Metro Jacksonville takes a look into the past of downtown's blighted surface parking lots: The Cunningham Furniture Company.
Established as a small bicycle shop by John A. Cunningham in 1889, the Cunningham Furniture Company eventually grew to become Florida's oldest furniture company and one of the Southeast's largest home furnishing businesses.
From a very small store on Forsyth in 1889, handling bicycles, etc., we have steadily grown in size, volume of business and standing in the community and state, as the Furniture Store that can be depended upon when furniture is needed for a simple bungalow, a pretentionus mansion, an apartment house or hotel.Florida Times Union - 5/25/51
For $2.00 per day, downtown visitors have the priviledge of parking their cars on the same foundation that held up the original Cunningham Furniture Building (shown above) at the northeast corner of Forsyth and Broad Streets.
"A move which will result in a $3 million expansion of Florida's oldest furniture company was announced yesterday"
In 1956, the Sears, Roebuck & Company announced plans to build downtown's largest department store on Bay Street, between Pearl and Hogan Streets (current site of the Omni Hotel). This announcement opened up the opportunity for Cunningham Furniture to purchase the old block long Sears store that sat across the street from the furniture company, on the southside of Forsyth Street between Broad and Clay Streets. Completed in 1957, this move made the Cunningham Furniture Company one of the largest furniture stores in the South.
The old Sears store was located on the southeast corner of Broad & Forsyth, stretching an entire block to the intersection of Forsyth & Clay.
Becoming a part of Jacksonville's parking empire
Cunningham Furniture Company (old Sears location) site today
The Cunningham Furniture Company would prosper in downtown and anchor this gateway block to LaVilla for nearly three decades. However, the 1980s would bring an end to Cunningham's era as Jacksonville's oldest furniture company. Like Sears (closed 1981), Rosenblums (closed 1981), Furchgotts (closed 1984), Levy-Wolf (closed 1984), Ivey's (closed 1985), JCPenney (closed 1985) and May-Cohens (closed 1987), Jacksonville's largest furniture store would also cease operations during this dark period of downtown retail.
After 95 years of operation, the Cunningham Furniture Company closed for good in 1984. However, the vacant historic building that housed this company would not remain vacant for long. This entire block would soon be leveled to make way for the multistory parking garage, completed in 1988, which stands there today.
Article by Ennis Davis