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What to do with LaVilla?

The recent scquabble between the Mayor's Office and Jerry Holland over the need to construct an $8 million Supervisor of Elections office/warehouse complex near the Ritz Theatre has overlooked the question of if such a project is even worthy for this historically significant area. For those who question its significance, here is a brief summary behind the sites still standing in Florida's first urbanized African-American community.

Published December 12, 2012 in History      24 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article


Building Locator Map

1. Jacksonville Terminal - 1000 West Bay Street - 1919

Completed in 1919, this Southern anomaly served as an official gateway to Florida, handling as many as 20,000 passengers a day.  With a design based off of New York's Pennsylvania Station, it was the largest train station south of Washington, DC.  Prior to its closing, every president since Warren Harding passed either through its concourse or platforms.  It's greatest year was 1944.  That year, it employed over 2,000 residents and shuttled over 10 million passengers.

2. 927 West Forsyth Street - 1909

927 West Forsyth is one of the few buildings remaining in the vicinity of the Jacksonville Terminal.  Constructed in 1909, one of the buildings early tenants was F.W. King & Company. For many years it was the home of the Southeast Wheel & Rim Company. The remaining two buildings on the block shared by 927 West Forsyth have housed a variety of uses over years including City Meat & Slaughter House company in 1925.  927 West Forsyth, like all of the West Forsyth Street buildings between Lee and Jefferson Streets, once faced the massive Atlantic & East Coast Terminal Company's freight depot.

A 1913 Advertisement for F.W. King & Company. Courtesy of The Rotarian, 1913.

Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida.

3. 827 West Forsyth Street - 1953

In 1954, brothers William and Emmett, opened Khoury Brothers Wholesale Dry Goods.  William was one of the first young men in Duval County to volunteer in the U.S. Army during World War II.

4. 825 West Forsyth Street - 1902

Across the street from the now demolished railroad terminal, this building dates back to 1902.  In 1915, the Jax Chero-Cola Bottling Company operated out of the structure.  Chero-Cola was founded in 1905 as the Union Bottling Works by Claud A. Hatcher in Columbus, GA.  Hatcher's first beverages were named Royal Crown, a ginger ale and a cola called Chero-Cola.  In 1912, the company's name was changed to Chero-Cola.  Over the years, the company's name has changed and it is now known as Royal Crown Cola International.  During the mid 20th century, Atlantic Printers and Dixie Suppy Company Inc. (dry goods) were located here.

5. 801 West Forsyth Street -

In 1920, Philip Bork operated his Bork & Sons business out of this small building.  Bork & Sons were in the bed springs industry.  During the 1950s, it was the location of Southern States Iron Roofing Company.  It is one of several small and interesting buildings remaining in LaVilla where the complete history remains relatively unknown.

6. Fairmont Creamery Company Building - 122 North Jefferson Street - 1945

This building was constructed for the Fairmont Creamery Company. Fairmont specialized in butter, eggs, cheese, poultry and frozen foods.  Products and supplies were shipped by a rail spur on Houston Street. The creamery company was incorporated March 29, 1884 by William Wheeler and Joseph H. Rushton in Fairmont, Nebraska.  It became a pioneer in milk can pickup and was one of the first creameries to provide farmers with their own hand-operated cream separators.

Throughout its history, Fairmont Creamery Company was known in the dairy industry for its quality control and progressive methods of food production and distribution. By 1959 Fairmont was among the country's 500 largest corporations. In 1980, Fairmont merged with a subsidiary of American Financial Corporation of Cincinnati, Ohio, and changed its name to Utotem, Inc. Between 1980 and 1984, all of its properties and subsidiaries were either sold or closed, marking the end of a great American name.

The Fairmont Creamery in 1949. Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

7. 632 West Forsyth Street - 1909

Dating back to 1909, Benjamin Reid's Reid Brother's Moving & Storage operations were housed at 632 West Forsyth Street. During the 1950s, it was utilized by Cunningham Furniture as a used furniture warehouse. In the later half of the 20th century it was the home of the Davis Brothers Furniture Company.

8. 618 West Forsyth Street - 1914

Many urban core residents remember 618 West Forsyth Street as Club Kartouche.  However, the nearly century old building was once the Eagle Laundry Company.

9. The Adams Building - 525 West Bay Street - 1895

The Adams Building is one of the few remaining structures unscathed by the Great Fire of 1901. It was constructed as a hotel catering to transients using the railroad terminal in 1895.

10. The El Modelo Cigar Factory - 501 West Bay Street - 1886

Constructed in 1886, this building is one of three downtown structures east of Broad, built before the Great Fire.  During it's heyday, it was occupied by the El Modelo Cigar Factory, which employed 225 workers. While Tampa is known as Cigar City because of Vincente Ybor, Jacksonville had 15 cigar plants itself around the turn of the century. El Modelo is significant because in 1893, Jose Marti, founder of the Cuban Revolutionary Party gave a fiery speech at this location to build support  for liberation of his homeland. From 1915 to 1965, the building was a hotel, operating as the Plaza, the Hillsboro, the Southern, and the New York Hotel. Today it is an office building and the largest remaining nineteenth-century commercial building in Jacksonville.

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triclops i

December 12, 2012, 04:04:24 AM


December 12, 2012, 04:33:03 AM
Great history lesson Ennis. Thank you.
Was 2012-732 removing the chairs from Hemming Plaza introduced last night at the full meeting of the Jacksonville city council?
Today at 2pm 1st floor city hall our new DIA Board will hear a presentation about our future branding for our city and a last minute presentation about 2012-732.
2025 is 2012


December 12, 2012, 08:56:02 AM
great tour Ennis!

ben says

December 12, 2012, 09:00:02 AM
Tried to invest in that building in the first picture with the multicolored 'windows'--unfortunately, the agent was one of the worst I've ever dealt with.


December 12, 2012, 09:16:10 AM
Any of these buildings up for sale?

Adam W

December 12, 2012, 09:22:09 AM
Looks like they've got a lot of great parking in Lavilla.


December 12, 2012, 09:29:34 AM
That is a wonderful history lesson!  Thanks so much for all your hard work!!!


December 12, 2012, 09:35:13 AM
good stuff!

ben says

December 12, 2012, 09:43:41 AM
Any of these buildings up for sale?

Yes...2 or 3 I can think of off the top of my head. Like many agents in this city, the one I worked with was completely delusional


December 12, 2012, 10:20:42 AM
wonderful Ennis.  Thanks


December 12, 2012, 10:58:54 AM
What a treasure of information! Thanks for all your hard work.


December 12, 2012, 12:16:34 PM
Is the Old Stanton School being used today?  It looks to be in good condition.

The Masonic Lodge is a beautiful building.  I wish someone would occupy it.   

Cheshire Cat

December 12, 2012, 12:48:21 PM
Great piece Ennis and I love the research and history you put together.  You know I have done a lot of work and research in La Villa as well and probably have original pictures you have never seen of some of the beautiful homes that were torn down that still had character and structural integrity.  All the homes as you have shown were not all row houses, not by a long shot.  What you also showed in the pictures is that LaVilla was very "uptown" In its day.  Men and women were well dressed when they visited local businesses and were themselves respectful, educated, talented and business minded individuals. 

Of course I was happy to see the "Historic Brewster Hospital" in the article as well.   I am very proud of that save in LaVilla.  Did you know that when the building was under restoration, we actually discovered that 1885 is not when it was built?  The original structure was older.  It began as a four room winter home with an offsite kitchen and outhouse.  The first building and smoke stack was uncovered during restoration.  The build date is believed to be around 1865 with the first "Italianate" features added in 1885, which is when the date in the porch trim was added.  Then some time later it underwent yet a third addition that was added early enough to still make it "historic".  Can't remember the date of that addition right off the bat.  Up in the rafters of the original structure and on a support beam there are the signatures of myself, Councilwoman Glorious Johnson and all the Brewster Nurses.  Now you all know a secret about the building as well.  :)  The tale of the destruction of LaVilla is a long one and can only be fully understood when the background stories of race, developers, passing out of city money and private agenda's are discussed.  Fortunately, many of those influences have lost power and stature and perhaps it is a good time to do as you have done and revisit the issue and save what is left of the historic community of LaVilla.  I will add more info later if you like. 

Debbie Thompson

December 12, 2012, 01:15:27 PM
Absolutley, Cheshire.  It is incredibly sad what was lost, and so important to save the rest.  Ennis, thanks so much for the history of some of those old buildings I have so admired as I drive home up Broad Street every day.  Knowing the history makes them even more wonderful in my eyes.

Cheshire Cat

December 12, 2012, 06:55:25 PM
Apparently the city is now investigating commercial use for the property in LaVilla that the SOE is interested in.

Mike D

December 12, 2012, 09:36:58 PM
Great article filled with important history.  Excellent job of pulling it all together and reminding us of the forgotten history of this part of town.  I learned a lot in this one!


December 12, 2012, 11:17:49 PM

LaVilla's Railroad Row on West Bay Street during the early 20th century. Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida.

Fantastic tour Lakelander! 

I'm still trying to square this photo with the caption, the building on the right appears to be the massive A & EC Terminal Station, but that station was behind "railroad row" and not easily visible from Bay Street. The double track streetcar line DOES appear to be Bay Street, but there were several other lines in La Villa, a bunch of which were pulled up and moved around. Could this be another building that we haven't ID'ed?

Anybody have any ideas?


December 13, 2012, 12:33:46 AM
^That image is taken of Bay Street, looking west, in the vicinity of Madison Street (if it were extended to Bay).  Here is a sanborn map showing the general urban footprint:


December 13, 2012, 12:36:25 AM
The tale of the destruction of LaVilla is a long one and can only be fully understood when the background stories of race, developers, passing out of city money and private agenda's are discussed.  Fortunately, many of those influences have lost power and stature and perhaps it is a good time to do as you have done and revisit the issue and save what is left of the historic community of LaVilla.  I will add more info later if you like.

I'd love to hear more.  I'm taking you out for coffee when I get back to town after the Christmas.


December 13, 2012, 09:58:55 AM
LaVilla offers us a broad scope of destination sites. As stated the ethnic history is rich, and that is in addition to railroad history, streetcars, music, artists etc.

The first demolition of the neighborhood on a large scale was when they put the Jacksonville Expressway Authority's highway (the future I-95) right through the western quarter.  It would be nice to know the history of those buildings located just west of the 'expressway' in the vicinity of the 'old brickyard' or 'brick church.'

Cheshire Cat

December 13, 2012, 05:06:36 PM
I will look forward to that coffee Ennis.  :)

heights unknown

June 06, 2013, 05:29:06 PM
There is no more LaVilla; I mean, the real LaVilla that I knew when I was a child (age 8 to 11). Those of you who know me and have read my posts in the past know that I was raised, and lived in LaVilla from 1965 to 1968 (817 West Duval Street long torn down), before my Mom and I moved to Fort Myers. You can never recapture the taste, flair, flamboyance, history, and culture of what was LaVilla; so in my opinion, the best thing to do is leave that buried, at rest have you. But in respect to LaVilla, in and of itself, bring in developments that will make it notable, alive, and noteworthy with a definite identity to Jacksonvillians and those visitors from outside of the City. One thing I would like to see is LaVilla transformed into a business and residential district and culture, existing side by side in LaVilla...akin to what Miami did with Brickell but with a Jacksonville taste; yes, nice mid to high rise skyscrapers, both residential and commercial, with stores and other businesses lined around in support of the people who live and work not only around LaVilla, but also within the new neighborhood itself, and, I think this would greatly complement and support the new Train Station/Transportation Center, and also the new construction going on south of LaVilla in Brooklyn. If not this, then make LaVilla full of residential low to mid rise structures, along with apartment buildings, stores, gas stations, etc., where anyone of any race can live there.


June 06, 2013, 06:04:06 PM
Medium-density neighborhood with 5-10 story mixed-use buildings on Broad St, Beaver St and Forsyth or Bay St with primarily residential (rowhouses/townhouses, 3-4 story apt buildings) filling in the rest, with a park/square on one of the currently vacant blocks around Adams and Lee or Lee/Church.


July 13, 2013, 08:53:47 PM
Who could have foreseen in our fervent wish to sit next to White folks in diners, we would lose our civic identity?
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