Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
 

Lost Jacksonville: The George Washington Hotel

On November 11, 1925, the same month Charles Ponzi's days of selling area swampland to real estate investors were coming to an end, Robert Kloeppel announced his intentions to construct the largest and most magnificent hotel in Jacksonville. Kloeppel, who owned the Flagler Hotel near the train station at the time, had arrived in Jacksonville from Germany two decades earlier broke and penniless.

Published January 18, 2013 in History      23 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article


feature

As Jacksonville rose from the ashes of the Great Fire of 1901, so did Kloeppel's bank account and fortune. Blessed with good work ethic, he went from being a mechanic with the Seaboard Air Line Railroad, the first man in Florida to fly, and a real estate investor, before entering the hotel business with his purchase of the Flagler Hotel in 1920.

Kloeppel had also married Jacob Hilderbrant's daughter, Minny Lucy in 1913. Hilderbrant, a native of Germany, migrated to Jacksonville in 1856, originally ran a grocery and spirits store downtown.  Eventually, Hilderbrant made huge sums of money in real estate. When he died in 1912, he left several parcels of downtown property for his three children.  Kloeppel's hotel would rise on the land Hilderbrant had left his daugther.  Across the street, William Hilderbrant, Jacob's son and Kloeppel's brother-in-law, constructed the six-story Hilderbrant Building the same year Kloeppel's hotel was being built.


Hotel The George Washington during its early years. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/118037

Designed by local architectural firm Marsh & Saxelbye, Kloeppel's $1.5 million Hotel George Washington opened its doors on December 15, 1926 with Mayor John Alsop, Governor John W. Martin, and former Governor Cary Hardee in attendance.  Standing 13 stories tall, it was one seven downtown highrises under construction in 1926.  Others included the Lynch Building/11 East (17 stories), Riverside's Park Lane Apartments (17 stories), the Carling Hotel (13 stories), the Greenleaf & Crosby Building (12 stories), and the Atlantic Bank Annex (10 stories). In addition, Kloeppel's George Washington was the nation's first 100% air-conditioned hotel and each of its 350 rooms featured a radio loudspeaker and headphones. The "Hotel George Washington" sign, built on the rooftop, was the first neon sign in the city. With its opening, Jacksonville had arrived on the scene as a rapidly growing cosmopolitan cities. Instantly, it became the city's hub for conventions and large meetings.  Commercial uses in the massive structure included a steak house, cocktail lounge, a Rexall drugstore and a barber shop.


Dave Sholtz and friends at a banquet in the Hotel George Washington during the 1930s. Sholtz was Florida's Governor from 1933-1937. Courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/52306

In 1927, at a George Washington Hotel dinner-dance party, Kloeppel announced a $1,000 prize for the first flier to conquer the Atlantic.  His hope was that the winner would come to Jacksonville to collect. His wish came true, when Charles Lindbergh accomplished the feat less than a month later, coming to the George Washington to collect the pot on May 16, 1927. In 1941, Kloeppel added an auditorium to the hotel that was large enough for concerts, balls, car and boat shows.


A postcard illustrating the Rainbow Cocktail Lounge & Bar.

Over the years, the George Washington was the epicenter of activity in downtown.  For example, on October 13, 1954, thousands of people filled downtown's streets to watch German aerialists walk a 175' high tightrope strung from the building. In 1960, thousands packed the hotel's auditorium for the Brook's Fashion Show. Sponsored by Levy's and Brook's Motors, Inc., the show featured fine clothes and cars on the catwalk.


The Brook's Fashion Show, sponsored by Levy's and Brook's Motors, Inc., featuring fine clothes and cars, packed the George Washington's auditorium in 1960. Courtesy of http://www.imperialclub.com/Yr/1960/1960News/03-reg.jpg


The Brook's Fashion Show, sponsored by Levy's and Brook's Motors, Inc., featuring fine clothes and cars, packed the George Washington's auditorium in 1960. Courtesy of http://www.imperialclub.com/Yr/1960/1960News/02a-reg.jpg

Unfortunately, like many downtown Jacksonville treasures, the George Washington's heydays would come to a quick, unfortunate, and abrupt end.  Robert Kloeppel died in 1961 at the age of 72, leaving his son, Robert Kloeppel, Jr. in charge of the hotel empire he had established. In 1963, Robert Kloeppel, Jr. sold the Hotel George Washington to William H. (Big Bill) Johnston.  Johnston, owner of Jacksonville's dog tracks and Chicagoland's Sportsman's Park, had ties with the Al Capone mob. Johnston had taken over the tracks after the former owner of the tracks, Edward J. O'Hare, was murdered in 1939.

Quote
The first move against the S & G came out of Tallahassee. Fuller Warren, a good ol' boy from Florida's Panhandle, had been elected governor in 1948. Bill Johnston, a Jacksonville dog track owner who was tied in with the Capone Gang, illegally contributed $155,000 to Warren's campaign. The governor appointed W.O. Crosby, a Jacksonville private eye with a criminal record, to investigate Miami's gambling syndicates.  Crosby teamed with Duval County sheriff Jimmy Sullivan in a series of raids. Interestingly enough, only S & G parlors were hit.
Source

Quote
Virtually every member of the Capone syndicate has frequented the Miami area and in many instances have engaged in racketeering activities there. During the heyday of Al Capone, the Capone syndicate was in control of dog tracks in virtually every part of the country, including Florida. The Capone syndicate czar of dog racing during that period was Edward J. O'Hare, who was killed in gang warfare in Chicago on November 9, 1939. Just prior to the time O'Hare left his office in Sportsman's Park, Cicero, Ill., he had been holding a conference with William H. Johnston and John Patton in their offices at Sportsman Park. Johnston was then described as a publicity man and Patton was one of the owners of the track along with O'Hare. These individuals were also interested at that time in dog-track operations in Florida. William H. Johnston, 1090 Arbor Lane, Jacksonville, Fla., is presently listed as the president of the Miami Beach Kennel Club, Inc.7 president of the Associated Outdoor Clubs, Inc., Tampa, Fla., president of the Jacksonville Kennel Club, Inc., president of the Orange Park Kennel Club, Inc., all of which are Florida dog tracks. James Patton, the son of John Patton, is listed as the vice president of the Miami Beach Kennel Club, Inc. and the Jacksonville Kennel Club, and is assistant treasurer of the Orange Park Kennel Club, Inc., Jacksonville, Fla. With reference to the Miami Beach Kennel Club, John Patton appeared as one of the owners of this track. Until 1941, John Patton 's name appeared as a stockholder in the Miami Beach Kennel Club. Since that date the stock was transferred to his son, James. John Patton has long been associated with members of the Capone gang. Many years ago he was known as the Boy Mayor of Burnham, a suburb of Chicago, which was the center of vice, gambling, and booze for the Capone syndicate. On April 7, 1925, the press in Chicago reported a raid on the Capone gang headquarters. Arrested in the raid were John Patton, Robert Larry McCullough, Joe Fusco, Frank Nitti and others who were considered then important members of the syndicate.
http://www.onewal.com/kef/kefp2.html


Hotel George Washington stairs and tile flooring in 1948. Courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/51535



 1 2 NEXT 






23 Comments

Noone

January 18, 2013, 04:09:56 AM
Thanks again for the history.

vicupstate

January 18, 2013, 05:24:12 AM
Never knew The Beatles had ever performed in Jax.  A real shame that the building was lost. 

Charles Hunter

January 18, 2013, 06:30:08 AM
Interesting article.  I remember (dimly) going with my parents to events at the GW.
Just a minor nit - unless it was an antique car convention, I don't think the exterior picture at the beginning of the article is from 1960.

thelakelander

January 18, 2013, 07:18:02 AM
Thanks, for catching that.

I-10east

January 18, 2013, 07:56:17 AM
Where exactly was the footprint of the GWH (which surface lot)? The virtual address is listed 200 Julia St. Because I've seen GWH's wiki, and even a MJ article saying that this hotel is now the site of the Federal Courthouse which was actually the Robert Meyer Hotel.

mbwright

January 18, 2013, 08:23:54 AM
Sad.  Such grandeur lost.

thelakelander

January 18, 2013, 08:28:06 AM
Where exactly was the footprint of the GWH (which surface lot)? The virtual address is listed 200 Julia St. Because I've seen GWH's wiki, and even a MJ article saying that this hotel is now the site of the Federal Courthouse which was actually the Robert Meyer Hotel.

The GW was located at the NW corner of Julia and Adams Streets.  It's the block what all the courthouse trailers on it.


It's the paved parking lot bounded by Adams, Julia, Monroe, and Pearl Streets.

thelakelander

January 18, 2013, 08:38:02 AM
Here is the intersection of Clay and Adams on Armistice Day in 1946.  The GW is the tallest building in the background.  The tall building further back is the Carling.  Every building before the GW in this image has been torn down one-by-one over time, eventually becoming the new courthouse's green space.


Image courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/65092

I-10east

January 18, 2013, 09:17:12 AM
^^^Thanks for the info Lake.

Dapperdan

January 18, 2013, 01:56:23 PM
Why was it torn down to begin with? Were there maitenance issues? I guess in 1973 the building would have been about 48 years old. I assume up until this point it had been taken care of.

stephendare

January 18, 2013, 01:57:13 PM
Why was it torn down to begin with? Were there maitenance issues? I guess in 1973 the building would have been about 48 years old. I assume up until this point it had been taken care of.

Schadenfreude.

BackinJax05

January 18, 2013, 02:57:59 PM
My mom graduated from Andrew Jackson High School at the Hotel George Washington in 1952. Sad, now. Both the HGW and mom are gone.

ben says

January 18, 2013, 07:52:34 PM
Great history, but borderline unbearable to look at the pictures/take it all in.

Brian Buchanan

January 19, 2013, 12:10:18 AM
of course because the redneck hillbillie-bible thumpers who run this town dont know s87t!!! and cant appreciate anthing. except making sure gay people dont have equal rights...to which first baptist churh gives a standing ovation!!!

BIG CHEESE 723

January 19, 2013, 01:18:26 AM
VICUPSTATE  The Beatles were definitely here!  Performed in the old Gator Bowl.  This was right after Hurricane Dora.  The only reason I got to go see them is because they were giving away dry ice somewhere nearby and we still had no electricity.  My daddy dropped me off on is way to pick up the ice.  It was blowing a gale that night.  The Beatles were in the north end and I was in the southeast section.  All I could really see was their hair blowing like crazy in the wind.
The GW was one of many hotels and other buildings that I would gaze across the river at night.  My daddy used to go shrimping at the end of Holmesdale Rd. in SS.  I loved to sit and watch all those lights glowing downtown.  The GW and a lot of others had lights blazing out their name on the rooftops.

Timkin

January 20, 2013, 01:14:20 PM
Just one of many amazing buildings razed to make way for a blighted empty lot. Along with all that razing went many of the downtown destinations.

Some would call this progress.   ::)

BackinJax05

January 20, 2013, 09:03:14 PM
^^ Yes, but at least it wasnt allowed to deteriorate away like the Bostwick, Ambassador Hotel, Laura Street Trio + old Barnett across the street.

I still say the HGW, Robert Meyer, and Seminole could have been recyled into newer hotels or condos. (Same could be said for the Floridan & Heard National Bank)

BIG CHEESE 723

January 20, 2013, 10:23:23 PM
amen! 

thelakelander

January 20, 2013, 10:40:49 PM
^^ Yes, but at least it wasnt allowed to deteriorate away like the Bostwick, Ambassador Hotel, Laura Street Trio + old Barnett across the street.

How many years did the Carling, YMCA, and St. James stand empty before being renovated?  If allowed to remain standing instead of immediately being torn down after closing, the GW would have probably been renovated by now, given its history and significance.

BackinJax05

January 20, 2013, 10:50:12 PM
^^ Yes, but at least it wasnt allowed to deteriorate away like the Bostwick, Ambassador Hotel, Laura Street Trio + old Barnett across the street.

How many years did the Carling, YMCA, and St. James stand empty before being renovated?  If allowed to remain standing instead of immediately being torn down after closing, the GW would have probably been renovated by now, given its history and significance.

I know. I was being sarcastic. Guess I should have said so.  :)

thelakelander

January 20, 2013, 10:59:06 PM
lol, my bad.

BackinJax05

January 21, 2013, 12:56:48 AM
lol, my bad.

 :) :)

L.P. Hovercraft

February 11, 2014, 04:36:48 PM
Bump...

Here's a bit more about the Beatles' visit to Jacksonville in '64 from Philly reporter Larry Kane:

Quote
Press guy Derek Taylor arranged for me to come to a room where the guys were hanging out, and for a change, I had some news for them. My station in Miami had advised me that the management of the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., where they would be playing Sept. 11, 1964, stated firmly that the stadium would be segregated, which was standard at some locations in those days.

As I entered the room, I told the band's manager, Brian Epstein, and the boys about the Jacksonville concert. Paul got up from the sofa and defiantly said, "We are not going to play there." John was even more blunt. He said, "No f- chance of that happening." Ringo and George agreed. Brian stood in silence in the corner of the room, but he knew very well his Fabs would never relent.

http://articles.philly.com/2014-02-10/news/47171476_1_band-concert-jacksonville
View forum thread
Welcome Guest. You must be logged in to comment on this story.

What are the benefits of having a MetroJacksonville.com account?
  • Share your opinion by posting comments on stories that interest you.
  • Stay up to date on all of the latest issues affecting your neighborhood.
  • Create a network of friends working towards a better Jacksonville.
Register now
Already have an account? Login now to comment.