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.
During Johnston's tenure as the owner of the George Washington, it was downtown Jacksonville's only five star hotel. In September 1964 on the heals of Hurricane Dora, the Beatles appeared at the George Washington for a press conference. In town for perform at the Gator Bowl, they had refused to accept the Jacksonville booking until they received assurance that the audience would not be segregated by race.
Big Bill Johnston sold the hotel in 1969. After Johnston's departure, one by one, the businesses inside the ground floor went out of business. The hotel was closed in 1971 and torn down in 1973 for a surface parking lot. 40 years later, what was once "The Wonder Hotel of the South" still sits underutilized and virtually abandoned.
Article by Ennis Davis