Another Historic Downtown Demolition In The Works?

January 7, 2015 70 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

The Downtown Investment Authority is considering making a portion of downtown a national historic district. Unfortunately, if one property owner has his way, a 105-year-old building will become a vacant lot despite possibly being one of the last vestiges of a turn-of-the-century downtown rooming house district.

Located at 122 East Duval Street, directly across the street from the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Elena Flats was built as a part of city's transformation into a vibrant urban center in the decade following the devastating Great Fire of 1909.  Today, this stretch of Duval Street is characterized by a few large historic churches, soup kitchens, one-way streets and surface parking lots.  

A century ago it was a rooming house district just east of Hemming Park with names such as The Girard, Hotel Seneca, The Elsline and The Grenada.  Looked down on today, districts such as this were essential for sustaining economic growth as their buildings provided residents with rooms at low prices, easy access to work, neighborhoods with stores, bars, restaurants, and clubs for association with friends and recreation.

From the outside, not many would imagine that the Elena Flats building was originally constructed as a rooming house. Shining light, or bright one" is the meaning of the name "Elena". It has been said that people with this name have a deep inner desire to inspire others in a higher cause. Whoever built the Elena Flats in 1909 must have had such a thought in mind.

Covering 7,292 square feet, the two-story brick structure featured with 10 bedrooms and four bathrooms, one can argue that this structure is just as immaculate, in its own right, as the cathedral across the street. Characterized by its classical columns, balustrade and bracketed cornice, the Colonial Revival style brick building's design pays homage to the meaning of its name, serving as a inspiration to those who lived in its walls or within the immediate vicinity.

Today, in despair and currently owned by Jimmie Lee Clark, Jr of Jacksonville, the Elena Flats is one of the last historic apartment buildings of its type, still standing in the old downtown core. Unfortunately, 105-year-old building's days as a shining light are in danger of coming to an abrupt end. Lacking the means to rehabilitate the structure and currently being cited by code enforcement, the owner has applied for a demolition permit due to a belief that this is the only solution he has for the property. However, in a downtown that we claim to want more residents and economic development, it would seem a structure like this would be better off as apartments, condominiums or a hostel as opposed to another vacant lot. It would be an absolute travesty to lose this structure in such a manner, so Metro Jacksonville is attempting to get the word out to help bring needed public attention to this dire situation.

This circumstance isn't unique to Jacksonville's Northbank. Last year, the former owners of the Guaranty Trust & Savings Bank building attempted to demolish their historic property in 2012 to avoid paying for costly repairs and rolling fines. In that situation, the building was in significantly worse shape than the Elena Flats are today. That story ended with the City of Jacksonville foreclosing on the owner after landmarking the building and denying the demolition permit. That building is now in the process of being restored and converted into the Cowford Chophouse, a steakhouse with a rooftop bar and dining terrace. Thus, there is precedence for finding alternative solutions that result in the preservation of the city's dwindling historic downtown building stock and positive economic development opportunities.

Although a demolition application has been submitted, due to the property being eligible for listing on the National Register, there is demolition delay. The possible demolition of the Elena Flats building is expected to go before the Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission for further consideration at their January 28, 2015 meeting. Meetings are held in Conference Room 851, Ed Ball Building, 8th Floor, 214 N.Hogan Street and begins at 3:00 P.M.

Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at

Next Page: Images of East Duval Street's Lost Rooming House District

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