Downtown's Most Endangered Historic Buildings

September 16, 2009 62 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

It has been two years since the Jacksonville Historic Society released their list of significant endangered local historical structures. In the meantime, historic buildings continue to fall like dominoes from the Jacksonville urban landscape. The Council has even threatened to eliminate the city's historic preservation commission. Despite the lip service to the goal of creating a vibrant urban core, these demolitions continue to prove otherwise and are an indication of ignorance on how historic preservation relates to a vibrant city.

Lerner Shops at 118 Main in Downtown Jacksonville being demolished.

Here is a brief list of downtown historic buildings, structures and landmarks that could end up becoming the next poorly maintained surface parking lot.

Locator Map

1. Annie Lytle School
1011 Peninsular Place

When it opened as Public School No. 4 in 1917, the Annie Lytle School anchored Riverside Park.  During the 1950s, when the Jacksonville Expressway Authority got interested in urban design, I-95 was constructed within a few feet of the building, totally isolating it from the park it anchored.  One can assume that highway construction in the urban core can have a negative impact on its surroundings, considering this iconic structure has been vacant since 1960.  While several redevelopment plans have come and gone, now without a roof in some areas, the Annie Lytle may not hang on much longer.

2. Davis Brothers Furniture Company / Club Kartouche Building
618 & 638 West Forsyth Street

These 100-year-old buildings are a few that, up to this point, have survived the LaVilla demolition craze.  Once a part of a massive warehouse district that spring up around the railroad terminals, these warehouses have housed everything from furniture companies to nightclubs, including the Paradome, Milkdome, 618, DV8 and Club Kartouche.

Today, what was once one of Jacksonville's most interesting urban scenes is now a wasteland of isolated warehouses surrounded by vacant and surface parking lots.  With the new county courthouse finally underway, be on the look out for additional demolitions to happen in the area in anticipation of future development taking their place.

3. Fire Station No. 5
347 Riverside Avenue

Built in 1910, this station was the lone historic survivor along an historic commercial corridor, after the design and widening of Riverside Avenue.  After standing for 99 years and surviving FDOT, if the Mayor's Office has their way, it may not get a chance to turn 100.  Due to a land swap the city made with Fidelity, what could easily become a cultural attraction or trolley barn (we're speaking real trolleys, not the PCTs on rubber wheels) could end up as asphalt for more cars to drive on.

4. Florida Baptist Convention Building
218 W. Church Street

Visible crumbling, this building was the last downtown Jacksonville office building designed by H.J. Klutho.  Completed in 1925, it was also the first office facility to be constructed and owned by a state Baptist organization.

5. Ford Assembly Plant
Wambolt Street at the St. Johns River

Florida has never been known for being a major player in the automobile industry but Jacksonville was once home to a Ford Assembly plant that employed 800 people during the 1920s. Churning out 200 Model-T's a day, Jacksonville's assembly plant was designed by famed industrial architect Albert Kahn and is built on a quay extending 800 feet into the St. Johns River.  Massive in size and disconnected from the downtown core by the Matthews Bridge and Commodore Point Expressways, the assembly plant awaits a new use large enough to fill its expansive size.

The assembly line in 1948.

6. Friendship Fountain

Completed in 1965, the Fountain of Friendship (named at the suggestion of a Rotary Club member because one of the Club’s cardinal principles is friendship) was the world’s largest and tallest fountain, capable of spraying 17,000 gallons of water a minute to a height of 120 feet. Accentuated by colored lights at night, it soon became a popular tourist destination and local recreation site.  Although, its not exactly historic, over the last 40 years it has become a local landmark and one of the most photographed spots in the city.  Today, the fountain's pumps are in need of replacement but city leaders prefer demolishing (or altering) the landmark and replacing it with an interactive kiddie fountain.  A compromise could be to restore the fountain while adding a smaller interactive fountain nearby.  Unfortunately, it appears not many are interested in compromises that favor complete preservation of local landmarks.

Friendship Fountain with working parts.

7. Guaranty Trust and Savings Bank
101 E. Bay Street (corner of Bay & Ocean)

This building was constructed in 1902 by the First National Bank, Florida's earliest national bank.  Over the years, its been the site of a few bank failures, a suicide by head bank cashier Thomas R. Henricks in 1924, and the last architectural office of H.J. Klutho.  Today, with a hole in the roof and an astronomical asking price by the owner, it sits empty.

8. Hogans Creek Improvement Project

Jacksonville clearly has no respect for famed architect Henry J. Klutho. Half of the buildings on this list were designed by this Prairie School style leader.

The Hogans Creek Improvement Project could be considered Klutho's crown jewel. This 1929 project solved the severe flooding issues with Hogans Creek by diverting the creek channel in several places, constructing automatic tide locks, a pumping plant, and two lakes to serve as reservoirs for the fluctuation of tides.  

In addition, the project included the construction of 6,300 feet of bulkheads, six vehicular bridges, three ornamental footbridges, 10,000 yards of sidewalks, decorative balustrades, and light fixtures. When complete, this project transformed Jacksonville's Central Park (Springfield Parks) into a promenade today's riverwalks still can't compete with.  

Today, this massive public works project is collapsing into the creek it was built to control.

9. Laura Trio
NE corner of Laura and Forsyth Streets

Left to Right: The Florida Life, Marble Bank and Bisbee Buildings

The Bisbee, The Marble Bank and the Florida Life Buildings make up the Laura Trio site.  Completed in 1908, the "Chicago-style" Bisbee Building was Florida's first skyscraper. Just to the north, the Florida Life Building was completed in 1912 and has been called Jacksonville's purest statement of a "skyscraper."

Built for the Florida Life Insurance company, the narrow structure included intricate ornamentation typically used by famed architect, Louis Sullivan. Both of these towers were designed by and are the last remaining local high rise designs of H.J. Klutho.

The third building and the oldest, is the Marble Bank Building, which was completed in 1902. This Neo-Classical Revival style building has been named the crown jewel and only building worth preserving out of these three by many in the shortsighted Jacksonville development community. A recent article in the local paper suggested that the two towers should be demolished to help make it feasible to preserve the Marble Bank Building. One can only imagine what the atmosphere of places like Savannah, Boston, San Francisco and Charleston would be today with that kind of mentality towards historical structures.

Two years ago it looked as though they would be saved, but after the downfall of Cameron Kuhn's financial empire, their future looks rocky at best.

The Marble Bank and Bisbee Buildings (Florida National Bank) can be seen in the center of this 1940s photograph.

10. Jacksonville Terminal Subway (Pedestrian Subway)

At times, we can spend too much of our efforts focusing on what can been seen from the street as opposed to what may be under it.  While Jacksonville's historic railroad terminal is not in danger of being demolished, the passenger tunnels constructed as a part of the terminal complex are.

During the terminal's heyday, these pedestrian tunnels helped funnel 20,000 rail passengers a day in and out of downtown Jacksonville. Sometimes, there is no need to reinvent the wheel when a logical solution that worked for nearly sixty years still remains in place. Unfortunately, instead of working to reuse a highly unique way to move large numbers of pedestrians, in a Florida setting, current transportation center plans call for this system to be destroyed and replaced with a modern elevated rail structure.

11. Woolworth Building (AHL Annex Building)

Now referred to as the AHL Annex Building, F.W. Woolworth's 5 & 10-cent Store was the original tenant when it was completed in 1917.  Today, it stands as the last remaining historic retail building on a stretch of Forsyth Street that was once the epicenter of downtown's retail and Theater District. Now abandoned, it was recent recipient of building condemnation status. With no solid prospects for immediate re-use and a demo happy code enforcement department, this building could soon become Main Street's next parking lot.

During the 1950's, the building housed a Betty Maid retail store in the middle of a walkable retail district.  Today, its one of the last historic structures still standing in this area.

UPDATE: Metro Jacksonville is happy to announce that this building is currently being renovated into office space


12. Springfield Historic District

A lot of good things have happened in recent years in this revitalizing urban core district just north of downtown.  However, the rapid continuation of building demolitions within its boundaries raises enough concern to add the entire historic district to this list. If things don't change soon, we should begin to ask ourselves, "At what point will it not be considered a historic district anymore?"


Very few American urban cores have become interesting vibrant atmospheres without a significant investment in the preservation of historic building stock. Currently, downtown Jacksonville's stock of historic building fabric is a shadow of what it was just twenty years ago.

If the city, its leaders, community activist and residents are truly interested in creating a sustainable urban core, historic preservation, along with urban connectivity, should be at the forefront of that plan. Nothing else will work.

Article by Ennis Davis