A Jacksonville Landmark: Prairie School Architecture

August 4, 2010 16 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Over time, many cities have left their mark on our architectural landscape. New York has its Brownstones, Charleston the single house, and Chicago School of Architecture in the Windy City. Believe it or not, our own city has earned the right to be mentioned in this conversation.

Jacksonville has more examples of the Prairie School style than any city outside of the Midwest. It has also lost more great Prairie style buildings than any other city, with perhaps the exception of Chicago.  To many, it seems to be an anomaly that there could be any Prairie School buildings in a second tier Southern city, hundreds of miles from the style’s birthplace… the Midwest.  Unfortunately, a century later, Jacksonville still does not fully appreciate the treasures that it possesses.

What is Prairie School?

The St. James Building (1911-1912)

Prairie School is a late 19th and early 20th century architectural style, most common to the Midwest.  The style is marked by horizontal lines, flat roofs with broad overhanging eaves, solid construction, craftsmanship, and discipline in the use of ornament, in contrast to previous 19th century design. Horizontal lines were thought to evoke and relate to the native prairie landscape. It is most associated with residences around Chicago built by a generation of architects trained, employed, or influenced by famed Architect, Louis Sullivan.

Why Jacksonville?

Old Y.M.C.A. Building (1908-1909)

You can thank the Great Fire of 1901 for this unique architectural style in a region that still struggles with its identity today, 106 years later.  Before America’s 3rd largest urban fire in history, wood frame construction was the primary construction technique for Jacksonville builders.  The massive effort needed to rebuild the growing city, became the perfect opportunity to create a modern city from scratch.

Henry J. Klutho, a young Architect from New York, was one of the first to take advantage of Jacksonville’s flaming disaster.  Shortly after his arrival to town, Klutho met Frank Lloyd Wright, one of the most influential architects in the brief Prairie School movement, in Buffalo, NY.  Inspired by Wright’s work, Klutho quickly absorbed radical Prairie School concepts and injected them locally, causing other Jacksonville architects and builders to do the same.

Examples of the Prairie School style in Jacksonville

Masonic Temple (1912-1916)

Florida Life Building (1911-1912)

Morocco Temple (1910-1911)

Delgado Building (1919)

San Juline Apartments (1915-1916)

Lauderdale Apartments (1912)

St. Vincent's Medical Center

Prairie School, Jacksonville style

After Klutho built his first Prairie style residence in Riverside, many local designers followed suit.  The result of this was a Prairie School derivative that was so widely repeated locally, that some believe it could almost be considered a stylistic architectural category by itself.  The design features of this derivative includes low-pitched red tile roofs with a central dormer, a geometric inset in the chimney, a red brick first story separated from a white stucco second story by a horizontal masonry band, broad projecting eaves and an emphatically horizontal porch.

Meeks, Ross, Selander & Associates, CPAs, LLC.

For more in-depth information and images of local Prairie School Architectural examples and lost treasures, visit The Prairie School Traveler

Article by Ennis Davis