Urban Neighborhoods: The Historic Downtown Core

June 1, 2010 24 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

The preservation of historic building fabric is essential to understanding our community's heritage, smart growth, and community walkability. With this in mind, Metro Jacksonville takes a look at the city's most unique historic environment: The walkable Downtown Core.

Funded by Andrew Carnegie and designed by H.J. Klutho, this building served as Jacksonville's main library from 1905-1965.

Constructed in 1926 as the United Cigar Store, this building is now home to London Bridge Pub and Poppy Love Smoke.

This building was Jacksonville's first fire station to be built after the Great Fire in 1901.

Home to Farah & Farah, the former S.H. Kress Company building dates back to 1912 and was once the third largest "five, ten and twenty-five cent store" in the world.

Named after Carling L. Dinkler, vice president of the Dinkler Hotel Co., the Carling opened its doors in 1926. On the night of December 29, 1963, a fire killed 22 people in the hotel, which was filled with visitors for the Gator Bowl game the following day. With the help of the Historic Preservation Trust Fund, the Carling has been restored into urban highrise residential apartment building.

Lerner Shops Building.

The Churchwell Lofts building dates back to 1905.  It originally housed the Covington Company wholesale and retail dry goods business.

This building was constructed as the office/warehouse for the Groover-Stewart Drug Company in 1925. For many years, this was the largest wholesale drug firm in Florida.

The Herkimer Block (now Baywater Square) was completed in 1902.

Dating back to 1901, this collection of brick commercial buildings provide a glimpse of the appearance, texture, and scale of much of downtown's business district in the early 1900's.

The Holmes Block was constructed in 1901.

The Bostwick Building opened in 1902 as the First National Bank. This building was the home of H.J. Klutho's architectural offices from 1944 to 1960.

Klutho's Dyal-Upchurch Building was the first "high-rise" structure erected in downtown after the Great Fire of 1901. Completed in 1902, it was the first in Jacksonville to utilize National Register rehabilitation tax credits.

The German Renaissance style Old Bisbee Building was completed on the corner of Bay & Laura Streets in 1902.

The Art Deco style old United States Post Office and Courthouse at 311 W. Monroe Street was completed in 1933.

The Georgian Revival style, 310 West Church Street Apartments (Ambassador Hotel) was known as downtown's first big apartment building in 1923. Today, there are plans to restore this structure into 52 loft style apartments with street level retail space.

Now the offices of KBJ Architects, the Thomas V. Porter Residence (1902) is one of the last remaining examples of single family residential architecture constructed in downtown immediately after the Great Fire of 1901.

This First Baptist Church sanctuary was completed in 1903 to replace an earlier structure that had been destroyed by the Great Fire of 1901. The interior of this building originally featured a hand painted dome and murals by New York artist John O'Neill.

LEFT: The First Baptist Church Sunday School Building was completed in 1927. From 1938 to 1967, the building served as the headquarters of the Gulf Life Insurance Company.
RIGHT: Designed by Jefferson D. Powell, the Mediterranean Revival style Jones Brothers Furniture Company Building was completed in 1926.

Completed in 1925, the Florida Baptist Convention Building was the last office building designed by H.J. Klutho in downtown Jacksonville.

Dating back to 1924, this Neo-Classical Revival style building was the Old Federal Reserve Bank Building. It was designed by Henrietta Dozier, Jacksonville's first woman architect.

The former Seminole Club was designed by Rutledge Holmes and Arthur Gilkes in 1903.

The Elena Flats building is one of the last remaining examples of the small rooming houses that populated downtown during the early years of the twentieth century.

Now known as City Hall, the Prairie School style St. James Building opened its doors as the Cohen Brother's Department store in 1912. Designed by H.J. Klutho, the department store was the ninth-largest department store in the country.

Home to MOCA Jax, the Western Union Telegraph Company Building was completed in 1931. With the help of the Historic Preservation Trust Fund, this structure has been renovated into an art museum.

Klutho's Y.M.C.A. Building (City Hall Annex) was constructed in 1909. It is the oldest Prairie style building in Jacksonville.

The old Duval County Courthouse was demolished in 1960 for the construction of a parking lot. However, the courthouse's annex, which dates back to 1918, remains.

The Florida Theatre Building was designed by R.E. Hall & Co. of New York in 1926-27. It is the last remaining grand theatre in an area of downtown that was once a theatre district known as the Great White Way.

Marsh & Saxelbye's Title & Trust Company of Florida Building was completed in 1928.

Completed in 1906, the McMurray Livery, Sale & Transfer Company building is a reminder of the days when horses and carriages were the primary means of transportation in Jacksonville. The east wall of this structure marks the approximate location where Jacksonville founder Isaiah D. Hart built his log cabin when he came to the area in 1821.

Some practical and/or intangible benefits of historic preservation include:

•Retention of history and authenticity

- Commemorates the past
- Aesthetics: texture, craftsmanship, style
- Pedestrian/visitor appeal
- Human scale

•Increased commercial value
- Materials and ornaments that are not affordable or readily available
- Durable, high quality materials (e.g., old growth wood)

•Retention of building materials
- Less construction and demolition debris
- Less hazardous material debris
- Less need for new materials

•Existing usable space—quicker occupancy

•Rehabilitation often costs less than new construction

•Reuse of infrastructure

•Energy savings
- No energy used for demolition
- No energy used for new construction
- Reuse of embodied energy in building materials and assemblies


This structure was known as Duval High School from 1908-1977. Architect Ted Pappas redesigned the building for use as apartments for the elderly after the building was declared surplus, sparing the structure from the wrecking ball.

H.J. Klutho's Morocco Temple combines the Prairie School and Egyptian Revival architectural styles. The building originally had a 1,500-seat auditorium on the second floor. For several decades this was Jacksonville's largest auditorium and provided the facilities for many major conventions and events, including an address in 1912 by President William Howard Taft.

Now known as 11 East Forsyth, the 17-story Lynch Building was Jacksonville's second tallest skyscraper when completed in 1926.

The Woolworth Building was completed in 1917. This section of downtown (Main & Forsyth) was once one of the busiest retailing areas in the city.

THE LAURA TRIO: The "Chicago-style" Bisbee Building (right) was designed by H.J. Klutho in 1908-09. The Florida Life Building (left), also designed by Klutho, was Jacksonville's tallest building in 1912 and is known as the city's purest statement of a "skyscraper." The "Marble Bank" (center) was completed in 1902 as the Mercantile Exchange Bank.

The Barnett National Bank Building was completed in 1926 and was the city's tallest until the Prudential Building (Aetna) was erected in 1954. It was the largest building constructed in 1926 (the year of the skyscraper in Jacksonville) at the peak of the 1920's building boom.

The Greenleaf & Crosby Building (1927) is known as one of the finest downtown works of Marsh & Saxelbye. The Greenleaf & Crosby clock was erected on the corner of Laura and Adams Streets in 1901.

The Snyder Memorial Methodist Church was completed in 1903. This Gothic Revival structure was constructed at an approximate cost of $31,000.

The Atlantic National Bank Building was completed in October 1909.

The Atlantic National Bank Annex building (center) was completed in 1926. The Professional Building (right) was designed by Rutledge Holmes and completed in 1914.

Furchgott's Building.

The Levy Building was completed in 1927 and originally housed a department store.

The Elk's Club Building was designed by Roy A. Benjamin and completed in 1926.

The Hildebrandt Building was completed in 1926-27. W.J. Hildebrant was a capitalist and local investor.

The fact that these structures, when preserved, make opening businesses in the downtown core more feasible for urban pioneers. This is the real value in saving these structures.

The Slappy Building was constructed for the Palmer & Palmer Insurance Company in 1923.

Home to Cafe 331, the Tucker Brothers Building was completed in 1941. Tucker Brothers was a real estate firm that was founded in 1934 and originally located in the adjacent Slappy Building on West Forsyth Street.

This building was erected in 1886 and was known as the El Modelo Cigar Factory. During its heyday, El Modelo employed 225 workers. From 1915 to 1965, the building was a hotel, operating as the Plaza, the Hillsboro, the Southern, and the New York Hotel. Today it is an office building and the largest remaining nineteenth-century commercial building in Jacksonville.

The Adams Building is one of the few remaining structures unscathed by the Great Fire of 1901. It was constructed as a hotel catering to transients using the railroad terminal in 1895.

LEFT: The Immaculate Conception Catholic Church was designed by M.H. Hubbard of Utica, NY in 1907-10. In 1979, the church became one of a small number of Catholic churches in America to be "solemnly dedicated," meaning that it cannot ever be purposefully torn down or used for anything but a church.
RIGHT: Designed by Mark & Sheftall, the Masonic Temple was completed in 1916 and is reminiscent of Louis Sullivan's famous Wainwright Building in St. Louis. The home of Jacksonville's first black-owned bank, the 1926 Negro Blue Book described it as "one of the finest buildings owned by Negroes in the world."

Historic Preservation is the ultimate in recycling and "the greenest building is the one already built". Alone, these buildings may seem insignificant in importance to the landscape of Jacksonville. However, when combined in an urban setting, they create a unique district that gives us a glimpse into a walkable Jacksonville that may one day re-emerge.

Article by Ennis Davis