Remembering The Richmond Hotel

August 19, 2016 16 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Now occupied by the DeLoach Furniture Company, the Richmond Hotel is one of a handful of historically significant buildings that survived the 1990s demolition derby party held in LaVilla.

Looking east at the intersection of Broad and Church Streets in 1948.  The fire escape of the Richmond Hotel can be seen on the right.

Opened in 1909, The Richmond was the finest hotel for Jacksonville's black citizens.  Prior to its closing in 1970, nearly all of the black celebrities who visited this city stayed there.  During the heyday of the Jazz Era, band leaders and entertainers such as Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday stayed at The Richmond while performing in Jacksonville.  Often these stars would come out on the second-story balcony and greet large crowds of fans gathered in the street below.  A 1942 magazine article described the Richmond as an "outstanding hotel for colored people in Jacksonville."  It was located "close to all principal Negro businesses, theatres, and churches, and less than five minutes drive from the railroad terminal.  Most of its 48 rooms have running water, with many bathrooms adjacent.  The Richmond Hotel boasts a quiet, homelike atmosphere.  A Tea Room is operated for the convenience of guests."
Source: Jacksonville's Architectural Heritage, page 97

The Richmond Hotel highlighted in red on this aerial taken during LaVilla's heyday as the "Harlem of the South."
Ashley Street was LaVilla’s central thoroughfare. It was the first street in any of Jacksonville’s African-American neighborhoods to be paved and for years, it was the location of the only black school in the region. At its peak, Ashley Street boasted commercial enterprises of every variety and was the dynamic core of black LaVilla’s social and cultural life.

During these segregated times, African Americans could frequent an outdoor course meant only for them.  The Blue Chip operated in the traditionally African American neighborhood of La Villa.  Located at 615 West Church Street, the course lay across the street from the Richmond Hotel, which offered the finest accommodations for Jacksonville's African American travelers.  Nearly all of the black celebrities who visited the city lodged at this three-story hostelry.  Over the years, its illustrious guests included Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holliday.  The stars would often greet their fans from the second floor balcony.  The Richmond and the Blue Chip were situated just one block from the glittering nightlife of Ashley Street, the Great Black Way.  The site of the Blue Chip is now a vacant lot, but the Richmond building has survived.  Most of the rest of La Villa's structures, though, have been razed. Story/Picture of Miniature Golf.htm

Famed Guests

Duke Ellington

Richard M. Nixon presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Duke Ellington on April 24, 1969. Image courtesy of
Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington (April 29, 1899 – May 24, 1974) was an American composer, pianist, and big band leader. Ellington wrote over 1,000 compositions. In the words of Bob Blumenthal of The Boston Globe "In the century since his birth, there has been no greater composer, American or otherwise, than Edward Kennedy Ellington."
A prominent figure in the history of jazz, Ellington's music stretched into various other genres, including blues, gospel, film scores, popular, and classical. His career spanned more than 50 years and included leading his orchestra, composing an inexhaustible songbook, scoring for movies, composing stage musicals, and world tours. Several of his instrumental works were adapted into songs that became standards. Due to his inventive use of the orchestra, or big band, and thanks to his eloquence and extraordinary charisma, he is generally considered to have elevated the perception of jazz to an art form on a par with other traditional genres of music. His reputation increased after his death and the Pulitzer Prize Board bestowed on him a special posthumous honor in 1999.

Ellington called his music "American Music" rather than jazz, and liked to describe those who impressed him as "beyond category." These included many of the musicians who were members of his orchestra, some of whom are considered among the best in jazz in their own right, but it was Ellington who melded them into one of the most well-known jazz orchestral units in the history of jazz. He often composed specifically for the style and skills of these individuals, such as "Jeep's Blues" for Johnny Hodges, "Concerto for Cootie" for Cootie Williams, which later became "Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me" with Bob Russell's lyrics, and "The Mooche" for Tricky Sam Nanton and Bubber Miley. He also recorded songs written by his bandsmen, such as Juan Tizol's "Caravan" and "Perdido" which brought the 'Spanish Tinge' to big-band jazz. Several members of the orchestra remained there for several decades. After 1941, he frequently collaborated with composer-arranger-pianist Billy Strayhorn, whom he called his "writing and arranging companion." Ellington recorded for many American record companies, and appeared in several films.
Ellington led his band from 1923 until his death in 1974. His son Mercer Ellington, who had already been handling all administrative aspects of his father's business for several decades, led the band until his own death in 1996. At that point, the original band dissolved. Paul Ellington, Mercer's youngest son and executor of the Duke Ellington estate, kept the Duke Ellington Orchestra going from Mercer's death onwards.

Cab Calloway

Cab Calloway. Image courtesy of
Cabell "Cab" Calloway III (December 25, 1907 – November 18, 1994) was an American jazz singer and bandleader.

Calloway was a master of energetic scat singing and led one of the United States' most popular African American big bands from the start of the 1930s through the late 1940s. Calloway's band featured performers including trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie and Adolphus "Doc" Cheatham, saxophonists Ben Webster and Leon "Chu" Berry, New Orleans guitar ace Danny Barker, and bassist Milt Hinton. Calloway continued to perform until his death in 1994 at the age of 86.

Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzerald in September 1947. Image courtesy of
Ella Jane Fitzgerald (April 25, 1917 – June 15, 1996), also known as the "First Lady of Song" and "Lady Ella," was an American jazz and song vocalist. With a vocal range spanning three octaves (Db3 to Db6), she was noted for her purity of tone, impeccable diction, phrasing and intonation, and a "horn-like" improvisational ability, particularly in her scat singing.
She is considered to be a notable interpreter of the Great American Songbook. Over a the course of her 59 year recording career, she was the winner of 13 Grammy Awards and was awarded the National Medal of Arts by Ronald Reagan and the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George H. W. Bush.

Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday performing in Downbeat, New York, NY, ca. February 1947. Image courtesy of
Billie Holiday (born Eleanora Fagan, April 7, 1915 – July 17, 1959) was an American jazz singer and songwriter. Nicknamed "Lady Day" by her friend and musical partner Lester Young, Holiday had a seminal influence on jazz and pop singing. Her vocal style, strongly inspired by jazz instrumentalists, pioneered a new way of manipulating phrasing and tempo.
Critic John Bush wrote that Holiday "changed the art of American pop vocals forever." She co-wrote only a few songs, but several of them have become jazz standards, notably "God Bless the Child," "Don't Explain," "Fine and Mellow," and "Lady Sings the Blues." She also became famous for singing "Easy Living," "Good Morning Heartache," and "Strange Fruit", a protest song which became one of her standards and was made famous with her 1939 recording.

Today's Richmond Hotel

The three story structure is on .22 acres and the sale includes an addtional .07 acre lot to the rear. This provides for good off-street parking or for covered parking and could be utilized for building expansion. The building is located in view of the new Duval County Unified Courthouse Facility which is currently under construction. 18,761 square foot, three story historic structure. Zoned for retail, office and residential with exception or zoning change. Excellent location for professional and business offices. On-street and off-street parking available. Additional parking lots and garages nearby.This historic building dates back to the early 1900' s. It was once the Richmond Hotel and later the Edgemont Hotel. Since 1969 the building has been utilized for retail purposes.

Located on North Broad Street on the southwest corner of Broad Street and Church Street in the Jacksonville Downtown Business District. The building is located in view of the new county courthouse which is currently under construction. Please see the attached link to the "Duval County Unified Courthouse Facility."

The former location of balconies where famed guests like Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday would greet their cheering fans.

The Richmond Hotel is located at 420 North Broad Street in downtown Jacksonville.

Historic images courtesy of the Florida State Archives.  Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at