Remembering The F.W. Woolworth Building

May 13, 2011 26 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville takes a look into the past of the federal courthouse's underutilized public plaza: The Woolworth/JCPenney Building.

Completed in 1955, this structure anchored the west side of Hemming Park, on the corner of Monroe and Hogan Streets, bringing F.W. Woolworth's and JCPenney to a site that was once the location of Hotel Windsor.

About the Hotel


Built in the late 19th century, the Windsor Hotel attracted adventurers and statesmen during visits to eastern Florida and for stopovers deeper into what was then the vast wilderness of the South.


Several organizations were developed in the hotel's community rooms and on the sweeping colonnade along Hemming Park. Among these were the Women's Club of Jacksonville, which held its first meeting at the hotel in 1897, the Jacksonville Rotary Club, which made its start at the Windsor in 1912, and Kappa Kappa Gamma, which formed its Alumni Association at the hotel in 1942.


In 1901, the Windsor Hotel burned down in a fire that ravaged most of downtown Jacksonville. The proprietors of the hotel set out to reconstruct, and bought out the neighboring land where the St. James once stood. They sold the land on condition that it would not be used for construction of a competing hotel.


The Windsor Hotel was demolished in 1950 to make room for a parking lot. I. Morris, vice president of the Cuyahoga Wrecking Co., told the St. Petersburg Times in 1955 that the hotel had held the strangest treasure he ever found during a demolition: a subterranean room filled with illegal whiskey.


While the Windsor Hotel no longer stands along Hogan Street, many walking tours of downtown Jacksonville pass through Hemming Park and alongside the Bryan Simpson Federal Courthouse, which occupies the land once home to the Windsor Hotel.

About F.W. Woolworth's

The F. W. Woolworth Company (often referred to as Woolworth's or Woolworth or even Woolsworth) was a retail company that was one of the original American five-and-dime stores. The first Woolworth store was founded, with a loan of $300, in 1879 by Frank Winfield Woolworth. Despite growing to be one of the largest retail chains in the world through most of the 20th century, increased competition led to its decline beginning in the 1980s. The chain went out of business in July 1997, when the company decided to focus on the Foot Locker division and renamed itself Venator Group. By 2001, the company focused exclusively on the sporting goods market, changing its name to the present Foot Locker Inc .

Woolworth's five-and-dime store on Main and Forsyth.

Their five-and-dime store in Jacksonville replaced the F.W. Woolworth Company retail store. It was built in 1917 on the corner of Main and Forsyth Streets. This Woolworth building is now where Perdue Office Furniture is today. The company moved into the old building (commonly known as the AHL annex building) last year.

The Woolworth Building is complemented by the Brereton & Liggett, Kress, and several other small commercial buildings, which are reminders that this section of Downtown was one of the busiest retailing areas of Jacksonville during the early part of the twentieth century. Arch Herit/D-80.htm

The Stores at Hemming Plaza

The Robert Meyer Hotel behind the building.

F.W. Woolworth relocated from their store on Main & Forsyth and opened their 16,350 square foot Hemming Plaza store in March 1955. The basement served as the stockroom, retail sales took place at street level, and the second floor housed executive offices and the kitchen. The department store was located right next to JCPenney and they shared a common wall - you could literally walk from one to the other without going outside. Behind them was the 21-story Robert Meyer Hotel; together, the three establishments occupied an entire city block.

During years past, the park contained bandstands, fountains, comfort stations and buildings for the Tourist & Convention Bureau. Presidents, political candidates and visiting dignitaries have greeted citizens at this central site.During the 1960 presidential campaign, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon both gave speeches at Hemming Park a few hours apart on October 18.

President Nixon gives his speech at Hemming Park in this 1960 image.

Jacksonville Mayor (1949-1965) and 35th Florida Governor Haydon Burns (right) and his predecessor Governor Farris Bryant walking through Hemming Plaza in this 1960 image.

About JCPenney
James Cash Penney began his career in retail management when he opened The JCP Store, a partnership with Guy Johnson and Thomas Callahan, in 1902 in Kemmerer, Wyoming. In 1909 Penney moved his company headquarters to Salt Lake City, Utah to be closer to banks and railroads. By 1912, Penney had 34 stores in the Rocky Mountain States. The actual name of the first store opened by James Cash Penney was in Kemmerer, Wyoming, but the name of the store was actually called "The Golden Rule", not the JCP store.

In 1913, the company was incorporated under the new name, J. C. Penney Company, with William Henry McManus as a co-founder. In 1914, the headquarters was moved to New York City to simplify the buying, financing, and transportation of goods. Around this time, Bert J. Niver joined the company as a junior partner. By 1917, the company operated 175 stores in 22 states in the United States. The company opened its 500th store in 1924 in Hamilton, Missouri, James Cash Penney's hometown. By the opening of the 1,000th store in 1928, gross business had reached $190,000,000. By 1941, the company operated 1,600 stores in all 48 states.

JCPenney's was located on the corner of Main & Bay Street (opened 1933) before moving to Hemming Plaza in May 1955. The building and block housing the Main & Bay location would eventually be torn down in preparation for a JEA office tower that was never built.  Today, that location is now the site of a two level metal parking garage.  The Hemming Plaza store lasted 30 years before laying off 50 employees and closing on October 26, 1985.  Today, the site where the FW Woolworth/JCPenney building once stood is now the location of the $84 million, 14-story Bryan Simpson United States Courthouse.

The Federal Government spent $84 million for the John Milton Bryan Simpson United States Courthouse, which broke ground in 2000 and opened in 2003, across from the Plaza. Over $162 million was invested by the city in the buildings surrounding Hemming Plaza. The area is now heavily treed. In 2003, a farmers’ market opened at the Plaza on Fridays from 10am-2pm, year-round. A life-size cast bronze statue of the late U.S. Rep. Charles Edward Bennett, who served Northeast Florida in Congress for 44 years, was installed on a granite base in Hemming Plaza on April 23, 2004.

Historic photographs courtesy of the Florida State Archive Collection.

Article by Ennis Davis