The Great Skyscraper Extortion Scheme of 1911

November 7, 2011 15 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Not all development announcements are made with the intention of actually constructing a real building. Here is a short tale of a Jaxson who bankrolled a profit without applying for a building permit.

The Heard National Bank Building. Image courtesy of State Archives of Florida.

Ten years after the Great Fire of 1901, Jacksonville had become a booming metropolis.  Over the past decade, the city had increased in population by 103%, when John Joseph Heard, an Arcadia-based capitalist, decided to move to and invest in Jacksonville's flourishing market.

Heard had big plans for Jacksonville and the financial resources to pull them off.  In 1911, Heard announced plans to construct a skyscraper that would house his bank while also being the tallest structure south of Atlanta.  Heard broke ground on his $1 million, 15-story, 248' tall Heard National Bank Building in 1911, at the corner of Forsyth and Laura Streets.

Judge John W. Dodge. Image courtesy of Bench and Bar of Florida.

Heard would soon find out that his experience in Jacksonville would not be all peaches and cream.  This is where former Duval County Judge John W. Dodge enters the picture.  Born in Camden, SC in 1875, Dodge relocated to Jacksonville in 1900 and had become a Duval County Criminal Court Judge in 1904.

Dodge like Heard's high profile project so much, he decided to build his own tower.  His company, the Dodge Building Company, "just happened" to own a 25' wide parcel of property on Laura Street, immediately to the south wall of Heard's project.  With Heard's tower well under construction, the newspaper reported that a second 15-story skyscraper would be developed by Dodge.  Dodge retained the services of Mark & Sheftall Architects to design his tower.  Victor Earl Mark and Leeroy Sheftall, were two young architects who had recently opened their own office after working for H.J. Klutho.  Their firm had quickly become Klutho's only local competitor in designing Prairie School style buildings.

Mark & Sheftall's design for Dodge's skyscraper. Image courtesy of The Architecture of Henry John Klutho, Fantasy Skyscrapers and Small Realities

Mark & Sheftall's Laura Street facade of Dodge's tower was an impressive example of Prairie School architecture.  However, the floor plans had extortion written all over them.  Each floor was 25' wide overall and 105 feet deep with no windows on the long, north facade that faced the Heard skyscraper.  While the overall design of Dodge's skyscraper was impractical, it would make Heard's building practically worthless if it were constructed.  According to a draftsman for Mark & Sheftall, Dodge commissioned the firm to design the building fifteen stories high, the same height as the Heard Building, and 105' deep, also matching Heard's project.  This would place a solid block wall against Heard's south windows, cutting out the view and building's cross ventilation system.  Since Heard was already under construction, it was said that he had no choice but to pay Dodge not to build his skyscraper.

The "U" shaped Heard Bank Building (light color) can be seen in this aerial in the upper left corner.  The slightly taller "U" shaped Barnett Bank Building (dark color) can be seen less than a block away. Image courtesy of State Archives of Florida.

The aerial above, showing the proposed location and massing of Judge John W. Dodge's skyscraper.

Heard completed his tower and opened his new bank in 1913 but the bad luck would continue.  Heard's bank was forced to close in 1917.  However, this small town businessman drew on his personal fortune to repay 100% of the money owed to each depositor.  After Dodge decided not to build his tower, he went back to practicing law, forming a partnership with Duncan U. Fletcher.  Fletcher & Dodge's offices were located right across the street from the Heard Bank Building in Klutho's Bisbee Building.  Mark & Sheftall's firm would continue to design impressive buildings across Jacksonville until going their separate ways in 1933. LaVilla's Masonic Temple (1912), South Jacksonville Elementary School (1917), now the San Marco Lofts, are examples of their work still standing in Jacksonville today.  

Mark & Sheftall's Masonic Temple (1912-1916) on Broad Street.

Although Heard's bank closed in 1917, his building was Jacksonville's tallest until 1926 and a part of the Northbank skyline until it was demolished for a parking lot, along with downtown's oldest building, the Ritz-Woller (1876) in 1981.  Today, all that remains from this era of extortion is the Heard Bank Building's monumental columns that once marked its entrance.  The columns stood in their original location before being moved to storage at Haskell Company's Westside fabrication shop on 12th Street in preparation of the 42-story, $100 million Barnett Center (now Bank of America Tower) in 1988.  Those columns are now located inside and in front of the Times Union Center for the Performing Arts.

H.J. Klutho's G.D. Jackson Building was demolished along with the Heard in 1981.  Image courtesy of

The Heard National Bank Building's entrance was left to serve as an entrance to a surface parking lot, after the building was demolished by Barnett Bank in 1981.  Image courtesy of the Jacksonville Historic Commission.

One of the Heard National Bank Building's monumental entry columns still in existence on Water Street.

Source: The Architecture of Henry John Klutho, Fantasy Skyscrapers and Small Realities

Article by Ennis Davis