What to do with LaVilla?

December 12, 2012 24 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

The recent scquabble between the Mayor's Office and Jerry Holland over the need to construct an $8 million Supervisor of Elections office/warehouse complex near the Ritz Theatre has overlooked the question of if such a project is even worthy for this historically significant area. For those who question its significance, here is a brief summary behind the sites still standing in Florida's first urbanized African-American community.

11. 523 West Forsyth Street - 1905

This structure was a part of the Cunningham Furniture Company complex. Established as a small bicycle shop by John A. Cunningham in 1889, the Cunningham Furniture Company eventually grew to become Florida's oldest furniture company and one of the Southeast's largest home furnishing businesses before closing for good in 1984.

12. 521 West Forsyth Street - 1906/1921

521 West Forsyth Street

This small building opened in 1906 and was briefly a real estate office and bicycle shop.  In 1910, it was purchased by Charles Sumner, who utilized as a market for a dairy business passed down from his father, called the William P. Sumner Company.  During the 1980's, it housed JoAnn's Chili Bordello.  This restaurant was designed to look like a bordello and featured waitresses dressed in corsets and garter belts.  The restaurant's motto was "seventeen varieties of chili served in an atmosphere of sin.

516 Houston Street

This narrow 4-story building was built in 1910 as an addition to 521 West Forsyth Street by Charles Sumner.  Sumner, who's previous location had been destroyed by the Great Fire of 1901, constructed his new dairy operation with brick and reinforced concrete, making it fireproof.  During the 1920s, it was used by Jefferson Richard Berrier as an ice cream factory for the J.R. Berrier Ice Cream Company.  In 1961, Berrier's Ice Cream became the focal point of a NAACP boycott.

13. Jacksonville's Notorious red light district's last remaining bordello - 615 Houston Street - 1914

A century ago, then as Ward Street and located two blocks from Union Terminal, Houston street took the crown as Jacksonville's undisputed Red Light District. For those who don't know, a red light district is a place where there is a high concentration of prostitution and sex-oriented businesses.  San Francisco had the Barbary Coast, D.C. had 14th Street, in New Orleans tricks were turned in Storyville, and in New York, it was "The Deuce."  If you were willing to pay for a lady of the night in Jacksonville, you headed to LaVilla's Ward Street.

When this brick building was constructed, more than 60 whore houses lined a four block stretch of Ward Street west of Broad Street.  A popular strip for Jacksonville tourist and sailors, J.E.T. (Just Easy Times) Bowden used a pro-prostitution platform to win the mayor's race of 1915. Today, this is the last bordello building still standing that directly relates to Houston Street's colorful past.  

14. Old Fire Station Number 4 - 618 West Adams Street - 1914

This building opened in 1914 as Fire Station Number 4.  In 1944, a larger station opened two blocks north, replacing it.

15. Pilton Building - 218 North Broad Street - 1910

Constructed in 1910, the Pilton Building is one of the last remaining historic structures along Broad.  Across the street from the courthouse site, it was the home of Herman Bloom Shoes during the 1930s and United Shoes in the 1950s.

16. Brewster Hospital - 843 West Monroe Street - 1885

Built in 1885, this former residence of a local meat dealer became Jacksonville's first hospital for African Americans in 1901. Matilda Cutting Brewster of Danielson, Connecticut, donated $1,000 in honor of her late husband, the Rev. George A. Brewster, to help start the hospital.   Together with a training school for nurses, the facility was founded by the Women's Home Missionary Society of the Methodist Church.

The hospital outgrew this structure and relocated in 1910. In 2005, the Old Brewster Hospital building was moved to its present location from its original site at 915 West Monroe Street.

17. 825 West Monroe Street - 1908

Religious structures where an instrumental part of LaVilla, north of Ward Street.  Most of the neighborhood was destroyed by the River City Renaissance plan during the 1990s, leaving this structure as one of the remaining survivors.  It was built in 1908 and was the First Born Holiness Church of Christ for many years.  Today, it is the Faith United Church of the Living God.  While the structure appears to be brick, exluding the bell tower and front facade, it is all wood frame construction.

18. 725 West Monroe Street - 1905-1908

After the Great Fire of 1901, many stately residences were constructed along West Monroe Street. One resident at 725 West Monroe fought to keep their house from being demolished as a part of the River City Renaissance neighborhood revitalization plan.  725 West Monroe was constructed between 1905 and 1908.  Solomon and Retta Shad were one of the first couples to call this Neo-Classical Revival structure home.  Shand was the owner of Solomon Shad, Inc., a West Bay Street liquor company.

19. Young Men's Hebrew Association - 712 West Duval Street - 1914

Today, the Young Men's Hebrew Association Building (Maceo Elks Lodge), is the oldest building still standing in Jacksonville of significance to the Jacksonville Jewish community.  Completed in 1914, it along with the B'Nai Israel Synagogue, was the epicenter of LaVilla's Jewish community.  The Y.M.H.A. relocated to Springfield in 1932.  In 1945, the structure was sold to the Maceo Elks Lodge, which still occupies the building today.

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