Metro Jacksonville Book Wins Award

April 29, 2013 10 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

The Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission has notified Metro Jacksonville, that its recently released book, Cohen Brothers: The Big Store, will be the recipient of a 2013 Preservation Award. Cohen Brothers: The Big Store, shares the history of Jacksonville's department store industry and major retail in downtown from the Civil War through the present by focusing on the rise and fall of the Northbank's largest store: Cohen Brothers, The Big Store.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. April 29, 2013 – In celebration of National Preservation Month, the Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission will honor 22 projects and services at their annual awards ceremony.


Thursday, May 2

6 p.m.


Jacksonville Main Library Auditorium

303 N. Laura St. -- 32202


This annual awards ceremony recognizes outstanding projects and services that promote historic preservation in the Jacksonville area.  Award categories include: Heritage Education, Residential Rehabilitation, Commercial Rehabilitation, Architecturally Compatible New Construction, Preservation Projects and Services, and Great Save.  The awards will be presented by the Historic Preservation Commissioners with Chairman Angela Schifanella acting as master of ceremony.

The 2013 Preservation Awards will honor the following:

        Publication Cohen Brothers: The Big Store

        “Fifty Years Ago This Week” in Financial News and Daily Record

        Historic Riverside Avondale: Jacksonville's Hidden Gem (Airport Art Exhibit)

        Jacksonville by Design:  AIA Celebrates 100 Years of Architecture Exhibit (MOSH)

        An Architectural Masterpiece: The St. James Building, 100 Year Celebration and Exhibit

        Jax Pop Up History by the Jacksonville Historical Society

        Front Porch Stories (Mandarin)

        James Weldon Johnson Heritage Tour

        San Marco by Design : A Smart Growth Plan for North San Marco

        Historic Springfield Main Street Cruise

        Greenleaf and Crosby Clock Restoration (Downtown)

        Gloria DeVall for maintaining and monitoring Springfield's forgotten homes

        Mobile Web Application for Historic Springfield by Johannes Ullrich

        Michael Lawson for his documentation and preservation of cemeteries

        Residential rehabilitation of 1619 Challen Avenue (Riverside-Avondale)

        Residential rehabilitation of 3012 Oak Street (Riverside-Avondale)

        Residential rehabilitation of 3665 Pine Street  (Riverside-Avondale)

        Commercial rehabilitation of 1060–1068 Park St. (Derby on Park in Riverside Avondale)

        Commercial rehabilitation of 2111 N. Liberty St. (Paul Davis Restoration in Springfield)

        Commercial rehabilitation of 1342 North Laura Street (Springfield)

        The architecturally compatible new construction at 3710 Richmond Street

        Relocation and rehabilitation of Historic St. Paul's-By-The-Sea Episcopal/Beaches Chapel

BACKGROUND: National Preservation Month was created by the National Trust for Historic Preservation to spotlight grassroots preservation efforts around the country.  Communities take this time to celebrate historic preservation activities in order to create greater public awareness, understanding and appreciation of efforts to preserve local historic resources and heritage.

Review of Cohen Brothers: The Big Store

Classifying himself as a silver-hair residing in Atlantic Beach, Michael Hoffmann provides us with a review of Metro Jacksonville's Cohen Brothers The Big Store.

Urban planner Ennis Davis, a founder of the website, has written a highly readable account – accompanied by photographs, maps and illustrations – of Cohen Brothers, the Big Store on Hemming Park that was the center of retail activity in Jacksonville for 75 years. The building it occupied during that time, the St. James Building, was Henry Klutho’s masterpiece that lives on today as Jacksonville’s city hall.
The German-born Jewish Cohen brothers arrived in 1867 to a Jacksonville still prostrate from the ravages of the Civil War, and they set up a dry-goods store in a building constructed of logs on Bay Street, which was then the city’s retail center. The business prospered under the leadership of Jacob Cohen and as the city’s population grew and their sales increased, the business moved to larger sites on Bay St.
The Great Fire of 1901 concluded this epoch of the city’s history on a tragic note. But, as frequently is the case, the catastrophe presented opportunities for visionaries (and immigrants) like Jacob Cohen and Henry Klutho to re-build bigger and better – in the process stamping their names indelibly on the city’s history.
Klutho was a practitioner of the Prairie School of architecture that was founded and nurtured by Frank Lloyd Wright. Klutho, along with many other architects and builders, came  to Jacksonville looking for work after the Great Fire. As a consequence, Jacksonville today has the largest collection of Prairie School buildings and houses anywhere outside the Midwest.
By 1912 Jacob Cohen had acquired the site of the venerable St. James Hotel, which had burnt down in the fire but previously had been one of the poshest spots in the city for late-19th-century snowbirds to roost before Flagler extended his railroad to Miami and the Keys. Klutho convinced Cohen that a 4-story, mixed-use, mixed-tenant building would draw the maximum number of shoppers to his store. The building cost $500,000 to build and drew comparisons to Wanamaker’s in Philadelphia and Macy’s in New York City for what the patron could expect in goods and service.
Subsequent expansions of the St. James building to meet the needs of a growing retail business amidst a growing population led to alterations of Klutho’s original design, including the removal from sight of a magnificent octagonal skylight that, thankfully, was restored after the city purchased the building in 1993. Today’s visitors to city hall can see and appreciate what local patrons of Cohen’s could not for much of the building’s history.
Downtown Jacksonville, after decades as the area’s prime destination for shopping, sports, dining and after-hours activities, not to mention employment, began to diminish in the 1970s as suburbanization, desegregation, the automobile culture, perceptions of downtown traffic and parking, and the rise of suburban shopping malls undercut the central city’s appeal throughout the United States. The heavy hitters in downtown Jacksonville retail – Cohen’s, Penney’s, Sears, Ivey’s and Furchgott’s -- followed the trends and built in suburban malls that sprang up all over Duval County.
Cohen’s went through a series of name changes beginning in 1958 when the Cohen family relinquished control to the May Company and the store became May Cohen’s, then May’s, then after subsequent ownership changes, Maison Blanche, Gayfers, Dillard’s and Belk’s. The two existing suburban Belk’s in Duval County are the surviving lineal descendants of the original Cohen Brothers. The flagship store on Hemming Park (now Plaza) had many good years after 1958, but by the time closed in 1988 downtown was firmly fixed in its diurnal existence.
I recently attended a talk at the BookMark given by the author and his co-author, Sarah Gojekian, and there was a lively give-and-take between the authors and an audience comprised of still-sentient silver-hairs. Everyone had a story or anecdote about Cohen’s or the vibrant street life of Jacksonville in its heyday, and the book itself includes additional reminiscences from those who loved the Christmas windows, or remembered the first escalators in Jacksonville, or still crave Cohen’s signature “Annaclairs” candy. (The recipe is included in the book.)
It’s hard to imagine that any long-term resident of northeast Florida could read this book and not be quickly immersed in their own reverie. They may also reflect upon, as did the audience at the BookMark, the emergence of the St. Johns Town Center as the retail locus of today, a phenomenon Davis identifies as an “edge city.” Davis believes the best hope of reviving the downtown core in Jacksonville is to maintain basic services and to allow time for evolving national trends to take hold here that make a walking city attractive once more.
Ennis Davis also published in 2012 Reclaiming Jacksonville: Stories behind the River City’s Historic Landmarks (The History Press, $24.99), a book of photographs with accompanying essays that examines 14 Jacksonville landmarks, all currently empty and many abandoned and crumbling. There is an extensive bibliography, comprised mostly of articles that appeared in local periodicals, including pieces by Times-Union legends Bill Foley, Jessie-Lynne Kerr, and Cynthia Parks.
Book review by Michael Hoffmann is a silver-hair who lives in Atlantic Beach and has an MA in history from the University of North Florida.

Click here to order your autographed copy of Cohen Brothers

Click here to order your autographed copy of Reclaiming Jacksonville