A Century of Murder, Mayhem, and Fraud in JacksonvilleNovember 10, 2014 8 comments Print Article
Do you really know your next door neighbor? Over the last century, Jacksonville has been the home of several interesting characters and residents who operated on the other side of the law. Here's a few from Jacksonville's notorious past.
10. Judge John W. Dodge: The Great Skyscraper Extortion Scheme of 1911
Judge John W. Dodge. Image courtesy of Bench and Bar of Florida.
Not all development announcements are made with the intention of actually constructing a real building. Judge John W. Dodge was a Jaxson who bankrolled a profit without applying for a building permit.
In 1911, John Joseph Heard, an Arcadia-based capitalist, announced plans to construct a skyscraper that would house his bank while also being the tallest structure south of Atlanta. Soon Heard broke ground on his $1 million, 15-story, 248' tall Heard National Bank Building, at the corner of Forsyth and Laura Streets.
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 became a Duval County Criminal Court Judge in 1904.
Dodge liked Heard's high profile project so much, he decided to build his own tower. His company, the Dodge Building Company, "just so 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.
However, Dodge's 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.
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.
Mark & Sheftall's design for Dodge's skyscraper. Image courtesy of The Architecture of Henry John Klutho, Fantasy Skyscrapers and Small Realities