Thoughts from the Renovation of The John Gorrie

Delores Weaver expounds on converting the John Gorrie into a condominium. Yes, before and after pictures.

Published November 8, 2013 in Development -

I am often asked, “Where did you get your inspiration for the John Gorrie project?” A number of years ago, during our strolls around our neighborhood, my husband Wayne and I would walk past the former John Gorrie Junior High School. The original building, which was built in 1923 by noted architects Roy A. Benjamin and Mellen C. Greeley, and a second addition built in 1927, had been listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. The school had closed its doors in 1997 and had fallen into disrepair.

I remember saying, “Why doesn’t someone save this wonderful old building?” At the time, we had no idea it would fall to us to give it life once again.

Shortly after that, the school board decided to put the building up for auction. It really seemed like fate may have intervened, so we decided to offer a bid. We were not the highest bidder during the first round. But when that person backed out and the bid fell to us, I felt that we were truly destined to give the John Gorrie a new life and a new purpose.

The idea of creating a condominium community was immediate. After several walk-throughs and a study of its features and layout, it was clear the building lent itself beautifully to becoming unique residences, each reflecting the character and history of the John Gorrie. So we really never considered any other use for the building.

The project could never have succeeded without an incredible team of experts. Everyone brought different personal expertise, which miraculously became a greater whole. I have built several new houses and condominiums over the years, and I also restored a 1935 house in Connecticut. I am fortunate to have been blessed with a keen eye for design and detail. Yet nothing really prepared me for the commitment, challenges and hands-on effort that restoring the John Gorrie required.

Here are a few interesting and little-known facts: We invested more than $15 million of our personal funds in the project. More than 81 miles of electrical wire, 25,000 concrete pavers and 78 separate air conditioning units were used to complete the project. (It makes me smile to think that Dr. John Gorrie, the inventor of the first air conditioning, had a part in this renovation, too.) We made every effort to retain as much original wood flooring as possible, which included the original maple flooring in the gymnasium and that of the auditorium stage.

Nearly 30,000 square feet of new flooring was installed, as well. We were able to restore two large fan windows, which are now part of the resident’s reading room, along with the fan window over the double doorframe leading into the room. In addition, a round window in a staircase in the 1927 building remains in place. We also installed 725 new exterior windows, which were carefully chosen to match the history and original time period. We used original interior doors, windows, chalkboards and radiators for decorative art. The teachers’ original mail cubby was restored, and teachers’ names and the classes they taught were put on metal plaques for visitors to see.

During the grand opening of The John Gorrie a condominium, it was heartwarming to see the number of former John Gorrie Junior High School students who came to tour the building and show their support for the renovation. We were treated to funny, touching stories of their time at the school, and they loved finding their teacher’s names on the mail cubbies and seeing how things like the former gymnasium, auditorium and classroom areas had been transformed into living spaces. Countless schoolchildren remember fondly their experiences at the John Gorrie between 1923 and 1997. It is our hope that many new memories will be made in these homes, adding to the already rich heritage of the John Gorrie and its history. So far in the process, we have sold 24 of the 68 condominium units, with sales totaling nearly $3.7 million.

Wayne and I have tremendous passion for Jacksonville, and we are working hard – as we know many good community stewards are – to help effect change and growth in the city. We are very proud to have saved a wonderful building and, at the same time, preserved history and enhanced economic value for the Riverside Avondale neighborhood. It is also our hope that this project will inspire many future projects that will preserve and reuse historic buildings, not only in the Riverside Avondale area, but throughout downtown and other historic neighborhoods as well. The work is not for the faint of heart, and my experience continues to be that I receive a new gift every day that needs attention.

Guest Column by

Delores Weaver

Delores Barr Weaver is a tireless community advocate with a passion for historical renovation. In 2009, Weaver took on a project unlike anything she has ever done before, and purchased an abandoned school that had once been an architectural gem in the historic Jacksonville neighborhood of Riverside Avondale. The transformation of the John Gorrie Junior High School to The John Gorrie a condominium is the largest historical renovation by a private citizen in Northeast Florida. Barr Weaver is the former co-owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars and CEO of the Jaguars Foundation, and among the leading philanthropists in Jacksonville and the Southeast.

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