10 of Jax's Most Endangered Historic Places

Published December 10, 2015 in Neighborhoods - MetroJacksonville.com

1. Fire Station # 5
347 Riverside Avenue

Riverside Avenue Fire Station Number 5

In 2011, The Florida Trust for Historic Preservation added Fire Station #5 to its Most Endangered Historic Sites list. Here's what they had to say:

"Fire Station #5 is the oldest and most recognized historic building on Riverside Avenue in downtown Jacksonville’s Brooklyn neighborhood. It was designed by Robert Lee Sevil in 1910. The land on which the building stands was sold by the city to Fidelity National Financial, Inc. in 2009. The building is currently vacant, unmaintained, and has been the target of repeated vandalism. Some city officials are in support of the preservation of the building but are concerned over costs for relocation and rehabilitation. The site is added to the 2011 list due to the potential for demolition caused by redevelopment pressure."

4 years have passed and nothing has changed. Enough said.

2. Annie Lytle Elementary School
1011 Peninsular Place

When it opened as Public School No. 4 in 1917, the Annie Lytle School anchored Riverside Park.  During the 1950s, I-95 was constructed within a few feet of the building, totally isolating it from the park it anchored.  One can only assume that highway construction in the urban core can have a negative impact on its surroundings, considering this iconic structure has been vacant since 1960.  While several redevelopment plans have come and gone, now without a roof in some areas, the Annie Lytle's future remains in doubt.

3. Florida Baptist Convention Building
218 W. Church Street

Visibly crumbling, this building was the last downtown Jacksonville office building designed by Henry J. Klutho.  Completed in 1925, it was also the first office facility to be constructed and owned by a state Baptist organization. A few months ago, it appeared that revival would be on its way with FSCJ's dreams of adding dorms downtown. However, after a few months of investigation, FSCJ shifted their focus to another downtown site, leaving this building's future in search of a new savior.

4. Ford Motor Company Assembly Plant
Wambolt Street at the St. Johns River

Florida has never been known for being a major player in the automobile industry but Jacksonville was once home to a Ford Assembly plant that employed 800 people during the 1920s. Churning out 200 Model-T's a day, Jacksonville's assembly plant was designed by famed industrial architect Albert Kahn and is built on a quay extending 800 feet into the St. Johns River.  Massive in size and disconnected from the downtown core by the Mathews Bridge and Commodore Point Expressways, the assembly plant quietly awaits a new use large enough to fill its expansive size.

5. The Laura Trio
NE corner of Laura and Forsyth Streets

The Bisbee, The Marble Bank and the Florida Life Buildings make up the Laura Trio site.  Completed in 1908, the "Chicago-style" Bisbee Building was Florida's first skyscraper. Just to the north, the Florida Life Building was completed in 1912 and has been called Jacksonville's purest statement of a "skyscraper." Built for the Florida Life Insurance company, the narrow structure included intricate ornamentation typically used by famed architect, Louis Sullivan. Both of these towers were designed by and are the last remaining local high rise designs of H.J. Klutho. The third building and the oldest, is the Marble Bank Building, which was completed in 1902. For many years, this Neo-Classical Revival style building has been named the crown jewel and only worth preserving.

This site has become ground zero in Jacksonville's struggles to inject life into the heart of the city. After a decade of proposals failing to get off the ground, the current redevelopment project may be this site's last chance at survival. However, the city will have to pour in millions to pull it off. Soon, we'll find out if Jax is ready to put its money where its mouth is.

6. The Ambassador Hotel
310 West Church Street

Constructed in 1923, 310 West Church Street Apartments (Ambassador Hotel), is the largest original-use historic residential structure remaining in the Northbank.  It's also the only one designed with large courtyards so that most of the 50 apartments could occupy corner locations.  It was believed the opening of the courthouse would lead to the restoration of the Ambassador. While redevelopment proposals have popped up from time to time, none have materialized. The longer Julia Street remains an abandoned moonscape, the stronger the chance this building comes down like others once standing in the immediate area.

7. Brooklyn's Park Street
Park Street between Forest Street and the Lee Street viaduct

One of Jacksonville's oldest African-American urban neighborhoods, Brooklyn was platted shortly after the Civil War by Confederate veteran Miles Price in 1868. After years of blight, decay and abandonment, Brooklyn has become one of the hottest places for redevelopment in the city. Unfortunately, instead of a balanced blend of old and new, preserving attributes of a neighborhood that make it unique, much of historic Brooklyn is in danger of being completely eliminated altogether. The challenges of integrating old and new can be clearly seen along Park Street. Once filled with brick warehouses and storefronts tightly hugging the street, it's rapidly gaining its fair share of demolished sites in anticipation of new development. While its future is still undecided, in a city not known for its historic preservation policies, Park Street's older buildings may be living out their final years.

8. The red light district's last remaining bordello
615 Houston Street

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 in 1914, 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. However, it won't be around long. A 7-story, 72-unit affordable housing development for seniors is planned for the site.

9. American Motor Exports Company

Once dominated with a 370-foot-long clerestory, all windows have been removed.

The American Motors Export Company was a short lived automobile assembly plant in Durkeeville. American Motors opened at 801 West 15th Street in 1921 to manufacture the Innes Automobile.  The Innes was an American Automobile built in 1921 by Henry L. Innes in Jacksonville, Florida. It was an attempted revival of the Simms automobile made in Atlanta, GA only in 1920. Henry L. Innes was production manager for The Simms Motor Car Co.  As the company name implied, the Innes was intended mainly for export.  The Innes was an assembled car meaning all parts were purchased elsewhere and assembled in Jacksonville.  Unfortunately, no more than 6 automobiles were built when Henry L. Innes died suddenly at the age of 46.

Between 1980 to 2010, Wood Treaters pressure treated utility poles, pilings, heavy timber, and plywood products using the wood treating preservative chromated copper arsenate (CCA).  Wood was pressure treated with CCA and allowed to drip dry on site. Around the time arsenic contamination had been discovered Wood Treaters, LLC. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Now 90 years old, in poor physical condition and labled as an contaminated EPA site, this historic property faces an uncertain future.

10. Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce Building
404 North Julia Street

While the Ambassador Hotel is the major focus of this block, its next door neighbor is a beauty that has been altered beyond recognition.  Completed in 1927, this Mediterranean Revival structure was the home of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce and then the Merck Drug Company before its facade was radically altered by the Marine National Bank in 1957. Of interesting note, in 2001, First Alliance Bank purchased Marine National Bank. Two years later, it acquired EverBank, an online bank with $250 million in deposits at the time. The company later adopted the EverBank name and the rest is history. While EverBank has gone on the bigger things, the old Chamber of Commerce building has become a poster child of Northbank despair.

The original facade of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce building at the intersection of Julia and Duval Streets.

Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at edavis@moderncities.com

This article can be found at: https://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2015-dec-10-of-jaxs-most-endangered-historic-places

Metro Jacksonville

Copyright MetroJacksonville.com