A look inside Jacksonville's historic Laura Street Trio

April 30, 2017

A property containing a few of Florida's oldest abanonded skyscrapers is on its way to finally being brought back to life. With this in mind, Bullet of Abandoned Florida takes an inside look at Jacksonville's Laura Trio while Ennis Davis, AICP of Modern Cities provides the background narrative.

Inside the Marble Bank Building

The Marble Bank, oldest of the trio, dates back to 1902, when it was constructed to replace the Mercantile Exchange Bank's previous building that had recently been destroyed in the Great Fire of 1901.  Mercantile was founded by Samuel Birdsey Hubbard as the Southern Savings & Trust Company.  

Born in Wadesboro, North Carolina on June 13, 1833, Hubbard’s childhood was spent in Middletown, Connecticut, where his family had dominated after arriving in 1650 and his great grandfather serving as a Captain in the Revolutionary Army.  The Hubbard family owned and operated general stores all over the country and Samuel took control of the family’s Pine Bluff, Arkansas store in 1853.  However, his health deteriorated and he returned to Connecticut in seven years later.  There, he heard that the perfect climate for his health might exist in Jacksonville, Florida.  Shortly after the Civil War, he arrived in Jacksonville, recognized the city needed a well-organized general store and opened the S.B. Hubbard Company in 1867.  By the 1880’s, Hubbard’s company had grown to be one of the largest hardware businesses in the South.

In May 1882, Hubbard formed the Springfield Company with several prominent men, including Jonathan Greeley, and William McDuff.  Their company then acquired six hundred acres north of Hogans Creek to develop Springfield, which quickly grew with their acquisition of B. Upton’s Pine Street (now Main Street) streetcar line between the downtown riverfront and 8th Street.  In 1883, with John Q. Burbridge, J.J. Daniel, James M. Schumacher, H.S. Ely, Francis Fatio L’engle, M.M. Drew, P. McQuaid, W.T. Forbes, and William McDuff, Hubbard formed the Jacksonville and Atlantic Railroad Company, which operated a narrow gauge railroad between South Jacksonville and Pablo Beach before being sold to Henry Flagler in 1899.  Abandoned in 1932, the Jacksonville & Atlantic’s right-of-way is now known as Beach Boulevard.

In 1888, Hubbard organized the Southern Savings & Trust Company.  As its president, he quickly built its capital base to over $150,000.  Southern Savings & Trust Company's first vice president was William Sherman Jennings, who would later serve as the 18th governor of Florida from 1900 to 1905.  During his term as governor, he decided to drain and develop the Everglades by cutting the natural rock dams in the rivers of South Florida. The bank, which was located on the southeast corner of Main and Forsyth Streets, was renamed Mercantile Exchange Bank in 1900.

After the original location was destroyed by fire, the bank purchased the old Ely Block Building site for $24,594 at the intersection of Laura and Forsyth Streets for a replacement building.  Designed by Edward H. Glidden, the new neoclassical revival-style building sheathed in marble was completed in 1902.  On June 13, 1903, a few days past his 70th birthday, while planning to join his wife for a vacation in Maine, Hubbard died after complaining of a stomach ailment. Two years after Hubbard’s death, the Mercantile Exchange Bank was purchased and renamed Florida Bank & Trust Company.  Needing additional space with the new acquisition, the three-year-old bank building was expanded to its present size.  A year later, the bank was renamed Florida National Bank of Jacksonville with Captain Charles E. Garner serving as its president.  Prior to this position, the former Steamboat captain’s business interested included the Independent Day Steamboat Line and the Jacksonville Water Works.

Excerpt from Reclaiming Jacksonville by Ennis Davis

Redevelopment plans indicate the Marble Bank building will be restored and converted into a new full service restaurant and bar named "The Bullbriar". Lead by acclaimed Chef Scott Schwartz initial plans for the restaurant feature a “southern-sophisticated” theme and call for 175 seats and a large bar within the space. Along with the restaurant on the first floor and mezzanine, Schwartz has an option to have private dining rooms and wine cellars in the building’s basement vaults. “The Bullbriar will be the perfect complement to what will be a truly unique hotel,” said developer Steve Atkins, Principal and Managing Director of SouthEast Group. “Scott is one of the region’s top chefs and we couldn’t be more pleased with the opportunity to have his culinary genius featured as part of the experience at the Trio. The Marble Bank building is without a doubt the most incredible venue anywhere in Jacksonville and now has all the makings of the city's best restaurant."

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