Downtown Jacksonville's most endangered buildings
In honor of National Historic Preservation Month, here's a brief list of overlooked buildings, structures and landmarks in Downtown Jacksonville that could end up becoming the next in the city's vast assortment of poorly-maintained surface parking lots or grass fields.
6. JoAnn’s Chili Bordello
This small commercial storefront opened in 1906 and was briefly used as a real estate office and bicycle shop. In 1910, it was purchased by Charles Sumner, who utilized as a market for a dairy business passed down from his father, called the William P. Sumner Company.
In 1910, Sumner added a narrow 4-story building in the rear of the property. Sumner, who’s previous location had been destroyed by the Great Fire of 1901, constructed his new dairy operation with brick and reinforced concrete, making it fireproof. During the 1920s, it was used by Jefferson Richard Berrier as an ice cream factory for the J.R. Berrier Ice Cream Company. In 1961, Berrier’s Ice Cream became the focal point of a NAACP boycott.
During the 1980’s, it housed JoAnn’s Chili Bordello. This restaurant was designed to look like a bordello and featured waitresses dressed in corsets and garter belts. The restaurant’s motto was “seventeen varieties of chili served in an atmosphere of sin.
7. Mount Calvary Baptist Church
301 Spruce Street
Abandoned for more than 24 years, Mount Calvary Baptist Church is one of the largest buildings still standing in Brooklyn, that date back to the neighborhood’s days before urban renewal and gentrification. It served the Brooklyn community until 1999, when Reverend John Allen Newman relocated the congregation from the neighborhood to new Northside location near Gateway Town Center.
Located at 301 Spruce Street, the church was built in 1955 by James Edwards Hutchins. Hutchins and commissioned under the leadership of Reverend William Hill. Born in Blakely, GA in 1890, Hutchins was one of the few local Black contractors that designed their buildings during segregation. In Black Jacksonville, Hutchins was responsible for several churches and residences in the College Gardens and Durkee Gardens subdivisions. After World War II, he worked with the Veterans Administration to train Black carpenters, brick masons and architects.
8. The Muller / Moody Residences
Built shortly after the Great Fire of 1901, city directories show that 403 Liberty Street was originally the home of Janey Barbara Muller, widow of Gustav Muller, a German immigrant that came to Jacksonville c. 1880. Between 1882 and 1893, Muller had a wholesale groceries, grain, liquor, and tobacco business on East Bay Street (Meyer and Muller). By 1895, he had a new partner and concentrated on wholesale liquors (Muller and Robertson) with their business located in the 300 block of East Bay Street, known as the Muller Block. Upon his death in 1897, Gustav Muller; Jr., continued the family business, which later became the G. Muller & Company and proprietors of the Jacksonville Steam Bottling Works, which expanded to soft drinks. In 1909, Janey and Gustav’s daughter, Ethel Dolores Muller married prominent Jacksonville businessman Maxey Dell Moody in her mother’s house.
In 1915, neighboring 411 Liberty Street was built for Maxey Dell Moody and Ethel Muller. Moody was in the road building construction equipment industry. His business, M.D. Moody & Sons, was formed in 1913, incorporated in 1946 and later expanded by his son Maxey Dell Moody Jr. into Moody Truck Center, Moody Light Equipment Rental, the Moody Machinery Corporation, Moody Fabrication and Machine, Dell Marine and MOBRO Marine, Inc., taking his contributions to the construction industry into the 21st century. While not all the businesses survive today, three do. Moody’s business once stood as the oldest family owned road equipment company in Florida. The Miami Herald credited Moody as the organizer of the American Road Buildings Association. Today, these Cathedral District residences and an adjacent related property at 411 East Duval Street, are owned by Duval Street Properties, LLC and are likely to be razed to pave way for a larger infill multifamily development project.
9. 316-322 Jefferson Street
316-322 Jefferson Street
316-318 and 320-322 Jefferson Street are two of the few remaining houses in LaVilla built immediately after the Great Fire of 1901. By 1914, the identical two family flats were occupied by members of the Safer family. Benjamin Safer was the first family member to arrive in Jacksonville from Lithuania around the turn of-the-century. Safer established the first kosher meat market in Jacksonville and was instrumental in forming the Orthodox Congregation B’nai Israel. B’nai Israel built a synagogue at the northwest corner of North Jefferson Street and West Duval Street, leading to this section of LaVilla becoming an early 20th century Jewish community.
Public directories indicate the block transitioned to Black community around 1933. The first Black tenants were employed as Pullman Porters at the train station and waiters and cooks at the George Washington Hotel. Developed by Robert Kloeppel, the Hotel George Washington opened its doors on December 15, 1926 with Mayor John Alsop, Governor John W. Martin and former Governor Cary Hardee in attendance. At the time, the 13 story building was the largest and most magnificent hotel in the city and the nation’s first one hundred percent air-conditioned hotel. Famed guests over the years included Charles Lindbergh in 1927 and the Beatles in 1964. Once owned by mobster William “Big Bill” Johnston, the hotel closed in 1971 and was razed and replaced by a surface parking lot in 1973. Today, the block is occupied by JEA’s new headquarters complex.
Surviving the City of Jacksonville’s River City Renaissance plan which leveled most of the neighborhood, today 316-318 and 320-322 Jefferson Street live on as a reminder of the impressive residential architecture and density that once dominated the streets of LaVilla.
10. Universal-Marion Building
21 West Church Street
The Universal-Marion Building is a large Mid-Century building with a history many consider worth preserving. Designed by Ketchum & Sharp, the 268’ tall, 19-story tower was the tallest building on the Northbank and second tallest in the city when it was completed in 1963. It was also one of a handful of buildings in Florida to feature a revolving rooftop restaurant. The 250-seat Ember’s Restaurant was said to be the largest revolving restaurant in the world, rotating 360 degrees every 1.5 hours when it opened in 1964. The complex also included a six-story, 180,000 square foot J.B. Ivey & Company department store and a parking garage that once included a Purcell’s Womens department store on the ground level. The building’s original premier tenant was founded by Louis Elwood Wolfson. The firm co-financed the production of Mel Brooks’ first movie, The Producers, which won an Oscar and later became a major Broadway play. It also funded Woody Allen’s first movie, Take the Money and Run.
Recently completing a new headquarters a few blocks southwest, the Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA) intends to sell the Universal-Marion Building to new owners that could either reuse or raze the skyscraper. While the mid-century mixed-use office and big-box retail complex may not be of significant value to JEA, the building is an important part of Jacksonville’s urban landscape that’s worthy of being seriously considered for adaptive reuse as opposed to demolition.