Cowford Chophouse; Revitalizing The Old Bostwick Building

The name “Cowford Chophouse” is a nod to the original name of Jacksonville, given in honor of the narrow point in the St. Johns River where settlers would ford the river with their cattle. Today, guests can gaze across that same river to enjoy Southbank skyline views from Downtown Jacksonville’s only steakhouse and rooftop lounge.

The Bostwick building, at the corner of Ocean and Bay, is one of downtown Jacksonville, Florida’s most visible historic buildings. It was constructed in 1902, one of the first permitted structures built after the Great Fire.

*Original article entitled “SALVAGING THE BOSTWICK BUILDING JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA” appeared May 2016, written by David Podris. Article was reprinted in it’s entirety with updates.

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Apocalyptic Scene from the Great Fire of 1901

“On the warm morning of May 3rd, 1901, a tragic event was about to change Jacksonville. Around noon, a spark from a small wood-burning cook stove set ablaze some of the Spanish moss laid out to dry at the Cleveland Fiber Factory, located at Union and Davis Streets downtown.” (Which by the way has given way to the naming of yet another local restaurant, Mossfire Grill located in Jacksonvilles 5 Points area).

Sporting typical “big bank” architecture, it hosted a succession of failed banks through the boom and bust cycles of the early 20th century. A skillful renovation in 1919 doubled its size, but the banking years were already over for the building when the Great Depression struck in 1929.

bostwick original

It was converted to office usage in the 1930s, housing the architectural business of definitive Jacksonville architect Henry Klutho from 1944 to 1960. The building declined alongside other iconic downtown Jacksonville, Florida structures during suburbanization and urban renewal projects in the following decades.

bostwick renovated

In the 1990s, local artist Jim Draper decorated the windows with his famous jaguar mural. Eventually, years of water intrusion damaged the building so severely that many feared it could not be saved.

bostwick jag

In 2012 the city declared the building a historic landmark and foreclosed on the owner, who had filed a demolition permit application in lieu of paying over $70,000 in fines that had accrued as a result of code violations. Local restaurateur Jacques Klempf bought the building at auction with the idea of renovating it for use as an upscale chophouse.

The pain-staking, brick-by-brick renovation work presented many challenges. A sinking foundation in one corner and a leaking roof in another threatened to collapse the walls, built of brick and mortar before the development of steel-reinforced concrete. Just holding the building up would be a victory.

bostwick held up
Photo by Bob Mack, Florida Times-Union

Here’s a look at the Bostwick building during the reconstruction phase. More images can be found in a 2017 article in Modern Cities.

Scaffolding surrounds the Bostwick building during it's reconstruction.
Scaffolding surrounds the Bostwick building during it’s reconstruction.

In perhaps the safest bank vault in town, a steel-enclosed room weighing some 60,000 lbs, the renovation team discovered the most exciting salvage score in years. Thousands of items were preserved, including jewelry and valuables, blueprints and a drafting table that might have belonged to Klutho, and stacks of thousands of paper records that will keep local historians busy for a while.

bostwick salvage
Photo by Bob Self, Florida Times-Union

The entire collection was donated to the Museum of Science and History, where staff estimates it will take several years of examination to even be sure of what they have before exhibiting the material for the general public. Until then, historians will be able to access the archive at MOSH’s third-floor collections room.

The Beautiful Cowford Chophouse today!
The Beautiful Cowford Chophouse today!

Many details of this Renaissance Revival landmark have been restored to their original glory with support from the Downtown Investment Authority and the City of Jacksonville’s Historic Preservation Trust Fund. Restored elements include the historic arched windows, exterior bricks, metal cornice, and 300-year-old heart of pine lumber that is seen throughout the building today. More images inside the building can be seen in the Cowford Chophouse Gallery.

Usable building material isn’t the only thing worth keeping out of the landfill. Preserving Jacksonville’s cultural heritage is part of Eco Relics’ mission. Our deconstruction team regularly salvages culturally significant items that were bound for the landfill. Eco Relics makes those items available to you at our historic warehouse just outside downtown Jacksonville. Stop by and browse the broad selection of local antiques and collectibles.

*Original article entitled “SALVAGING THE BOSTWICK BUILDING JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA” appeared May 2016, written by David Podris. Article was reprinted in it’s entirety with updates.