Preservation and Salvage in Jacksonville, Florida
After 6,000 years of human habitation, only a tiny fraction of Jacksonville’s historic buildings survive. The pole and palm-thatch buildings constructed by Mocama Indians are long gone, of course. The mysterious Fort Caroline, Jacksonville’s first European settlement, has never been located. The Kingsley Plantation house, built around 1800, is probably the oldest surviving structure in the city. Our architectural heritage before 1800 is but a memory of a memory. Several antebellum farmhouses survive, but many more have rotted away in the thick subtropical air.
A great building boom turned Jacksonville from an agricultural weigh station into a resort town for the rich and famous in the late 1800s. A plethora of fabulous hotels and many other buildings arose, only to be lost in the Great Fire of 1901. The worst urban fire in the history of the southeast destroyed more than two thousand buildings and left 10,000 people homeless. The few buildings that survived are still known to Jacksonville residents as “from before the fire.”
When the smoke cleared and the rubble settled, there was still plenty of money left among investors to rebuild. The rebuilding effort was so well funded that it attracted several of the nation’s top architects, including Henry Klutho. His Dyal-Upchurch building was the first large structure to rise from the barren downtown landscape. Recent renovation of the Dyal-Upchurch required the removal of the building’s original floor joists, which are now available for purchase at Eco Relics!
Jacksonville has lost many of its post-fire architectural treasures to neglect and abuse. The Palace Theater became a parking deck. Klutho’s Florida Life building lost its ornate cornices to a property owner’s short-sighted decision over an insurance policy. Barely anything is left of the historic La Villa neighborhood. Since 1979, more than half of Jacksonville’s downtown building stock has been razed to the ground, making way for more and more parking lots. More than enough of historic Jacksonville is already lost forever to the landfill.
Restoration projects can be risky and expensive. Not many builders have the capital or experience to assure that a crumbling gem will make it to the next century. Here at Eco Relics, we believe that the greenest building is one that is already standing. That’s why we are so excited to hear about all the historic renovations going on these days.
A couple of months ago, the Bourre Construction Group started on a two-year plan to restore Springfield’s 106-year-old Drew Mansion to its former glory, promising that “everything that’s there that is not beyond salvageable will be restored to its original design.” The Bostwick building, once in danger of the wrecking ball, is now slated for renovation beginning this month. The Elena Flats building, perhaps the last turn-of-the-century boarding house downtown, was recently spared from demolition again.
Jacksonville’s historic architecture cannot afford another three decades of demolition. The glory days after the Great Fire produced some of the most celebrated buildings in Florida. The treasure expended to build landmark architecture is wasted if we can’t save them now. Iconic buildings like Annie Lytle Public School no. 4 and Klutho’s Florida Baptist Convention Building are still in need.
The Eco Relics architectural salvage company is committed to historic preservation in Jacksonville, from the iconic to the simply old. We believe that our city’s history is worth saving and passing on to future generations. Passing on our architectural legacy is not simply a matter of cultural reproduction, but it can be an avenue for renaissance. The world’s greatest minds shape the future by looking to the past.