Dear Call Box: What’s the history behind the free-standing columns at the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts? Are they from some old building in Jacksonville?

 

L.H., Lakewood


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Dear L.H.: They are, indeed. The imposing columns of polished white granite once marked the entrance of the Heard National Bank at the southwest corner of Forsyth and Laura streets. John Joseph Heard, a capitalist from Arcadia, Fla., built the $1 million skyscraper in 1913, but the bank closed in 1917, according to a 1997 Times-Union story. At the time, the 15-story building was touted as the tallest south of Altanta.

After the bank shuttered its doors, it was renamed the Graham Building and later the Florida Title Building, according to the Times-Union.

The building, then owned by Barnett Banks of Florida, was demolished in 1982 to make way for a parking lot, but the facade with the classic ionic Greek columns remained until 1988.

After being spared the wrecking ball by the Paragon Group and The Haskell Company, they were stored at the Haskell firm’s steel fabrication shop on 12th Street. They were brought out and restored to their majestic glory when the Civic Auditorium was remodeled into the Times-Union Center in 1997.

The four columns weigh 14 tons each and are 28 feet tall. Two stand in the lobby of the Times-Union Center while the other two flank the Water Street entrance portico.

The late A.J. Pionessa, who owned a construction equipment company, built the foundation for the columns.

Dear Call Box: What’s up with the removal of trees and vegetation from the interchange and roadside along Interstates 95 and 295 North?

T.T., Jacksonville

Dear Call Box: I was driving down I-95 when I noticed a lot of trees had been cleared. Why are they doing that?

D.B., East Arlington

Dear Call Box: Why are they clearing the trees around I-295?

R.D., Jacksonville

Dear T.T., D.B. and R.D.: The clearing of trees, shrubs and other vegetation on Jacksonville’s Northside has caught the eye of a lot of motorists since it’s a corridor, not just for commuters, but people traveling to other parts of the state.

It’s part of a major road project to remake the junction of Interstates 295 and 95. It began in November 2016 and is in the clearing phase, said Hampton Ray, a Florida Department of Transportation spokesman. The contractor has been told to protect as many trees as possible, Ray said.

“It is important to note that Florida statute requires no less than 1.5 percent of construction projects be dedicated to beautification and landscaping,” he said.

Generally, landscaping is conducted at some point following completion of a project in order not to damage the root structures of the trees and vegetation if planted too early, Ray said.

“A variety of factors, including budgetary restraints, may influence when beautification begins,” he said.

But Ray said a lot of vegetation is being removed so the goal is to make sure it’s done as soon as possible. The comprehensive planning project will involve a landscape architect, a certified arborist and community input to make sure it’s sustainable, as well as beautiful, he said.

As for the $176.8 million construction project, Times-Union staff writer Steve Patterson reported in February, it’s designed to improve traffic flow in an area expected to have about 50 percent more drivers by 2040. The work will rebuild parts of I-295 so drivers headed to I-95 can safely separate from through traffic and follow large looping ramps leading to the north-south interstate, Patterson wrote.

In addition, Patterson wrote, crews will rebuild parts of the ramps connecting I–295 to U.S. 17 and will change traffic lights to help traffic move smoother. The project’s final piece will replace an overpass that leads Cole Road over I-95 north of I-295, he said.

The project is expected to be completed in late 2020, Ray said.

Par 3 update: A reader wanted to know exactly where the Par 3 golf course that he’d played on decades ago was located. We knew the address was 10700 Beach Blvd. A reader, who lived in Windy Hill during the 1980s, said it was on the property now occupied by Sam’s Club.

Submit questions by calling (904) 359-4622 or mailing to Call Box, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL 32231. Please include contact information. If you have a picture to offer with your question, feel free to send it.

Sandy Strickland: (904) 359-4128