The pink boarded-up house may not look like much today, but once it was the spanking new house of a black Union soldier who made the Brooklyn neighborhood his home just after the Civil War.
This building is one of 21 structures and one neighborhood recently listed by the Jacksonville Historical Society as the city’s most endangered buildings for 2017. And from the looks of this nearly 150-year-old building, it could collapse at any time.
Yet generations ago this house was one of dozens of small homes built in Brooklyn to accommodate former soldiers and freed slaves.
In fact, an 1885 map shows numerous small houses like this one scattered throughout the area.
Today, it’s the only one left.
And that’s true of the entire list recently handed out by the historical society.
Jacksonville’s phenomenal history
Each of the list’s structures may be the only one of its type remaining. Or, it may be the only such building ever constructed. But all attest to the phenomenal history of Jacksonville and its architecture.
The four most endangered structures, according to society member Wayne Wood, all deserve special attention. At the top of the list is the Chart House restaurant, recently purchased by Amkin Management, a South Florida investment firm.
Think the Chart House isn’t significant?
The Florida chapter of the American Institute of Architects has named it one of the top 100 buildings in the state for its Modern Organic Architecture.
Just take a stroll down to the Southbank to see why.
The architect, Kendrick Bangs Kellogg, actually scaled the building on the site to ensure that it seemed to organically rise from the ground.
The front features massive concrete barrel-shaped structures while the side facing the St. Johns River resembles nothing less than a fanciful Jules Verne creation with tarnished copper ribs and gigantic windows.
FAMILIAR WITH FORD PLANT?
The same firm has also purchased the old Fort Motor Assembly Plant that rests upon a long quay under the Matthews Bridge.
It’s another one of those “scratch you head” selections for historic significance — that is, until you look closer.
Designed by Henry Ford’s personal architect in 1924, it is a brickwork marvel with intricate herringbone construction. As large as three football fields, it was originally stunningly lit by enormous skylights that were several hundred feet in length.
Also among the top four is the much-loved Drew Mansion, which is known in Springfield as The Castle. Built in 1909 for Dr. Horace Drew, the building has been crumbling into disrepair for years.
It was purchased about two years ago with a promise that the new owner would restore it. However, it’s now back on the market again.
This striking residence is really one of a kind.
And it deserves to be saved.
Rounding out the top four is yet another initially quizzical choice — the JEA building. It is a quirky, concrete sheathed building with hexagonal windows. Once known as the Universal Marion Building, the JEA site was constructed in 1963 and had as its crowning feature a rotating restaurant known as The Embers.
And at 19 stories, the JEA building is the only skyscraper in Jacksonville that embodies the characteristics of Mid-Century modern design, a whimsical style that became popular after World War II.
Although those four are the most endangered, there are a couple of other interesting inclusions on the list.
let’s save these architectural gems
First is the old Claude Nolan Cadillac building on North Main Street. It, too, might seem a bizarre choice — an ugly tan stucco monstrosity — until you find out that under that stucco is a stunning Henry Klutho-designed building.
Imagine the delight of Jacksonville historians if the city could add yet another of this architectural genius’ works to its catalog of Klutho buildings by stripping it of stucco and restoring it to its former glory.
Finally, there’s the inclusion of the whole of San Marco on the list. That seems like yet another unusual inclusion except when you consider that dozens of local historic buildings have succumbed to wrecking balls in recent years.
If the area would only register as an historic district, it could save many of the remaining buildings from being lost. And it would prevent Jacksonville from losing some of the touches that make it unique.
We should look at saving these buildings now.
All of them.