By Lindsay Forrest, DVI Intern


All photos taken by DVI

On January 28, 2015, the Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission held a press conference to debate another demolition of a historical site in Downtown Jacksonville. Located directly across from the Basilica of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, the Elena Flats building is a historical landmark distinguished by original glass windows, rustic cherry red hardwood floors and decades of history.

After the Great Fire of 1901, which damaged more than 2,368 buildings in the heart of Downtown Jacksonville, the city reconstructed more than 146 city blocks. Among the restoration, the city built a 22-room inexpensive boarding house for local residents called the Elena Flats. The rooming house offered close access to local job opportunities, businesses, restaurants, bars and numerous activities creating a surplus of economic growth for the recovering metropolitan area.

Fast forward 107 years later and the elenaElena Flats building is still standing on East Duval Street. Do not let the caution tape, abandoned rooms, and scaffolding equipment turn you away from this hidden beauty. The previous owner applied for a permit to tear down the building and convert it into another parking lot. Fortunately, current owners Jack Meeks and his wife, JoAnn Tredennick marveled at the significance and beauty of the Elena Flats property hidden deep underneath the fragments. The age, history and importance of the building made it eligible for a complete renovation and noted as a historical preservation site in Jacksonville.


Following the renovation, the Elena Flats will house four luxury condominiums complete with private patios, luminous skylights and spiraling staircases. In order to still embody all the history of Elena Flats, the restoration plans utilize the original hardwood floors, skylights and tile flooring. The renovations will be completed and ready to rent in early 2017.

We are excited to witness the restoration of this hidden local gem planned for early next year in #DTJax!


There’s a building Downtown some believe is haunted. In three years’ time, three different ghost-hunting expeditions spent nights there – and one expedition detected something:

An apparition of a body sitting in balcony chair.

That apparition was detected at the Florida Theatre, one of Downtown’s most beautiful historic landmarks. If the walls of the Florida Theatre could talk, there would be some amazing stories to tell. Lucky for us, though, the Florida Theatre staff offers tours to the public. I had the opportunity to do so at a recent First Wednesday Art Walk.

This tour explores of the stage, backstage, the “green room,” dressing rooms, the promenade, the Barnett Room and the balcony. It’s awe-inspiring from start to finish. Here are a few fun facts about the venue that fascinate me most:

  • Elvis Presley performed at the Florida Theatre in 1956, one of his first headline concerts appearances on an indoor stage. The performance was the subject of a LIFE Magazine feature, and a local judge sat through the concert to make sure Presley’s dancing was not too suggestive.
  • When the Florida Theatre opened in 1927 as a movie theater, Forsyth Street was known as “theatre row,” with half a dozen other theaters nearby. The Florida Theatre is the only one remaining.
  • The theater is the city’s only remaining example of 1920s fantasy architecture and is one of only four remaining high-style movie “palaces” built in Florida during this period.
  • The theater was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.
  • The back of the theater was originally open – no doors. After the Great Fire of 1901, many buildings were built in a way that large groups of people could exit quickly. Doors were not added until the 1980s restoration.
  • Every level of seating in the theater contains different types of chairs. Rocking chairs were once used, and the balcony seats are original.
  • Most ghost “activity” is said to take place in the projection booth. Speaking of the projection booth, the theater’s original projection equipment is used to screen the annual Summer Movie Classics series.
  • The theater’s Barnett Room was a fully functioning nursery from 1927-1952 for patrons’ children while parents enjoyed a theater show.
  • One of three original telephone booths just outside the theater doors still contains a telephone. Another houses an ATM; the other is used for storage.
  • The elevated theater boxes to the right and left of the stage are purely decorative and were never used for seating.
  • The architecture of the building has French, Italian and Moroccan influences.
  • Capitals of the columns upstairs contain carvings of dolphins – look closely, and you’ll find them.
  • The grapes on the vines just outside the theater doors are made of hand-blown glass, created especially for the theater in 1927.

Want to learn more? Take a tour: groups are invited to schedule a tour of the Florida Theatre; call 904-355-5661 for more information. Public tours are offered at the First Wednesday Art Walk. And, if you’re not faint of heart, stay tuned to the Florida Theatre website for future paranormal tours information.

It’s historic structures like the Florida Theatre that shine a light on the importance of historic preservation and show that with a little love and restoration, Downtown historic buildings can continue to tell great stories.

When Shawn Thurston spray-painted his landscape mural on the storefront of Chamblin’s Uptown last month, the installation was an introduction of the public art to come. Using the inaugural One Spark festival as a catalyst, DVI continued its efforts in collaboration with the Cultural Council to bring art Downtown, acting as a liaison between artists and property owners and securing approval to add four temporary and permanent public art installations to Downtown’s building façades.

Doug Eng’s “Beyond the Facade”

Local photographer and fine artist, Doug Eng, installed large-scale images of nature and architecture called “Beyond the Façade,” over the boarded windows of the Laura St. Trio and Barnett Bank buildings at the intersection of Laura and Adams streets.

A familiar face in the Downtown art scene, Eng has participated in Off the Grid for a number of years, formerly with a studio space in Studio 121 and currently as a member of the artist cooperative, Southlight Gallery. Prior to “Beyond the Façade,” Eng has lead and participated in a number of installations and exhibits Downtown including “Message in a Bottle: Wall of Light” in Main Street Park last spring. The installation sculpture displayed thousands of messages from the community to raise the awareness of our military’s service to our country.

‘Currently the landscape of abandoned buildings, empty storefronts, and “Available” signage is the driver of depressed states of consciousness for the city. By creating interest, curiosity, and observer interaction, we can begin to transform the downtown experience to a positive one,’ said Eng.

“Rise from the Ashes” by Corey Kolb & Eric Hinote

Local activists Doug Coleman and Wayne Wood introduced “The Big One” project, which brought six larger-than-life sculpture and mural installations to Downtown for One Spark. Included in project is the “Rise from the Ashes” wheat paste mural spanning the width of the vacant Lerner Building, which sits across from The Carling residence at 20 W. Adams Street.

The mural was a joint collaboration by local artists and graphic designers Corey Kolb and Eric Hinote.  “We were trying to portray a positive message for the city in that it’s time to support Downtown and see it return to the epicenter it once was. We see that initiatives like Art Walk and One Spark can revitalize Jacksonville’s urban core by giving people a reason to visit and stay Downtown,” said Hinote. “We feel it’s time that Jacksonville embraces this notion and builds off the initiatives it has put in place to make Downtown more vibrant culturally.”

“Yarnbomb Downtown Jax” by Jackie Kuhn

Between the Laura Street Trio and Lerner buildings, sits an empty fenced-in lot, which came to life with whimsical knitted scenes lead by Jackie Kuhn from Neptune Beach, FL. The most temporary of the installations, “Yarnbomb Downtown Jax,” showcased this female dominated art form, which creates a dialogue between fiber artists and the public through non-permanent street art, called “yarn bombing.” In addition to the mural, yarn creations covered tree trunks, statues, poles and bike racks during the festival.

“Up-cycle” by SeeSAW

Two blocks down Adams Street, Matthew Hebermehl of Savannah, GA lead a project by SeeSAW, See Savannah Art Walls, to paint “Up-cycle.” This installation on the exterior of Burro Bar at 100 E. Adams Street, brings color to a formerly whitewashed wall highly visible from the Main Street bridge entrance into the Northbank core of Downtown. Inspired by the themes of renewal and cultural fire, the mural showcases the positive impact of community-centric public art.

If Thurston’s first mural was the introduction, the murals installed for One Spark are only the first chapter. Announced recently, the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville has launched a Spark Initiative for the walking core of Downtown. Through this grant program, the Cultural Council will fund additional placement of art and culture, such as bike racks or benches; or events, performances, festivals, concerts and tours.

Have you had a chance to see the new art Downtown? What do you think? What would you like to see next?

Playing tourist in Midtown

Recently I spent a long weekend in NYC. It had been 12 years since I had visited the Big Apple, and I delighted in playing tourist: staying in mid-town Manhattan, attending a wedding in Long Island City and shopping in SoHo. But, despite the fact that I was visiting for pleasure, I couldn’t help but make mental notes of big city best practices.

Learning curve aside, it’s easy to see how New York’s public transportation makes living without a car a reality for so many. You name it, I took it. Buses were standing room only. Buskers danced to Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It” on the subway, while seasoned New Yorkers put on their best poker faces. (I couldn’t say which was more entertaining.) Taxis were convenient and warm on cold, snowy evenings. The waits were brief and the wayfinding concise. But in my opinion, the best part about public transit is the before and after… the walking, and its associated physical and mental health benefits that so many New Yorkers enjoy.

Central Park and its People

New York’s public parks are well managed and programmed, drawing large crowds despite freezing March temperatures. Bryant Park is a frequently referenced case study for public space management and it’s easy to see why. Meticulously maintained, Bryant Park had lush landscaping, a wealth of moveable tables and chairs, hospitable signage, and plenty of programming: I happened upon both an ice-skating rink and a children’s health food festival during my stop. And though I only had a half hour to spend in Central Park, the experience there was quite similar. I watched harbor seals frolicking at the Central Park Zoo, spied a second ice-skating rink, and took in the natural beauty as I wandered among joggers, tourists and locals alike on a late Sunday afternoon.

Adaptive reuse and historic preservation are alive and well in New York. Take trendy SoHo for example. Crowded streets zigzagged through the SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District. Decorative cast iron facades—dating back to between the 1840 to the 1880s in many cases—encompass pre-existing industrial buildings. The facades enabled buildings to attract commercial clients over the years. And then following the abandonment of a proposed elevated expressway plan, which would have devastated the area in the 1960s, the district attracted artists who utilized the buildings for living and working studios. Today, the district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, declared a National Historic Landmark and is chocked full of galleries and shops.

There’s something special about New York: the setting for so many stories, the subject of so many songs. And while there’s a lot to be learned from other cities big and small, I’m also reminded of all that’s special about Downtown Jacksonville. The small-town charm, locally owned and operated businesses, the way the Florida sun reflects off the St. Johns, and the vast possibilities for a city starting to come into its own.

by: Katherine Hardwick in Developments No Comments  

Today, two exciting Downtown proposals, one expansion and one redevelopment, will go before the Downtown Development Review Board (DDRB).

The Arbours at Ambassador Place
Birmingham-based Arbour Valley Development, LLC is proposing to redevelop the former Ambassador Hotel, located at 420 Julia Street for residential apartment use. The developer would remodel the 80 existing units to create 57 apartments, a club room and fitness area and would build out a new rooftop clubhouse. From the developer: “Our projects utilize state-of-the art best-practice construction techniques, are environmentally conscious, strive to maximize green space, and accentuate a “work-play” environment.”

Read more about the history of the Ambassador Hotel and view the presentation and proposed renderings at  Metro Jacksonville.

Burrito Gallery Expansion
If, like us, you can’t get enough of these burritos, tacos and quesadillas, more Burrito Gallery is a good, good thing. A Downtown staple since the Super Bowl, Burrito Gallery is proposing to build out a two-story, 1,800 sq ft addition on the back of their existing restaurant. According to restaurant partner, Tony Allegretti, business at Burrito Gallery improves each year. “Downtown is our home and are excited that the Downtown family is growing, especially with the strong entrepreneurial base we have here.” There is no timeline for the expansion currently, but green-lighting this proposal would give the restaurant numerous opportunities for expansion in cooperation with their upstairs neighbor, Indochine.

Check out the presentation powerpoint at Metro Jacksonville.


by: Katherine Hardwick in Historic Preservation No Comments  

Tonight, City Council will entertain public hearings on the Mayor’s $9 million investment plan for Downtown and the mobility fee moratorium. Discussion on the Bostwick Building, however, continues to be deferred at the request of the property owners, but is still scheduled to be on the March 5 Land Use and Zoning (LUZ) Committee agenda.

In light of this, we thought we’d revisit the Bostwick discussion with this excellent design exploration from our friends over at Content Design Group showcasing one option for adaptive reuse:

Urban facelift rendering by Content Design Group

 “This urban facelift obviously just shows one way to save the building, keeping the facade and putting in new windows and doors, adding another steel structure to the walls and roof on the interior, and adding a roof deck with bar. This is the most expensive reuse of the building. Another way to save it, would be to only save the facade and build a new separate building on the interior of the lot. Would make a fantastic outdoor space between the shell of the old and the new.”

Full article and more renderings here.

by: Katherine Hardwick in Advocacy, Historic Preservation No Comments  

The fate of the Bostwick Building will be decided over the next three weeks.

On Tuesday, January 8, City Council will hold its first public hearing regarding the Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission’s (JHPC) recommendation to designate the Guaranty Trust and Savings Building, also known as the Bostwick Building, a historic landmark through ordinance 2012-720. DVI needs you to make your voice heard.

The hearing will be held at 5 p.m. in the City Council Chambers. Public comment is limited to three minutes per speaker. If you cannot attend the public hearing, please call or email City Council representatives. Building facts and contact information is provided below.

In the past twenty years, Downtown Jacksonville has lost nearly 30 historic buildings.

People want a place with a vibe, with character. A healthy stock of historic buildings gives a place personality, and allows that place to attract the creative class: creators, innovators and investors. Historic buildings foster small business incubation and affordable housing. Historic buildings help stabilize neighborhoods. Historic buildings attract arts, culture and heritage tourism.

“Every study of travel motivations has shown that an interest in the achievements of the past is among the three major reasons why people travel. The other two are rest or recreation and the desire to view great natural sights… Among cities with no particular recreational appeal, those that have substantially preserved their past continue to enjoy tourism. Those that haven’t receive no tourism at all. It’s as simple as that. Tourism does not go to a city that has lost its soul.” -Arthur Frommer Preservation Forum [1988]

The Bostwick Building is historically significant.

Guaranty Trust and Savings Bank/Bostwick Building (Photo provided by The Jacksonville Historical Society)

The Bostwick Building was among the first buildings permitted following the Great Fire in 1901. It contains bank vaults that survived the Great Fire and once housed the office of Henry Klutho, a noted architect who studied under Frank Lloyd Wright and designed many iconic Downtown buildings, including the St. James Building. It made the Jacksonville Historical Society’s “12 Worth Saving” list. It is located in perhaps the most intact block of historic buildings that exists Downtown today. 
And, according to the JHPC the Bostwick Building meets six of the seven criteria established for landmark structures exceeding the requirements for landmark status.

What about property owner rights?

DVI believes that awarding the property owner’s request for a demolition permit rewards property neglect. Property owners have a responsibility to their neighboring properties and the community at large to maintain their properties. And, as a community, we have an obligation to collectively raise our expectations of standards to which we hold our Downtown.

Designating a building, such as the Bostwick Building, as a historic landmark is not just about preventing its destruction; it is a tool that adds value to the building and can make the cost restoration much more feasible. At the local level, landmarks within Downtown can access the Downtown Historic Preservation Trust Fund. Additionally, historically designated properties that undergo substantial rehabilitation may be eligible for an ad valorem tax exemption. Tax credits for up to 20% of the total rehabilitation cost are also available at the federal level for certified rehabilitation of a certified historic structure.

District Council Members

District 1: Clay Yarborough. 630-1389 |

District 2: William Bishop. 630-1392 |

District 3: Richard Clark. 630-1386 |

District 4: Don Redman. 630-1394 | (Land Use & Zoning Committee)

District 5: Lori N. Boyer. 630-1382 | (Land Use & Zoning Chair)

District 6: Matt Schellenberg. 630-1388 | (Land Use & Zoning Vice Chair)

District 7: Dr. Johnny Gaffney. 630-1384 |

District 8: E. Denise Lee. 630-1385 |

District 9: Warren A. Jones. 630-1395 | (Land Use & Zoning Committee)

District 10: Reginald L. Brown. 630-1684 |

District 11: Ray Holt. 630-1383 |

District 12: Doyle Carter. 630-1380 |  (Land Use & Zoning Committee)

District 13: Bill Gulliford. 630-1397 | (Land Use & Zoning Committee)

District 14: Jim Love 630-1390 |

At-Large Council Members

Group 1: Kimberly Daniels. 630-1393 |

Group 2: John R. Crescimbeni. 630-1381 |

Group 3: Stephen C. Joost: 630-1396 |

Group 4: Greg Anderson. 630-1398 |

Group 5: Robin Lumb. 630-1387 |

More on the Land Use & Zoning Committee here.