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.

by: Katherine Hardwick in Advocacy, Historic Preservation No Comments  

Ordinance 2012-720, which provides for the designation of the Bostwick Building as a local landmark, will be introduced tonight, Dec. 11 at City Council. Public hearings have been scheduled for January 8 and 15, 2013. The Land Use and Zoning (LUZ) Committee will make a recommendation to the full City Council, with final action in late January.

The old St. Luke’s Hospital (right) and the Florida Casket Company building. (Photo courtesy of the Jacksonville Historical Society)

One is a 130-year-old factory. The other, a 134-year-old hospital. Both are symbols of and testaments to the importance of historic preservation in Downtown Jacksonville.

These buildings – the 1878 St. Luke’s Hospital and the 1882 Florida Casket Company – were purchased this fall by the Jacksonville Historical Society in celebration of the organization’s 80th year. Both are located on the same lot at Palmetto and Duval streets near the Sports Complex area. The Society plans to use the hospital for its archives and the Florida Casket Factory for events, exhibits and other history programs.

With recent developments in the revitalization efforts of the Bostwick Building, the Hayden Burn Library and the Laura Street Trio, the efforts of the Society and others working to preserve Downtown historic structures are crucial to creating a more vibrant Downtown. Plus, it’s good for our economy. In a 2011 study, PlaceEconomics found that historic preservation results in more jobs than new construction, increased property values, increased tourism, fewer environmental impacts and increased quality of life.

What historic Downtown buildings would you like to see renovated, and for what reuse purpose? Weigh in with your thoughts in this post’s comment section.

by: Katherine Hardwick in Advocacy, Historic Preservation No Comments  

Tomorrow, Tuesday, November 13th, the Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission (JHPC) will determine whether to recommend that the Bostwick Building be granted Historic Landmark status.

What happens next? If the JHPC determines the building meets the criteria for designation as a landmark or landmark site, it will forward an advisory recommendation to City Council, accompanied by a report of findings. If the JHPC’s recommendation is approved by the City Council, then the Bostwick Building will be afforded additional protections against demolition and will become eligible for a variety of incentives that could facilitate rehabilitation of the structure.

What makes a building eligible? To be eligible for landmark status, a structure must be at least 50 years old and, if the owner is not the applicant, the building must meet at least four of the following criteria:

  • It has value as a significant reminder of the cultural, historical, architectural or archaeological heritage of the city, state or nation;
  • Its location is the site of a significant local, state or national event;
  • It is identified with a person or persons who significantly contributed to the development of the city, state or nation;
  • It is identified as the work of a master builder, designer or architect whose individual work has influenced the development of the city, state or nation;
  • Its value as a building is recognized for the quality of architecture, and it retains sufficient elements showing its architectural significance;
  • It has distinguishing characteristics of an architectural style valuable for the study of a period, method of construction, or use of indigenous materials;
  • It’s suitable for preservation or restoration.

What can you do? The JHPC will conduct a public hearing as part of its determination of landmark status at tomorrow’s November 13th meeting. This meeting will be held in the Ed Ball Building, room 851, First Floor Training Room, at 3:00 p.m.