5. Seminole Hotel - 10 floors
The 250 room Seminole Hotel was advertised as being absolutely fireproof and exclusively European when its doors opened on January 1, 1910. Designed by Henry J. Klutho, the 10-story building was located at the southeast corner of Forsyth and Hogan Streets. It was built on land owned by William Dawson and operated under a 99 year lease. During the early 20th century, the Seminole provided popular dining and meeting facilities including two large banquet rooms: The Grand Ballroom seating up to 600 and the Seminole Room which accommodated 300.
The Seminole remained in business for 57 years before closing its doors on September 14, 1967. In need of updating to modern standards, it was decided that it was too costly to add fire escapes to the structure and its owners handed over the aging structure to Dawson’s family. In 1974, a few years later, it was demolished and replaced with a parking garage. In the early 1990s, the former Seminole Hotel site became the location of Barnett Bank’s 42-story Barnett Center. Today, the former Barnett Center is known as the Bank of America Tower. Standing 617’ tall, it is the tallest skyscraper between Atlanta and South Florida.
3T. Hotel Mason/Mayflower - 11 floors
George H. Mason opened the Hotel Mason on the corner of Bay and Julia Streets in 1912. Known as one the city’s “big five” hotels of the early 20th century, the Mason featured 250 rooms and a top floor restaurant overlooking the St. Johns River. In 1950, the Mason was acquired by local hotel magnate Robert Kloeppel and rebranded as the Hotel Mayflower. Featuring a popular rooftop lounge called the Cavalettes, Kloeppel’s Hotel Mayflower was advertised as one of Jacksonville’s finest with every known convenience in first class hotel operations. It was promoted as having a television, radio and private bath with tub and shower in every room, an excellent coffee shop, and unique tavern and bar.
The Mayflower was located at Julia and Bay Streets. The EverBank Tower (then Southern Bell) replaced it during the early 1980s. Courtesy of the Jacksonville Public Library Special Collections Department.
Like much of downtown’s early 20th century hotels, the Hotel Mayflower would not survive the 1970s. In 1978, it and surrounding buildings were demolished to make way for the Southern Bell Tower. Completed in 1983, 447’ tall tower is now known as EverBank Center and is downtown’s largest by leasable square footage.
3T. Rhodes Furniture Building - 11 floors
The Rhodes-Futch-Collins Building was the last skyscraper built in the city’s post-Great Fire of 1901 building boom. Permits for the construction of the 11-story concrete tower were issued to furniture magnate Amos Giles Rhodes in early 1913. Rhodes Furniture was founded in 1879 when Rhodes established a small furniture store in Atlanta, Georgia. By the early 20th century, Rhodes Furniture had become a chain and this large structure served as Rhode’s expansion into Jacksonville.
Situated on Main Street, between Monroe and Duval Streets, Rhodes hired the Pittman Construction Company of Atlanta to build the Jacksonville store which was completed in 1914. For most decades, the Rhodes-Futch-Collins building dominated Main Street’s skyline and its sign, painted on its north facade, could be seen as far away as 20th Street in New Springfield.
Despite its size, history and the abundance of surface parking lots on nearby blocks, the City of Jacksonville selected it as the preferred site for its new main library. At the ripe old age of 88 on August 17, 2002, the Rhodes-Futch-Collins Building was imploded on live television to make room for the main public library that stands today. In the name of preservation, some architectural elements from the building’s facade were used on the design of the library building.
3. George Washington Hotel - 13 floors
On November 11, 1925, Robert Kloeppel announced his intentions to construct the city’s largest and most magnificent hotel at the northwest corner of Adams and Julia Streets. Kloeppel, who owned the Flagler Hotel near the train station at the time, had arrived in Jacksonville from Germany two decades earlier broke and penniless.
The George Washington Hotel during the 1920s. Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, https://floridamemory.com/items/show/31356
The $1.5 million George Washington Hotel was designed by the Marsh & Saxelbye architectural firm and officially opened December 15, 1926. Standing 13 stories tall, it was said to be the nation’s first, 100% airconditioned hotel and each of its 350 rooms came with a radio loudspeaker and headphones. The hotel also installed the first neon rooftop sign in the city and its line up of street level businesses included a steakhouse, a cocktail lounge, drug store and barber shop. In addition, its large auditorium made it the hub of Jacksonville’s convention and meeting scene prior to the 1960s.
John Lennon of the Beatles during a press conference at the George Washington Hotel in Jacksonville. Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, https://floridamemory.com/items/show/269427
In 1961, Robert Kloeppel died leaving his son, Robert Kloeppel, Jr. in charge of the hotel empire he had established. In 1963, Robert Kloeppel, Jr. sold hotel to William H. (Big Bill) Johnston. Johnston, owner of Jacksonville’s dog tracks and Chicagoland’s Sportsman’s Park, had ties with the Al Capone mob. Johnston had taken control over the tracks after the former owner, Edward J. O’Hare, was murdered in a Chicago gangland shooting 1939. O’Hare was the father of Medal of Honor recipient Butch O’Hare, for whom Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport is named. During Johnston’s tenure as the owner of the George Washington, it was downtown Jacksonville’s only five star hotel.
Unfortunately, the George Washington would not last forever. Johnston sold the hotel in 1969 and it closed for good in 1971. After two years of being vacant, the closed hotel was demolished in 1973 for a surface parking lot.
2. Heard National Bank Building - 15 floors
In the 10 years following the Great Fire of 1901, Jacksonville’s population increased by 103%, prompting Arcadia-based capitalist John Joseph Heard to relocate and take advantage of the city’s flourishing economy. In 1911, Heard announced his intentions to build a skyscraper in downtown Jacksonville to house his Heard National Bank at the southwest corner of Forsyth and Laura Streets.
When the Heard National Bank building was completed in 1913 at the cost of $1 million, it was the tallest building south of Atlanta. However, Jacksonville was not kind to Heard. During the project’s construction, Heard was extorted by Duval County Judge John Dodge to keep his investment from being made worthless. If that wasn’t enough trouble, his bank went bankrupt and closed for good in 1917. Heard then used his personal fortune to repay 100% of the debt owed to each depositor. When it was all said and done, the Heard National Bank printed $2,799,360 dollars worth of national currency between 1912 and 1917.
The Heard National Bank Building’s entrance was left to serve as an entrance to a surface parking lot, after the building was demolished by Barnett Bank in 1981. Image courtesy of the Jacksonville Historic Commission.
After the closure of the Heard National Bank, the building was rebranded the Graham Building as was the city’s tallest structure until the completion of the Barnett National Bank Building in 1926. In 1981, it was demolished along with the Ritz-Woller building for a parking lot. All that was preserved was the building’s monumental columns that once marked its main Forsyth Street entrance. In 1988, the columns were relocated in preparation of the 42-story, $100 million Barnett Center (now Bank of America Tower). The Heard’s columns are now located inside and in front of the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts.
1. Robert Meyer Hotel - 21 floors
The Robert Meyer Hotel was the brainchild of owner Jack Meyer of Alabama, a former World War II Flying Tigers squadron pilot. The hotel was named for Meyer’s father and brother, who both happened to be named Robert. It was designed by New York Architect William B. Tabler Sr., an architect that designed more than 400 hotels over the course of his career.
Officially opening its doors on March 22, 1959, the 563 room hotel was the first to be built in downtown in 30 years, and was the Florida’s largest hotel at the time. Standing 21 stories high, the tower cost approximately $6 million dollars and was home to a block long marble lobby, a tropical garden, jewelry store, roof-top pool, cabana deck, three restaurants, a cocktail lounge, and a two-level underground parking garage. Its Windsor Room, served as the “great hall of Jacksonville’s civic leaders” for more than two decades. The main restaurant, Cafe Carib, featured mosaic panels by noted Japanese artist Tetsuyu Kohchi and the hotel’s Bali Hai Lounge was the home of a grand mural by famed French artist Charles Cobelle.
Despite the early fanfare and promised success for the hotel, it soon began on a downward financial slide and filed for bankruptcy, closing in 1977. In 1980, a group of Jacksonville investors purchased the hotel, invested over $10 million in improvements and reopened it as the 387 room Holiday Inn City Center. Unfortunately, 2 years later, it shut down as well, laying off 150 employees, due to a lack of business. After 16 years of abandonment, the vacant hotel along with the adjacent former JCPenney/Woolworth building were demolished in order to make room for the $80 million Judge Bryan Simpson Federal Courthouse that occupies the space today.
Article by Ennis Davis, AICP and Kristen Pickrell