The Ambassador Hotel originally opened in 1924 as 310 West Church Street Apartments, the first upscale apartments in downtown Jacksonville.
In 1943, it was converted into a hotel by Charles Griner, a personal friend of Ed Ball, executor of the DuPont Estate. Following Griner’s death, Ball advised his widow Doris to demolish the Ambassador Hotel building. She objected because she felt they had already torn down every other old hotel in downtown. Doris could be described as a modern-day hero for Downtown Jacksonville, bucking the now all-too-common ‘wisdom’ from Jacksonville’s ‘elite’ to tear down historic buildings in hopes of ‘future development.’. In 1944, the building was subsequently converted into a hotel and renamed Three-Ten Hotel.
Over the next decade the building did not change much besides the many short lived names adorning the front and side. Only 3 years later, in 1947, the Three-Ten Hotel was renamed yet again to Hotel Southland only to be changed again in 1949 to The Griner and finally The Ambassador Hotel in 1955.
This six story brick and limestone Georgian Revival style building was built in an H pattern which gives every room a large window view while still being able to house about 110 residents.
In 1983 it was added to the National Register of Historic Buildings but it was still headed down an ugly path of dilapidation, with code enforcement on the owners back and multiple drug busts and raids scarring its name. In 1997 the residents, who paid $80 a week, received notice that the building no longer complied with code and that it would have to be fixed in order to remain open. Every single room has a sticker with the date of condemnation on it and the still legible ones read 7-11-97 and 11-13-97.
In 1998 the entire building was condemned and closed up. Residents and police said most of the people living in the Ambassador came from homes that were condemned or demolished in the adjacent LaVilla neighborhood as part of a revitalization project. Some of those homes were condemned following similar raids by a hit team of police and city officials, who seek to close drug houses, according to the Florida Times Union archives. After closing, many of the residents dispersed into various homeless shelters throughout Downtown.
In 2005 plans had been announced to remodel The Ambassador hotel but were put on hold along with the nearby courthouse plans.
A depiction of the 2009 plans for The Ambassador Lofts
In 2009 plans were released to change the hotel into The Ambassador Lofts which would consist of 50 apartments and some retail space. The plans estimate an $8 million dollar price tag, half of which the prospective owner can acquire and the rest he is hoping for city or government help with in the form of grants and low interest loans.
The building has remained a silent anchor on one of Downtown’s most forgotten streets, however after years of false starts… a new life is finally on the horizon. Associated with St. Augustine-based Augustine Development Group, Axis Hotels, LLC. acquired the historic property in 2018. The $5.4 million deal includes the hotel and 1.5 acres between Church, Pearl, Duval, and Julia Streets.
Axis plans for a $15 million renovation to convert the Ambassador Hotel into a 127-room La Quinta Inn and Suites hotel with a rooftop bar. The hotel will be managed by Integrity Hospitality. Interior demolition is now underway and the group expects to complete construction sometime in 2020. The City provided a $1.5 million Redevelopment Completion Grant from the Downtown Historic Preservation and Revitalization Trust Fund, issued upon completion of the hotel, to help offset costs associated with the historic structure’s renovations.
In addition, 404 North Julia Street will be demolished in order for Axis to parnter with Jacksonville-based Vestcor to construct a new building with 200 apartments and 15,000 square feet of retail space next door, with a portion of that retail space to be set aside to serve as a satellite campus for the non-profit, St. Augustine Youth Services.
TVC Development, a subsidiary of The Vestcor Companies, plans to develop the multifamily housing component consisting of market rate and workforce housing. 25% of the apartments will be set aside for individuals who make less than 80% of the area median income.
This entire block is now the center of a $36 million project combining new infill with an adaptive reuse of a historic structure.
The City will rebate $4.9 million in propety taxes over 15 years through a REV grant, to help offset the estimated $38 million construction of apartments, parking structure and hotel conversion. The plans for the apartment building have not yet been provided to the Downtown Development Review Board for approval.
404 North Julia Street and the Ambassador (Griner) Hotel during their better days.
404 North Julia Street today
Altered beyond recognition, 404 North Julia Street was once a beautiful building. Originally a massive Mediterranean Revival style structure completed in 1927, this building was the home of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce and then the Merck Drug Company before it was radically altered by the Marine National Bank in 1957. In 2001, First Alliance Bank purchased Marine National Bank. Two years later, it acquired EverBank, an online bank with $250 million in deposits. The company later adopted the EverBank name and is now known as TIAA Bank.
NEXT: A Look Inside The Ambassador Hotel Before Renovations Began