Located at 851 North Market Street and sandwiched between Hogans Creek and State Street at 851 North Market Street, the Gothic Revival-style Duval County Armory was completed in 1916. Constructed at the cost of $150,000 to replace an armory destroyed in the Great Fire of 1901, the building was designed by Wilbur B. Talley. One of the founders of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Florida, Talley was a prominent Jacksonville architect who relocated to Lakeland, FL after his wife and daughter were killed in a train accident in 1919.
In addition to serving the military reserve force, it became the city’s primary destination for dances, cultural events, high school graduations and concerts after its completion. A social beehive of activity, the Armory’s spaces included a kitchen, mess hall, band room, billiard room, rifle range, swimming pool and bowling alley. It was also the state’s largest drill hall.
Major events at the Armory included a 1936 speech by First lady Eleanor Roosevelt, performances by Duke Ellington, James Brown and Ray Charles in the 1950s and 60s, the debut concert by the Allman Brothers on March 30, 1969 and one of the final concerts by Janis Joplin in early 1970. It was also where Marian Anderson, one of the most celebrated musicians of the 20th century, made Florida civil rights history. In town for a February 1952 performance, Anderson refused to sing in front of a segregated seating arrangement at the Duval County Armory. As a result, Jim Crow took a night off with the famed contralto singer putting on a show for an interracial crowd of 2,200, making it the first concert in modern Florida history performed in front of an integrated audience. Anderson would go on to sing at the March on Washington in 1963 and be the recipient of several awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963, the Congressional Gold Medal in 1977, and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1991.
Despite hosting major events through 1970, the venue’s usage steadily declined with the openings of the George Washington Auditorium (1941), Jacksonville Coliseum (1960) and the Civic Auditorium (1962) in downtown. In 1973, after being replaced with a new armory on the city’s westside in 1972, the building became the City of Jacksonville’s parks and recreation department. In 2010, the parks and recreation department relocated to the Ed Ball Building, leaving the building abandoned for the first time in its history.
After a decade of abandonment, plans emerged in 2020 for Ft. Lauderdale-based REVA Development Corporation to transform the former 115 year old armory into a mixed use building featuring art studios, galleries, co-work and event space centered around a food hall with space for 12 food and beverage vendors. Utilizing Place Architecture, designer of Tampa’s Armature Works, as the architect, the project is anticipated to cost $18 million and will include a second phase featuring 100 apartment units. With intention to utilize federal tax credits to assist in the financing of the project, the developer recently accomplished getting the property officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places on July 27, 2023. Renovation on the long vacant property is expected to take two years to complete after construction begins.