George Doro Fixture Company building: The background
The Doro block’s history dates to just after the Great Fire of 1901. The oldest building was built between 1903-1904 on the main commercial corridor of the East Jacksonville community in what’s now the stadium district. It was home to the George Doro Fixture Company continuously from 1919 to 2016, hence its common name. It may be the oldest surviving commercial storefront building from East Jacksonville, and is one of the oldest surviving buildings in Downtown.
Other buildings were added to the block through 1954. In 2016, Iconic Real Estate Investments purchased the entire block as part of an abortive redevelopment project called the Doro District. When that failed to come together, Iconic entered an agreement to sell the property to Valdosta, Georgia developer Rise Properties in 2019. Rise proposed to raze the block to make way for an eight story mixed use apartment development called The Doro, a project that will require an unknown amount of incentives from the city to be feasible.
The planned demolition of the historic block caught the attention of many in Jacksonville, culminating in a push by preservation group Mapping Jax to save the main structures. The Downtown Investment Authority released a staff report saying the buildings were not eligible for historic protections.
The DIA staff report is correct on several points. It states that the Doro property is not within the boundaries of the Downtown Jacksonville Historic District, and that the State Historic Preservation Officer did not deem it eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. It also noted that the building is not currently a locally designated landmark.
The last part is the rub. It’s certainly true that the building is not currently designated a local landmark. It couldn’t be, as it was never evaluated.
Local law, specifically Chapter 307.104 in the City’s Code of Ordinances, covers the local landmarking process. In short, buildings are evaluated according to seven criteria to receive historic landmark designation. Local landmark designation can be sponsored by the property owner, the Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission, any City Council member, or the mayor. A building must meet at least two of the criteria to be landmarked, and must meet four to guarantee landmarking designation if the current property owner objects. The criteria are:
- 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;
- Its suitability for preservation or restoration.
Looking at other buildings that have been designated local landmarks, it’s a virtual certainty that a building with as much history and character as the George Doro Fixture building would possibly meet up to five criteria. It is one of the last surviving commercial buildings from the former East Jacksonville suburb (1). The company was a significant presence in Jacksonville history for nearly a century, making fixtures for buildings all across the country. George Doro even had a sandwich named after him that was sold across Downtown Jacksonville (3). The building has been widely recognized for its architecture (5), distinguishing characteristics (6) and is in perfectly good shape for restoration (7).
In fact, the George Doro Fixture building has been the subject of three Historic Structure Forms prepared in 1989, 1991, and 2003, all of which identify the property as potentially meeting the standards for local historic designation. It’s unclear why, despite these three reports, the city has never evaluated the building, and focused instead on the National Register. The references to the fact that the building does not have local landmark designation is self-defeating: the city has had this information for 31 years, did nothing with it, and continues to not acknowledge it, while making development decisions based on inaccurate policy interpretations.
It’s likely be too late for the George Doro Fixture building to avoid the wrecking ball, but the underlying issues will continue to plague Downtown Jacksonville. The problem is bigger than any one building. If we ever want Jacksonville to have the vibrant and authentic Downtown it deserves, we need to end this cycle of self defeat and sabotage.
The Downtown Development Review Board will host a Zoom meeting on Thursday, May 14 for final approval of the apartment project. Let the DDRB known your thoughts by contacting the members and attending the Zoom meeting.