Dating back to 1906, the building at 905 West Forsyth Street was originally constructed with five storefronts at the northwest corner of West Forsyth and Davis Streets.

For the next twenty years, the anchor business was a grocery market operated by William Natteel. Natteel was an African American grocer that was born in Georgia right after the end of the Civil War.

Prior to the construction of the building, Natteel ran a bakery and market on the property. At the time, the market was surrounded by a laundry list of brothels, including the Senate, House of Spanish Marie, and The Court. In his autobiography, James Weldon Johnson described this block of Davis Street, in the heart of LaVilla’s red light district:

“At the end of the fence of the barking dog, I would cut diagonally across the street to the corner around which my grandmother lived. I took this cut because I was always cautioned about passing Henry Arpen’s. Henry Arpen was a Dutchman, short but not fat, who with his wife, a very tall and angular woman, ran a general store. The store included a bar, and it seemed that there was never less than a dozen drunks, black and white, hanging around. There was generally lots of profane and obscene language, and not infrequently a play of pistols and knives.”

From 1917 to 1926, veterinary surgeon T. J. Mahaffy also leased space in the building. In 1927, Natteel moved his grocery market to Myrtle Avenue. George H. Cross then moved in an auto repair business. Previously, Cross had been employed as a mechanic at the Florida Wills-St. Claire Company, an early automobile dealership at 505 West Adams Street.

Established by Thomas Lee, Sr. and Raymond Cates in 1926, the Lee & Cates Glass Company took over the space during the 1930s. Here, Lee & Cates bought and installed flat glass for automobiles. During the 1960s, the company added a 1,700-square-foot warehouse to the rear of the original brick building. While the company expanded over the years, the existing building was used until a fire in 2006.

Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at