Central Hotel History

The Central Hotel building today. (Ennis Davis, AICP)

In 1912, a building permit was issued to the Ames Realty Company to construct a two-story brick building (103’ x 47’) at the northwest corner of North Broad Street and West Beaver Street. Designed by pioneer Jacksonville architect, Mellen C. Greeley, the building was identified as having 17 to 12 inch brick walls with a four-ply gravel roof. Floor plans from the Mellen C. Greeley collection at the Jacksonville Historical Society archives depicts two variations of first floor and upper floor plans. The ones actually used include six storefronts along North Broad Street with the doorway to the upper floors being located at the southwest corner of the building. The upper floors contrary to the building permit record included an additional third story. These two floors followed the Greeley plans that depicted nineteen rooms divided by a central hallway. The six storefronts and side stairs to the upper floor are clearly depicted on the 1913 Sanborn Map of Jacksonville.

A floor plan of the building produced by Mellon C. Greeley. (City of Jacksonville Historic Preservation Office)

At the time of construction of the Central Hotel, the Ames Realty Company was identified as a one million-dollar corporation under Knowlton L. Ames, President and Treasurer, and Harry B. Hoyt, Vice President, with A. M. Donahoo serving as auditor. In that same year, the Ames Realty Company purchased the $300,000 holdings of the South Jacksonville Ferry Company and contracted with the Merrill Stevens Company to construct modern steel double-deck ferryboats. Renamed the Jacksonville Ferry and Land Company, Ames’ new company was able to take advantage of the booming ferry business created by the opening of Atlantic Boulevard to the beaches in 1910. A graduate of Princeton in 1890, Knowlton L. Ames was a Chicago investor, who was president of Booth Fisheries Company, as well as a publisher of the Chicago Journal of Commerce with his son, Knowlton L. Ames. Although identified in the 1929 - 30 Jacksonville social register as a member of the Timuquana Club, the Florida Yacht Club, and the Seminole Club, it appears that Knowlton L. Ames, who died in December of 1931, did not maintain full time residency in Jacksonville according to the city directories.

The Central Hotel’s Broad Street elevation. (City of Jacksonville Historic Preservation Office)

The Ames Realty Company continued in operation under that name until 1924 and 25 with Harry B. Hoyt as president and J. N.Cooke listed as manager. Born in 1874 at Ravenswood, West Virginia, Harry B. Hoyt came to Jacksonville in 1907 where he became associated with the Jacksonville Gas Company. Hoyt was married to Betsey Dawes of Marietta, Ohio, whose brother, Charles P. Dawes, a Chicago banker, later served as Vice President of the United States during the Herbert Hoover administration, (1928 - 1932). Interestingly, members of the Dawes family served both as active and honorary pallbearers for the funeral of Knownlton L. Ames. Later as President of the Union Terminal Company, Harry B. Hoyt was responsible for the construction of the large Union Terminal Warehouse off East Union Street in 1912, as well as served as manager of the Jacksonville Land and Ferry Company.

A dinner event at Vandoria Waldorf’s Cafeteria in the Central Hotel. (City of Jacksonville Historic Preservation Office)

The first listing of the subject property by address in the city directories was in 1919. In that year, a variety of businesses, owned by both whites and blacks, operated out of the storefronts including a grocery store, two confectioneries, and a dressmaker. The first listing for the Central Hotel at 605 West Beaver Street was in 1921. Other businesses that operated out of the building during the historic period (1919 - 1950) included cigar shops, a printer, a hat shop, hair dressers, restaurants, cleaners, furniture stores, notary, messenger service, real estate office, and bicycle sales and repairs. Most of these businesses catered to the growing African American community in LaVilla that were prevented from using Downtown businesses and services. In addition, the Central Hotel provided lodging for African American visitors in segregated Jacksonville. Like the Richmond Hotel at 420 North Broad Street and Genovar’s Hall at 636-648 West Ashley Street, the Central Hotel may have played host to numerous African American celebrities and dignities visiting the city before World War II.

Inside the Vandoria Waldorf’s Cafeteria in the Central Hotel. (City of Jacksonville Historic Preservation Office)

In 1935, the Jacksonville Negro Welfare League occupied the storefront at 704 North Broad Street. Founded in 1925, the purpose of the league was, “to secure advice and help in meeting all the needs of Negro People, to enable them to become healthy, happy and good law-abiding citizens in the community”. In 1946, while operating out of the building, the Jacksonville Negro Welfare League, which was formed and funded by the Community Chest, had eighty-nine African American members on its governing board which was served by two staff members, the Executive Secretary and an office secretary. During the years immediately following World War II, the league provided counseling and referrals for returning African American veterans in the areas of securing employment, housing, education, and training benefits. In addition to serving as the headquarters for the Community Chest and Red Cross campaigns among the African American community, the league also provided office space for the Swanee Division Committee of the Boy Scouts, as well as provided bookkeeping and clerical services for other significant African American social organizations such as the Sunshine Day Nursery, the Old Folks Home, the Clara White Mission, and the Citizens Health Committee.

Inside the Vandoria Waldorf Cafeteria. Other ground floor businesses over the years include a grocery owned by Charles J. Hazouri and Julius Pulgaron’s Lolita Cigar Company. (City of Jacksonville Historic Preservation Office)

As part of a community wide study of Jacksonville’s African American community in 1946, representatives of the National Urban League, and the Community Chest United Fund’s Planning Board joined with community leaders to recommend the merger of the Jacksonville Negro Welfare League with a new Jacksonville branch of the National Urban League. As a result, the Jacksonville Urban League was officially chartered in August of 1947, and continued to work out of the office at 704 North Broad Street. Around the same time, the Central Hotel came under the management and ownership of Julius Jackson who pulled a building permit for the construction of a galvanized metal canopy over two of the storefronts facing North Broad Street and the single store window along West Beaver Street. The canopy covered his new restaurant and bakery called Vandoria Waldorf’s Cafeteria.

An early 2000s photograph of a then abandoned Central Hotel. (Ennis Davis, AICP)

in 2013 the structure was renovated into 4,600 square feet of ground floor office space and 16 upper level apartments by the Clara White Mission.

The Central Hotel building today. (Ennis Davis, AICP)

The Central Hotel building today. (Ennis Davis, AICP)

Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Quoted text narrative produced by the Jacksonville Historic Preservation staff as a part of Landmark Designation Report LM-95-9. Contact Ennis at edavis@moderncities.com