On February 17, 2020, Jacksonville businessman and urban advocate Steve Williams put out a call for the community to oppose the proposed demolition of First Baptist Church’s former Sunday school building. A video featuring Williams was featured on the Facebook group Williams started for Mapping Jax, an initiative that promotes historic preservation and planning.
The Sunday school building, designed by prominent Tennessee architect R.H. Hunt and built in 1927, served as the headquarters for Gulf Life Insurance Company from 1938 to 1967. First Baptist subsequently took over the property and put it to a variety of uses; most recently it served as the offices for the church’s singles ministry. In January 2020, a few months after First Baptist made the bombshell announcement that it would sell off eight of its nine Downtown blocks, the church indicated that it planned to demolish the Sunday school building to make way for “a grand welcoming and event space adjacent to the Hobson sanctuary.”
The Sunday school building.
Williams and Mapping Jax have been vocal advocates of preserving the structure. “It’s a very important story, and a big part of our history,” said Williams in the video. “We need to save this building.” Williams invoked the various Downtown buildings that have been demolished recently, including the Jacksonville Landing, the City Hall Annex, and Brooklyn’s Fire Station #5.
As the building is a contributing structure to the Downtown Jacksonville Historic District, demolition must be approved by the Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission. The commission can also choose to give the building historic landmark designation, which offers additional protections.
“On February 26, the First Baptist Church is putting this building in front of the historical commission to get approval to tear it down,” said Williams. “We’d like everyone’s help in coming out.” The commission will consider First Baptist’s application to demolish the Sunday school building at its next meeting, to be held at 3 p.m. Wednesday, February 26 at 214 North Hogan Street (the Ed Ball building). Public comment will be allowed, and citizens can also weigh in by contacting the HPC at (904) 255-7800 firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the Jaxson’s previous coverage of the Sunday school building, including an argument for landmarking according to the designated criteria and a full list of contacts, visit here. Watch the Mapping Jax video below:
Article by Bill Delaney. Contact Bill at email@example.com.