Captain Sandy Yawn’s plans for 618 West Adams

A 2020 rendering of Captain Sandy Yawn’s once proposed restoration of 618 West Adams Street.

Captain Sandy Yawn, a mega-yacht captain and a star of “Below Deck Mediterranean” on the Bravo Network, acquired 618 West Adams Street for $185,000 in June 2020. Purchased through Miami Beach-based Yawn Properties, LLC, Yawn intended to retrofit the structure into a restaurant called Maritime 618. The revamped space would have included a restaurant, private club and rooftop lounge. Serving international seafood and cultural fare, it was originally anticipated that the restaurant would open in late 2021 or early 2022. Since that announcement, Yawn has determined that she and partner Chad Quist cannot restore the building to fit their proposed concept. In June 10 2022, Elev8 Demolition formally applied to demolish one of LaVilla’s few remaining century-old structures, in hopes of one day finding interested investors to build a replica from scratch.

On June 22, 2022, Kim Pryor for City Council District 7 candidate Kim Pryor requested that the Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission open a Landmark Application to designate this structure as an Historic Landmark. The commission agreed to sponsor the application, delaying the demolition until the research is completed. Based on the findings of that research effort, the Jacksonville Planning and Development Department recommends that the Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission approve the designation of 618 West Adams Street (LM-22-08) as a City of Jacksonville Landmark.

The commission will judge the application based on a set of seven criteria defined by local law to determine whether to approve demolition. Alternately, the commission has the option of determining if the building is eligible for historic landmark status, which provides some protection from demolition and alteration. The commission will discuss the matter at its meeting at 3 p.m. Wednesday, August 24 in Conference Room 1002 in the Ed Ball Building at 214 North Hogan Street.

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:

  1. It has value as a significant reminder of the cultural, historical, architectural, or archaeological heritage of the city, state or nation;

  2. Its location is the site of a significant local, state or national event;

  3. It is identified with a person or persons who significantly contributed to the development of the city, state or nation;

  4. 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;

  5. Its value as a building is recognized for the quality of architecture, and it retains sufficient elements showing its architectural significance;

  6. It has distinguishing characteristics of an architectural style valuable for the study of a period, method of construction, or use of indigenous materials;

  7. Its suitability for preservation or restoration.

The purpose of the historic designation of this site is to provide protection to 618 West Adams Street, not to discourage or prohibit the future development of the site. In preparing this application, the Planning and Development Department has found the application to meet four of the seven criteria:

A. It’s value as a significant reminder of the cultural, historical, architectural, or archaeological heritage of the city, state, or nation.

Immediately after the Civil War, a large influx of freedmen, joined by Black Union veterans that remained in the area, created a critical housing shortage. In 1856, Francis L’Engle purchased a large piece of property in the southeast part of LaVilla. A part of this tract was divided into quarter acre lots that were leased in May of 1866 to forty-one Freedmen for ninety-nine years. This lease agreement was the first documented settlement of Freedmen in LaVilla. They developed a strong social network based on kinship, previous friendships, shared military service, and worship. Predominately under the leadership of Francis L. L’Engle, LaVilla was incorporated in 1869 as a separate town. Representing the majority of the people in the town, African American males played a significant role in its political life, being elected as Mayors, Town Marshall, Tax Collector, Tax Assessor, as well as five serving as Aldermen. By 1887 when the Town of LaVilla was annexed as part of Jacksonville, the town had black males that served in 54 different political offices. This level of involvement undoubtedly contributed to LaVilla’s subsequent development as an vibrant African American community where they not only could live, but shop, run businesses and socialize.

During Reconstruction, LaVilla began to take on the character that has historical defined the neighborhood well into the 20th century. The north part of LaVilla developed as a vibrant neighborhood that became the social, cultural, and economic center of black Jacksonville, a reputation it held until the end of segregation in the 1960s. During most of its history, the community was racially and ethnically diverse, a mix that was predominately African American, but also became home to numerous ethnic groups, the largest being East European Jews, who originally lived, worked, and worshiped predominately in the middle section of the neighborhood. Becoming a major rail center, the south part of LaVilla, which was still predominantly owned by White citizens became filled with small hotels, rooming houses, restaurants and other businesses serving the traveling public, as well as large warehouses and industrial uses dependent on rail service. It was this area of LaVilla that developed a notorious reputation known for crime, violence, drunkenness, and prostitution. The structure at 618 West Adams Street is on the north side of the block that abuts the famed Houston Street, which was known for this reputation. Jacksonville has a long association with the development of railroads in Florida, resulting in the construction of a union station on West Bay Street in 1896 and a replacement terminal to follow by 1919. The location of the railroad in the southwest section of LaVilla and related road and bridge improvements provided additional connection between LaVilla and the rest of Jacksonville. The construction of the St Johns River Bridge (later known as the St Elmo Acosta Bridge) in 1921 connected to Broad Street resulting in additional automobile use and the eventual transition of what was originally a primarily residential block into an area with more service related businesses. The Sims Tire Company Building is a perfect example of the impact of the car and redevelopment of LaVilla’s southern section.

By the 1930s and 40s, LaVilla had become a stop along the Chitlin Circuit. Named after the Southern cuisine made from pig intestine, also spelled Chitterlings, the unofficial circuit was a connection of performing venues that featured Black entertainment within the safe environment of the Black community. With the end of segregation, the need for these separate places to perform disappeared and many African American residents and businesses left LaVilla to seek opportunities now available in other parts of the city. As a result, the economic and social vitality of LaVilla declined resulting in some marginal businesses moving in, empty commercial buildings and a predominance of low-income rental units. Continued lack of investment fostered significant deterioration of LaVilla’s building fabric. Much of the old building stock was lost to urban renewal that removed entire blocks of houses and even some of the once successful commercial buildings.

Today, LaVillla is composed of large vacant parcels and a scattering of new construction, primarily apartments and offices that does not reflect the area’s history or development. With much of the southern portion of LaVilla destroyed, the handful of buildings left provide a visual sense of the historic scale, style and development pattern that help tell the story of the area and have become even more important to preserve to help rebuild the lost context of it through more sensitive infill projects. The Sims Tire Building at 618 West Adams Street is one of the few commercial buildings remaining at the southern end of LaVilla when it reigned as the heart of the black community in Jacksonville. While the structure has sustained some alterations, it retains much of its architectural integrity providing visuals of its former historic setting.

Beyond the building’s initial use for roughly a decade as the home of the Sims Tire Company, the building was used as a warehouse by two furniture businesses, Haverty’s and Newsom E.C. Furniture, the Cain and Bultman Inc. shops, and the R and R Liquor offices and warehouse. In the 1980’s it was even used as an urban loft. Today, the structure stands as the last visual reminder of what was once a complete block of businesses located in LaVilla and helps provide a physical connection to the historically significant Broad Street commercial and social corridor of LaVilla.

B. Its location is the site of a significant local, state, or national event.

It is the determination of the Planning and Development Department that the subject property at 618 West Adams Street does not meet this landmark criterion.

C. It is identified with a person or persons who significantly contributed to the development of the city, state, or nation.

The structure at 618 West Adams Street was originally constructed for the Sims Tire Company owned by Claude E. Sims. The son of a successful farmer and merchant, Mr. Sims was considered a prominent Atlantian. Prior to moving to Jacksonville, Atlanta newspaper advertisements indicate his initial career was in real estate sales doing business under a company of his own name, the Claude E. Sims Company. He was one of nine children from Buckhead and while a successful businessman and civic leader in his own right, he was potentially inspired by achievements made by his older brother, Walter A. Sims.

Walter A. Sims was a twice elected mayor of Atlanta and responsible for at least two major projects that helped transform Atlanta. By the 1920s, the city of Atlanta had grown around its many railroad tracks, creating a hazard for pedestrians and motorists trying to get from one side of the city to the other. From early campaigning and throughout the course of his political career as mayor, Sims advocated for and ultimately secured the necessary approvals and bond funding for the installation of twin viaducts that lowered the rail lines in downtown Atlanta, thereby connecting the north and south central business districts. Mayor Sims was also responsible for leasing the abandoned racetrack selected by William Hartsfield and committing the city to develop it into an airfield, which would ultimately become the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The first flight landed on September 15, 1926 from Jacksonville, Florida where his brother Claude Sims had just built his new two-story building at 618 West Adams Street.

In 1913 while still working in Atlanta real estate, Claude was involved in a late-night automobile accident with his brother Ralph Sims and two unidentified females. All were noted to sustain injuries from when the car overturned, except perhaps the car’s owner Claude, who managed to leave town the next day for the Blue Ridge Mountains. The reason the car flipped was not identified in the newspaper account. Whether it was attributed to taking a sharp turn, speeding or perhaps a blown tire is unknown, but the increasingly popular new American obsession with the car clearly had an impact on Claude Sims because within a few years of the incident, he had changed the focus of his career from real estate in Atlanta to the automobile tire industry in Jacksonville.

One of the biggest challenges with early automobiles was getting tires to withstand the cuts, punctures, and blow outs due to road conditions and tire limitations. As a result, people started to investigate ways to extend tire life and the concept of retreading was born. One popular method applied several layers of sheeted uncured rubber to the tire with one-third of the tire circumference vulcanized at a time until the whole tire was cured. One of the first Jacksonville city directory entries for Claude E. Sims lists his occupation as a vulcanizer. By 1916, his name had started to appear in automobile trade magazines. One report identifies him by name with specifically addressing the new concern to reconstruct old tires at his shop at 208 East Forsyth Street. Within a couple of years, he is identified as the president of Sims Tire Company and has started buying out other companies, like the local branch of the Atlas Tire Company, a chain of tires stores operating throughout the South and West. By 1924, the Sims Tire Company had obtained a four story building on West Forsyth Street and had plans to remodel it for use as their permanent home. Whether the company went forth with these plans is unclear because within two years, the subject structure at 618 West Adams Street was newly constructed and occupied by the Sims Tire Company. Claude’s company continued to grow and by 1927 the India Rubber and Tire Review documents yet another acquisition, this time of the Atlantic Tire Company located at Monroe Street and Julia Street, identifying the Sims Tire Company at that point as the oldest tire dealer in the state with branches in Miami, Tampa and Orlando.

The success of the Sims tire business is further evidenced by his hiring Leroy Sheftall of the notable firm Mark and Sheftall to design his new personal residence at 3855 St Johns Avenue located on a prominent site overlooking the winding curve of this affluent street at Little Fishweir Creek. The construction of the new Tudor Revival Style residence corresponds perfectly with the construction timeframe of the new tire store. While, no definitive proof was found linking the significant firm to the commercial design, it is a reasonable assumption that the firm may have provided the plans for it as well. A 1929-1930 membership list for the Hyde Park Country Club provides additional evidence of his rise in social status.

Beyond his business contributions to the growing city of Jacksonville during the 1920s land boom and the commercial corridor of the LaVilla section of downtown, Claude Sims was well on his way to having a larger impact through his involvement with local civic projects and politics before his life was cut short during a fishing trip on the St Johns River with W.E. Johnson, a retired branch manager of the United States Rubber Company. His untimely death made headline news in the Florida Times Union on August 19, 1933 but was also picked up in Georgia by theAtlanta Constitution and the India Rubber Tire Review. The Florida Times Union article covers the details leading up to his drowning, his son’s (Claude E. Sims, Jr.) desperate attempt to find his missing father and the recovery of his body, but it also highlights him as being “widely known in Jacksonville and throughout Florida,” noting him as deeply interested in civic affairs and a leader in campaigns for many projects, in addition to being involved in the work and religious affairs of the First Baptist Church. In the footsteps of his brother, Claude E. Sims ran for City Commission in Spring 1932, missing by a narrow margin. The Atlanta publication states that he was a City Councilman for several years before that, but this honor was not mentioned in the local paper. While the Times Union article does not provide a detailed list of the various civic projects he was involved with, a 1952 paper dedicated to the opening of the John E. Matthews Bridge, records Sims’ involvement with the Duval County New Bridge Association, otherwise known as the Arlington Bridge Association, that was instrumental in pushing for the construction of the bridge almost 20 years after his death.

While construction was not initiated until 1950 and not completed until 1952, the groundwork for getting the Matthews Bridge has a long history dating back to the 1920s when it was first proposed as a direct route linking downtown Jacksonville to Arlington. The debate over the idea of the bridge was very divided and an initial bonds issue for the project was voted down. Attention went to other bridge projects, but the group of civic leaders that formed the Arlington Bridge Association and campaigned vigorously were not deterred and continued the crusade. Amongst the names of prominent citizens listed on its directorate dating back to 1930 were both Claude E. Sims and his wife, Francis. Once completed, the new bridge “forever ended Arlington’s isolation, providing at last a direct road link to downtown Jacksonville.”

Claude was survived by his son, Claude E. Sims, Jr., who took over the family business as its new president and reported in 1935 to his Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity Alumni that the Sims Tire Company, Inc was the largest independent tire concern in the state. Oddly one of Claude Sims’ most lasting contributions could be considered his daughter, Dorothy, who was only 12 at the time of his death but went on to become a notable entertainer.

Dorothy Sims started her professional career as a singer at the end of World War II. She transitioned from a bluesy band singer to more of a comedic singer, re-embracing her southern accent and became known as the Park Avenue Hillbillie under the name Dorothy Shay. A local newspaper article states she started singing when she was about four years old, coincidentally the same time frame her father started work at the 618 West Adams Street location. The article further notes that she started out at that age entertaining prisoners at the county jail and had her professional debut five blocks away at the Roosevelt Hotel. These early local venues for the entertainment star would seem to indicate that she was coming downtown from their Avondale home on a regular basis and would have likely been with her father at his store at some point, and perhaps even sung to those working or waiting at the Sims Tire Company. She went on to become a popular entertainer, who recorded a series of hit records including one with the song, “Feudin’ and Fightin’ that reached the top of the charts, starred in the 1951 Abbott and Costello movie Comin’ Round The Mountain, performed for Dwight Eisenhower’s inaugural ball in 1953, and had a reoccurring role as Thelma in the TV hit The Waltons in the 1970s.