Like most major cities, Jacksonville’s urban center is replete with historically important architecture–see: cool-looking buildings. As the arts- and entrepreneur-led revival of Jax’s downtown pushes forward, some of those cool-looking buildings remain vacant, while some have been adapted for contemporary and imaginative use. The old Hayden Burns Library–with its angular fins, substantial windows, and seafoam tiles–for example, now houses a community of nonprofits.
Still the Core has lost its share of architectural gems in recent years. In January of 2019, the old City Hall Annex and courthouse on Bay St. was demolished. A year later, the city bulldozed the final remnants of the Jacksonville Landing, a perfectly usable, architecturally distinctive building with unobstructed waterfront views. A month later, a historically important, 111-year-old firehouse on Riverside Ave. met a similar fate.
A group of hardcore Urban Core advocates that goes by the name of #mappingjax, meanwhile, is trying to ensure that the city’s downtown doesn’t lose anymore historic buildings and, in effect, its distinctive character. A recent proposal to raise the old Florida Times-Union Buildings is the latest demolition to draw the group’s ire. Besides the newspaper’s former production house, the property at 1 Riverside Ave. is also home to a five-story midcentury modern office tower that is, indeed, pretty cool-looking. The #mappingjax crew argues that the tower’s use of geometric shapes and hard edges, as well as its white and black exterior–the kind of individualistic aesthetics and functionality representative of Bauhaus architecture–makes it not only unique, but worth adapting for modern use.
The Morris family, who owned the T-U until 2017, still owns the property at 1 Riverside Ave. A lawyer for the family said the buildings on the property–including the very cool one–are likely to be demolished according to the Jacksonville Daily Record.
We reached out to artist, architecture enthusiast, and #mappingjax cofounder Steve Williams to find out what’s cool about the old T-U building and why it’s worth preserving.
I’m sure many have driven by the old T-U building thousands of times without considering its unique aesthetics or even thought of it as beautiful. What’s cool about the Times-Union building?
First of all the Florida Times-Union [which moved out of the building last year] has been in existence since 1881 that is amazing in and of itself. This historic media outlet lived inside of this building for a lot of its life. The coolness of the building is due to its style, history and presence as it sits perfectly on the property. I am talking about the square, black and white Bauhaus structure. If you travel through the world, other cities have buildings in this style and most have been reused for modern purposes. There is a similar structure in Berlin that houses the contemporary art museum. It’s just a stunning piece of art.
You and many others are advocating that it not be demolished. Why is it worth saving?
This building is standing, solid and gorgeous. The greenest buildings are the ones already standing. And this building has amazing “Mad Men” vibes inside and gorgeous wood, marble and metal you really wouldn’t put into a building today. The art that surrounds the building is also worth looking at and trying to save. It’s just a moment in time. Maybe some do not like that moment, but historically you can’t argue that it wasn’t important. I would say this modern gem is a great example of how we can look at our past and dream of a better future. A future that we honor our past and pull all the cool sh** out of it and recycle it into today’s cooler sh**. That’s what young people want. They want a cool building, great music and a place to chill. Jacksonville has a lack of these type places and this building would be a great great boutique hotel or even modern office building with a restaurant/lounge on the first floor.
In general, why would you prefer developers reuse old buildings rather than build new ones, especially in the city’s urban core?
I wouldn’t really prefer that developers reuse old buildings and not build new ones. I think it’s a combination of momentum and diversity and uniqueness [that makes buildings worth saving or reusing]. Look at the old Hayden Burns Library, the new city hall which was the old department store, May Cohens. I love how the old mixed with the new. The new Federal courthouse (Joseph Simpson Courthouse) sits beautifully next to City hall. It creates a feeling and a vibe.
And what’s typically stopping developers from doing that?
Typically developers want to make money and have less hassle. But that is not the answer. You have developers like Dewberry [Group] and Jamestown who reuse historic properties, and turn them into beautiful projects. Then you have other developers who just don’t want to hassle with the old, rich, gorgeous structures number one: because they don’t have the vision. And number two: it’s just easier to get rid of it. Pretty sad, honestly. And the citizens of Jacksonville suffer from not having more cool places.
Speaking of saving things!
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