Seminole Hotel Heads

by Tim Gilmore, 5/29/2016

cont’d from Wayne Wood / Lucius Smith House

Four years ago, a friend named Frances told me she’d fallen in love with Henry John Klutho. She’d stared into his eyes and taken up the Prairie Style Cross.

Klutho 3

What she took to be the face of the Jacksonville Prairie style architect was a supposed Seminole Indian head supposedly Klutho’s self-portrait.

The story had been told for decades as had urban legends concerning the whereabouts of the Seminole Hotel heads.

seminole head 1

Frances first saw the aquiline-nosed firm-browed head in a Jacksonville Riverwalk “pocket museum.” When she next returned to the Riverwalk, the museum was no longer there. Then she saw the head in the Museum of Science and History’s “Currents of Time” exhibit.

Originally there were 10 heads. Originally they weren’t Seminoles. They were Mohawks.

But in the spring of 1909, the Utica Investment Company, which commissioned of Klutho a grand Jacksonville building, was bought out by a Tennessee hotel conglomerate. Klutho quickly converted his banking building to a hotel. The noble heads of Mohawks of the Iroquois Nation of Utica, New York became the visages of Seminoles, a Southeastern amalgamation of tribes that included the Creeks and the Everglades-based Miccosukee.

seminole head 2

When the Seminole Hotel, at the southeast corner of Hogan and Forsyth Streets downtown, was demolished in 1974 to build a parking lot, Wayne Wood drove by in his Volkswagen bus and talked to the demolition crew. They let him haul away several heads for free.

Wayne has three Seminole Hotel heads. There’s another downtown in the Ed Ball Building. Two more heads are in the Museum of Florida History in Tallahassee, along with a flag-winged eagle.

Polychromatic terracotta is rare and expensive, and these heads are intimately tied to Jacksonville’s most famous historic architect.

seminole head 3

But Wayne doesn’t believe they’re self-portraits. He grants some credence to the idea that they’re based on Klutho’s mother, but doubts that too. Nevertheless, they identify as the face of one of the greatest lost Kluthos.

One head stares boldly across a back deck and another behind the swimming pool, both winged with semblances of American flags. An eagle with the same flagged wings perches at the foot of the pool.

seminole head 4

My favorite head is the broken one, pieced back together, sitting in a small courtyard entered through the gate that’s the grille from Klutho’s West Bay Annex to the Jacksonville U.S. Post Office, guarded on either side by lamp posts from the entrance to Klutho’s 1913 Criminal Court Building, both masterpieces long ago demolished.

IMG_0711

I wish I could find Frances and bring her to see her lover’s heads, but she was always hard to reach and seldom stable. I haven’t seen her in almost four years.