Ace Motel, Main Street

by Tim Gilmore, 6/17/2012

In March 2007, a 15 year old girl saw a woman wandering down North Main Street with blood pouring from her neck. The girl covered the woman, who was homeless and a prostitute, with her jacket, while she and another passerby got help. The woman had been raped and her throat had been slashed with a box cutter. There were two attacks on North Main Street that night.

There were at least nine attacks in the previous six years, probably more, but prostitutes rarely report being raped. When police arrested a 29 year old port worker on March 13, he also came under suspicion of being the serial rapist who had assaulted prostitutes on Main Street for six years.

Prostitutes frequently walked out of the apartments on North Main Street and caricatured seductive movements on the sidewalk by the We’re For Jesus House of Prayer or by the Evergreen Cemetery across the street and the George H. Hewell & Son Funeral Home. They went in and out of the Capri Villas, a low-rent residential shambles at North Main and 39th Streets that was either moldering into the sad earth or festering up from it.

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The Capri Villas are a series of low concrete block buildings painted a fading taupe. The complex has its own road, Crabtree Corners, that exits North Main Street, runs between low buildings on either side, turns left between more of the same buildings, then cuts another left before it dead-ends. Crabtree Corners is built like a trap.

The main office building faces North Main, boarded up, with rotten double doors facing a drive-through lane grown tall in weeds. All around the Capri Villas are palm trees, shapeless bushes and weeds, car tires, gin bottles, and shopping carts.

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In 2008, a slumlord in Fort Lauderdale, 300 miles away, bought the property for nearly $3 million.

In the late 1980s, Jacksonville developers were accused of cutting deals with housing officials to skirt the requirement that developers compete for money from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Moderate Rehabilitation Program. One developer received $4.3 million to rehabilitate a property at North Main and 39th Streets called Capri Villas.

In 1951, a salmon-colored “motor court,” “motor hotel,” or “motel,” was built at North Main and 39th Streets. Motels were hotels for the working class. Many of them were built along the edges of suburbs, suburbs that would later become inner-city neighborhoods, and the former motels turned into low-rent residential compounds.

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When the Capri Villas was the Ace Motel, its owners boasted it was the largest motel in the South.

The back of one postcard says, “ACE MOTEL is located on Main Street within the city limits of Jacksonville, containing 158 modern bedrooms and apartments. Air-conditioned, steam heat, beauty-rest mattresses and room telephone service. Television in lobby. Restaurant connected with the Motel. Hotel service at motel rates. Open 24 hours every day.”

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On the back of another Ace Motel postcard, Kate writes her folks, the Wrights, at 2318 Penn Street in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, “Bet you are surprised to see this.” She’d only be able to stay at the Ace Motel for a day, she says, but at least she’d “be able to say we were in Florida.”