by Tim Gilmore, 1/8/2022
The January sun lit up the tall face of the house and its two story Corinthian columns in cool unhurried illumination. The light differed from that abusive sun of the brutal summer. It shone down Gale Court and lit up the house all glowing and gothic, a sun old but untired. Then the bell in St. Paul’s Catholic Church across Acosta Street sounded through the grand old oaks.
She’d come here to follow Emanuel’s vision and he’d deserted her. Exile had become home. It really was home for Velma and Gale, just like it later was for Frances, the world they’d always known. Now, however, it was time to go back home for Louise too, if the place from which you’ve been exiled could still resemble home.
After all, the House of the Seven Gables back in Ohio was gone. So was the life she and Emanuel had made together there. In January 1910, The Allen County Republican Gazette reported, “Lima is going to lose one of her best citizens.” So it had. And then Emanuel died. And then Albert tore the old homestead down.
The house glowed in the sun that morning. It seemed older than its years, as old as Louise felt. Wasps nested in the curves and corners of the capitals along the ceiling of the porch. The rooms and hallways inside listed into each other. They’d groan in a storm, but when the house was quiet, she thought she could hear other sounds, memories.
Four years they’d lived in this big colonial mansion before Emanuel died, July 1914. He’d built his tailoring business in Lima, Ohio for almost three decades, 1880 to 1906. They’d come here, built this behemoth of a house, and he’d died, leaving her and Velma, 21 years old and in fear of becoming an “old maid,” alone in these rooms and corners and stairs and balconies and juxtapositions.
“Last week,” the Gazette reported on January 21, 1910, “Mr. Emanuel Gale arrived in Jacksonville armed with a complete set of architect’s drawings and builder’s specifications for a handsome home, which he will at once erect on his lot on Acosta Street, at a cost of at least $15,000.” And The Florida Times-Union said, “The plans show a substantial home of fine proportions and architectural beauty, and the interior arrangement is one of the most complete and modern ever seen here.”Louise remembered the Times-Union had used the word “permanent.” Which meant what exactly? “Early in the fall, he will move his family here, and they will become permanent residents of Jacksonville.” Emanuel was “permanent” for four years. And her stepson demolished their noble old Ohio home to build a new apartment building as soon as his father was cold in the ground. The June 5, 1915 headline in the Gazette said, “Terrace Will Replace ‘House of Seven Gables’ on High,” adding, “The old house, which probably got its name from imagined resemblance to ‘The House of the Seven Gables’ made famous by the novel of Nathaniel Hawthorne, for years has been an object of interest and has been visited by many curious persons.” The “wrecking of the old Gale homestead” would begin “next Monday.”
Albert had effectively cut her off, along with his stepsister, in Jacksonville, and Louise and Velma had to figure out their life alone in this 9,000 square foot mansion. Emanuel echoed in every shadow and glimmer through the house. The house seemed Old South by way of a Midwesterner who’d never lost his English accent. She could hear him here in the mornings, the bleary afternoons. Velma could too.
And it was Velma who brought the house new life. She’d married Joseph, son of a Cuban physician who lived in St. Augustine, and on the 20th of January, 1919, Joseph and Velma, calling the Gale House home, brought Emanuel Gale Pacetti into the world. They would call him Gale. His sister Frances came five years later.
The house was big enough for the extended family, but it made sense to give them their own space too, so the Gale House became the Gale Apartments. And since Louise didn’t come from money and she had this mansion for herself and her daughter and grandchildren, her 61 year old brother William and 49 year old spinster sister Jessie moved in from Ohio. That helped make it home. The Lauck siblings were together like they had been as children, but each with their own apartment.
And the city came to embrace them. When Emanuel and Louise had first arrived, their house called only the trees its neighbors. The old Jaudon plantation house stood well behind them. And Edward Okle Painter had grown corn, sugar cane and watermelon down closer to the river. A shame what happened to Painter, how he’d drowned and the insurance companies commandeered his dead body, their hired physician thugs cutting it to pieces trying somehow to prove it was suicide so the company wouldn’t have to pay out. And Augustus King’s cornflowers, reseeded ruderal, still bloomed on his own land by the river.
But now King Street and Park Street filled full of fine houses, two story family homes had grown up on either side of the Gales and St. Paul’s Catholic Church sounded its bell through the shushings of its fountain across Acosta. The Gale House had become, quickly though just slightly, an anachronism, the face of things-before peering radiantly through the neighborhood. Louise turned the private drive beside the house into Gale Court, seeded it with apartment houses, and ran it through from Acosta to King.
When Gale Pacetti graduated from Robert E. Lee High School in 1938, he got Haywood and Betty to sign his yearbook and made up his own fraternity, congratulating himself on his membership in “Foo Beta Goo.” Joseph had died in ’24, 42 years old, and Louise’s siblings too – Bill in ’23, Jessie in ’28 – and Velma, now nearing 50, lived here with her mother and with Gale and Frances.
The house had known so much death, but made itself home in the process of the lives it introduced and nurtured. Now that it was time for Louise to go home too, the question of what “home” meant resurfaced. The House of the Seven Gables was gone. Gale had married a girl in Oklahoma and decided Louise was too feeble to stay in Jacksonville. He brought his mother and grandmother to Tulsa, where Louise died six weeks later, 80 years old, in 1951. She’d never even contemplated calling Tulsa, Oklahoma home. She was buried in Lima.
Riverside Annex, as the neighborhood was called, evolved in the Gales’ and Pacettis’ absence. The trees stood unweeping. The sun rose again. Park Street Lounge gave way to the Junction and the Palace, which gave way to the Art Bar (on one side of the King Street entrance to Gale Court) that gave way to Riverside Liquors (on the other) when it moved from Five Points to King Street. Across Riverside, landlords carved up mansions into rooming houses as property values fell to White Flight and the Gale situated itself nicely to the decline.
All John Carver’s life, the penguins haunted him. He would tell his son Chris about them years later. He was only 10 years old, living around the corner on Post Street, when he’d pass those stuffed emperor penguins, three feet tall, standing guard on either side of the front door of the Gale Apartments. They stood out in his mind like the P-51 Mustang fighter planes “buzzing” neighborhood houses that crashed into the apartments at Post and Willow Branch and killed the pilots and a shoe salesman shaving at his bathroom mirror. Chris attended St. Paul’s Catholic School and heard about the penguins from his still horrified father his whole childhood.
That strange woman, Virginia King, who wrote the 8,448-page book with the endless title, Interesting Facts About Leading People and Families of Duval County: Also, Where Progress Has Changed a Lot of Homes and Buildings, snapped a photo of the house in April 1965, sleek black Ford parked out front. On the back she wrote, “Emanuel Gale’s former home on Acosta St. near Park St. Gales Court built through his land from Acosta St. to King St. So Gale Court named for him.” [sic]
Roger Cruce started the first “massive renovation effort,” as Riverside Avondale Preservation called it, in June 1975, rewiring and replumbing, refinishing and rebuilding floors, adding new ceilings and walls, opening up fireplaces and tiling baths.
It was around that time Walker Worman first lived at the Gale. He may actually have lived in the apartments twice. Somehow he claims he’s not sure. He remembers when Gale Court connected all the way through, before somebody put up a fence at the alley that transects Gale Court behind Riverside Liquors. He loved coming and going from his upstairs side apartment to the King Street bars in the late 1970s.
Walker lived in the side apartment with the smaller balcony. It took him a while to notice the asymmetry, how it wasn’t lined up evenly beneath the circular portico and between the two-story columns. Twice, when he got good and drunk before hitting the bars, he hopped off the balcony to wander King Street.
The alley cuts Gale Court between 2450 and 2460 and Walker swears the best night of his life, which he can barely remember, happened in between. He’d already realized he was an alcoholic, he says, but the redhead was a drunk in denial. They both blacked out that night, but remembered flickers the next day. They kissed again another time or two, but “it was nothing,” he says, “like the night I can’t remember.”
Beth King, no relation to either Augustus or Virginia, the realtor who now represents the building’s rentals, remembers a misty New Year’s Day, 1993, when she and a friend in a downstairs apartment facing Acosta drank champagne and watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Christy Frazier lived upstairs in the apartment with the balcony, working around the corner at Pizza Palace, six years before she opened the Art Bar at Gale Court and King Street.
Most renters feel protective of the old house, taking care of it as it takes care of them. Perhaps they’re helping curate the memory of the Gales and Pacettis without knowing it. It’s hard to tell who placed those interior walls that “bear no relation to load bearing,” in the current landlord’s words, or who’s responsible for the fact, she jokes, that “the only hills in Jacksonville are inside that house.” This rambling Colonial Revival style mansion, legatee of Ohio’s (not Massachusetts’s) House of the Seven Gables, harbors worlds of its own inside.
It was supposed to be a new start for Emanuel and Louise. Ironic that they left the life they’d built in Ohio partly for Emanuel’s health, because his dying sequestered his widow here. He’d believed it wasn’t too late to start over. Or wanted to believe it. Louise was 30 years younger, but that didn’t make it fair. She had to create home all over again in exile. And seven decades after her death, she’s still doing it.