by Tim Gilmore, 9/5/2021
It’s the only known building designed solely by David Kosvich. What brought him from Chicago to Jacksonville for those two years a century ago, and what pulled him back home? He was 29 years old when he died. Newspapers never said why. Perhaps the man in the dark hat has the news.
Three stories, this grand apartment building, 18 apartments with original red oak floors. Jonathan and Max walked through them, this mammoth edifice restored but empty. They stood on third floor balconies, looked at the streetscape. They walked through the courtyard around which the building opens like a frozen blossom, or like comforting arms on a cold night.
It’s almost as though Kosvich came down to Jacksonville, Florida just to design his one building. The view from a century later shows him born and growing up in Chicago, coming to Jax, designing this magnificent structure, returning to Chicago and dying. Of course that’s not fair. Bess wouldn’t have thought so. Nor his daughters, Dorothy and Joan (my aunt’s and my mother’s names) though his little girls were too young to remember him.
“It was called the Park View Court,” says Orlando Velez, who spent three years restoring the building. It stood empty, one of Riverside’s few three story apartment buildings, a block from Willowbranch Park, for a decade. A building like this can vitalize its street or form the black hole that sucks the rest of the street into it. This block of Herschel mixes cottage bungalows with brick foursquare apartment buildings. A California Mission Style arch juxtaposes a dark red skintled brick wall.
I catch the man in the dark hat waiting at the vestibule phone. The original 1927 plans called for “a wall telephone instrument in each of the three main first floor halls as a part of the bank of letter boxes and a wall telephone instrument in each apartment near the entrance door.” From whom does he await a call? “Instrument in each vestibule shall have a button, with approved name card holder, to ring the instrument in any apartment and all connections shall be installed for the System which shall be common talking type.” Or perhaps he’s waiting to make a call; to whom?
“Park View Court” is one of two kinds of names:
a) the kind of generic name given to a slum tenement, a name impersonally almost pleasant, but whose tenants pull up floorboards, put holes in the walls, and urinate in the back alley. That was the last incarnation of this building. That’s when floors tilted all the way across each apartment from Herschel toward Park Street.
b) a Great Gatsby ritzy 1920s name, since Kosvich designed these apartments just before the Florida real estate bubble popped and the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began.
Kosvich’s University of Illinois yearbook says “Dee Kay” was a member of the Menorah Society and the Architectural Fete Committee. The 1924 Architectural News recounts, “The first smoker was a ‘real party,'” that “Professor Provine was crowned king of the meeting rather against his will,” and that “Dave Kosvich ‘strutted his stuff’ for the boys and sang ‘Seven Come Eleven.'” Here he is. Page 78. Woolen lapels, Brilliantined hair, mustache trimmed thin but not pencil.
A personal ad in the May 1927 issue of Pencil Points, An Illustrated Monthly Journal for the Drafting Room says, “David Kosvich has opened an office for the practice of architecture at 214 Peninsular Bldg., Jacksonville, Florida.” By June 1929, he’d gone into business with University of Illinois schoolmate M.J. Glicken back in Chicago. The firm dissolved that December, The Chicago Tribune reported without saying why, and Glicken “resume[d] the practice of architecture” on his own.
Now where’s the man in the black hat gone? I keep seeing him from the corner of my eye. For one strange second I expected to find him standing like Botticelli’s Venus in the scallop motif above the red doors. No such luck. I guess he doesn’t have the news.
I consult addendum #2, on wrinkled century-old vellum, which explains “inter-phone apartment house system #21.” Orlando’s planted roses, bougainvillea, mandevilla, blooming yellow, pink and white. The man in the black hat hides in the color. What did it mean in 1931 when newspapers didn’t say how you died when you were 29 years old, “beloved husband” and “devoted father”?
Now the Park View Court is capitol of the corner. It winks over at the ivy-covered house that began as Grace the Florist’s shop on Cherry Street. The Park View houses a writer, a vintage clothes dealer, a floral artist, slow-blinking cats on balconies. It’s a house of light, youth and opportunity, a hundred years on.
Life was a dream David Kosvich dreamt one afternoon, and when the dream was over, this monument of stone and beauty stood in its place. Ten decades later, Jack was at work, half a mile away, when he texted Emily to look outside. They’d just moved in. She stepped out to the yellow brick courtyard and lifted her almond-shaped blue eyes. The rainbow curved high over Riverside, bridged one tower of balconies to the other like a gateway to all the hope of youth. That irony celebrates the architect. It keeps him alive too.