by Tim Gilmore, 5/29/2016
cont’d from Wayne Wood’s Tipi
Wayne Wood first entered the abandoned house after he’d spearheaded an organization to help preserve and revive a three mile long historic district along the St. Johns River. He never imagined he’d one day call it home.
The house had last been occupied as an osteopathic hospital. A long extension stretched from the easternmost part of the house to the sidewalk. The front doors had been removed and stored in the basement. The porch had been enclosed and had jalousie windows.
The foyer was covered in sheetrock and acoustic tiles, but underneath, the house’s original mahogany waited to be recovered.
By the late 1970s, the Jacksonville Historic Landmarks Commission considered 2821 Riverside Avenue one of the city’s greatest houses and one of its most significant examples of Prairie style architecture, though its architect remains unknown and its design was occluded for decades.
Since Wayne bought the house in 1999, former patients and family members of former patients have walked Wayne through the house and shared their memories. The room with the pool table was once a delivery room.
“People were born in this house and people died in this house,” Wayne says.
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He calls himself a rabble-rouser. Probably no one has done more for Jacksonville preservation and architectural history. After Wayne came to Jacksonville from South Florida to practice optometry in 1971, he fell quickly in love with the city’s historic architecture, much of which was quickly disappearing.
More than 50 Riverside Avondale properties fell to the wrecking ball in one year. Post-World War II “white flight” and suburbanization had shown the urban core of Jacksonville no more mercy than that of any other American city. The City had zoned the entire district for commercial use in an effort to revitalize it. The zoning had the opposite effect, as Riverside’s old homes became medical clinics or were bulldozed for parking lots.
So in 1974, Wayne and a handful of concerned citizens held a meeting to discuss saving the neighborhood. The old Florida Times-Union auditorium seated 75 and 150 people showed up. The result was Riverside Area Preservation, or RAP. Then a bridge was proposed crossing the St. Johns River and landing at Richmond Street in adjacent Avondale, developed in the 1920s as “Riverside’s residential ideal.” The next meeting attracted 750 people, and RAP became Riverside Avondale Preservation.
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Wayne signed my reprint of the Jacksonville Historic Landmarks Commission’s Jacksonville’s Architectural Heritage on December 21, 1996.
If you don’t know Jacksonville’s Architectural Heritage, or you’ve never casually perused it, you should know the book’s the bible of driving and walking old Jacksonville. Wayne started the writing in 1976, working with a five-member team, including Joel McEachin, who’s long headed the city’s historical preservation commission, and the book was first published in 1989.
The book took 12 years of research, photography, and writing, and spilled to more than 400 pages of a couple thousand individual architectural listings. Each listing contains at least one photograph and significant historical and architectural information.
It was Jacksonville’s Architectural Heritage that first taught me the differences in American architectural styles from Prairie to Queen Anne to Richardsonian Romanesque to Beaux-Arts to Craftsman Bungalow to Art Deco and Art Moderne.
If you ask Wayne about Jacksonville’s Prairie style genius Henry John Klutho’s earliest designs, mostly Beaux-Arts, you’ll find he’s not fond of the influence the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris exerted on American architecture on either side of the 20th century. The design of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, so superbly chronicled in Daniel Larsen’s best-selling 2003 nonfiction novel The Devil in the White City, relied on quick Beaux-Arts construction at the expense of Chicago’s foremost new-thinking architects, especially Louis Sullivan, known as “the father of the skyscraper.” Wayne says the Chicago World’s Fair set American architecture back by decades, though almost all of the quintessential “City Beautiful” was demolished after sitting abandoned following the fair.
It was Jacksonville’s Architectural Heritage that first taught me to drive the city’s strangest streets, to get out and walk them, to find parts of the city the city wouldn’t otherwise reveal to me, and to use that exploration as a model for my being in the world.
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Henry John Klutho never took credit for 2821 Riverside, one of the Prairie masterpieces of the South, as surely he would have if it were his. Strangely, no architect took credit for the building, so the enigma of its origins has haunted preservationists for decades.
The Prairie School is most famously associated with Frank Lloyd Wright and other architects influenced by Chicago’s Louis Sullivan. Wright spoke of “organic architecture,” wherein the landscape dictates the form of human structures.
Prairie style houses emphasize the horizontal to complement a flat landscape. That relationship works as well in Florida as in the Midwest where the style emerged. Such structures feature wide bands of windows and overhanging eaves, while inside spaces flow together and natural light becomes an architectural material as important as brick.
Inside 2821 Riverside, the stairs lead to leaded glass motifs of the Prairie style “tree of life,” and the Prairie Style Cross ornaments the foyer and tops the newels at the foot of the stairs. It’s an important symbol found in many Prairie style structures. Along with the tree of life, it represents the style’s organic alignment with the natural world, and it replaces the classical orders of capitals—the Ionic, the Doric, and the Corinthian—with a symbol innately American.
Wayne believes he knows who designed this house for developer Lucius Smith in 1913, though there’s probably no way he can prove it.
According to the house’s profile in Jacksonville’s Architectural Heritage, “One tantalizing clue is that [N.L.] Snelson, the contractor for this house, had an office in the St. James Building next door to architect Klutho at the time this residence was built. Adding to the enigma is a nearly identical house located in Ft. Myers. Snelson’s obituary states that he constructed several buildings in Ft. Myers, which suggests a possible correlation.”
Wayne mentions Frank Lloyd Wright’s being fired for working on his own designs while employed by Louis Sullivan, prior to striking out on his own. He suspects that Earl Mark and Leeroy Sheftall may’ve moonlit while employed by Klutho, before starting their own firm. They would have used Klutho’s contractor, who could’ve used the design in Fort Myers, since no architect claimed it. Wayne says, “There’s no one else in the city at that time who had the ability and wherewithal to design this house.”
Wayne whimsically refers to the house and its yard as Strawberry Hill, since Daniel Pleasant Gold’s 1929 History of Duval County, Including Early History of East Florida refers to the slight hill now the corner of Riverside Avenue and Cherry Street as farmed over in the late 1800s with strawberries.
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Wayne believes art is integral to living, so the house is surrounded with architectural motifs and filled with paintings and sculpture.
Stepping through the front door, you’re greeted by a statue of a young girl with “SLAVE” etched in the plinth. When Wayne first purchased the 1870s Florentine marble, a previous owner had connected its shackles with a cheap Lowe’s lamp cord, which Wayne replaced with a solid chain. When a “feminist friend” objected, he broke one end of the chain from its shackle immediately. So now the slave stands emancipated, just as Michelangelo saw each piece of unchiseled marble as harboring an inherent Platonic form he needed to free by sculpting.
Beside the stairs, Wayne points to a bust of Dante’s Beatrice, the most important guide in the poet’s Divine Comedy, herself based on Beatrice Portinari, the unrequited love of Dante’s life. The Florentine sculptor used marble dust, avoiding striations in the material.
Elsewhere on Wayne’s walls hang pieces of “outsider art” by Howard Finster and St. EOM. St. EOM pronounced his name “Ohm” and spelled it with the initials of his birth name, Eddie Owens Martin.
Most of Wayne’s inside art is local, including paintings by Oscar Senn, Jonathan Lux, Courtenay Hunt—with whom his late wife Gini was good friends and the subject of Wayne’s 2014 book, Flying Colors—Enzo Torcoletti, and Hiromi Moneyhun, whose black lacey moth was constructed from 10,000 papercuts.
A replica of the model for the sculptor C. Adrian Pillars’s 1924 bronze Winged Victory, the focal point of Riverside’s Memorial Park, stands triumphant on a piano in a parlor. The original model was found broken into 13 pieces at Jacksonville University. One face rising from the maelstrom beneath the statue’s feet is Pillars’s wife, and another is his little boy.
Wayne’s currently writing his 13th book, a nonfiction novel based on Pillars, which will feature true stories of madness and attempted murder.
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Wayne’s “yard art” is also heavily Jacksonville-based, though much of it comes from the Midwest. His yard contains more than 50 architectural pieces from Klutho and Sullivanesque buildings.
Several large lacey terracotta pieces from demolished buildings designed by Purcell and Elmslie adorn the property. After Frank Lloyd Wright, P&E designed more commissioned Prairie School works than any other architectural firm. An enormous motif from P&E’s 1916 First National Bank Building of Rhinelander, Wisconsin is now integral to the house’s front porch, and a P&E ornamental piece that Wayne watched for years as a Miami dealer kept it for sale stands before an ivy-covered side wall.
Elsewhere in the yard are pieces from downtown Jacksonville’s demolished Heard National Bank Building, a lovely Forsyth Street skyscraper, and the demolished 1917 George Washington Hotel on West Ashley Street.
Interlaced curves from the top of Louis Sullivan’s Schiller Theater Building in Chicago fit together alongside the grille from Klutho’s West Bay Annex to the Jacksonville U.S. Post Office. Wayne says the Schiller Building was ornamented with “lace in the sky.” It was built for the German Opera Company in the 1890s and demolished for a parking garage in 1961.
Lamp posts from the entrance to Klutho’s Criminal Court Building stand either side of the grille. The 1913 Criminal Court Building was described as a “jewel box.” Its lamp posts stand with Louis Sullivan and Purcell and Elmslie in the architectural museum that is Wayne Wood’s yard like ghost sentinels to the lives enacted in beautiful lost buildings.
cont’d Seminole Hotel Heads