Weise Pharmacy and Natural Food Shoppe / Ortega Medical Arts Building

by Tim Gilmore, 10/20/2023

I stopped by to apologize to the old man for urinating on him, but I was talking to the wrong old man.

When I told him he was my pediatrician, he shook his head grimly and said, “No sir.” For a moment, I wondered if I’d accused him of something without realizing what. “That was my brother,” he finally said. “The government ran him out of town just like they’re running me out.” It was not the response I’d expected.

Gilbert Weise, Sr. is 89 years old and his brother Edmund, who moved to a 200 acre farm outside Grandin, Florida, population 192, 10 years ago, is 91. Gilbert Weise’s head may be clouded with liver spots, but his blue eyes are sharp. His eyes match his tie and his liver spots his vest.

sketch of Gilbert Weise, Sr., 1940, by Emil Weise, Jr.

I don’t know how old I was when I stopped seeing a pediatrician, but I remember being very small and getting to pick a tiny plastic dinosaur from a wooden chest the size of a typewriter. I remember crying after getting a shot. Though I don’t remember urinating on Edmund Weise 49 years ago and his saying, “He sprung a leak,” my father must have told that story 100 times while I was growing up.

“The government doesn’t like us independent homeopathic compounders,” says Gilbert Weise, who tells people he’s “Gill the Pill from Jacksonville” and says people all over the country know him by that nickname. “Some independent compounders mix some color and some water and call that a compound. Now that’s alright, but the government doesn’t want you messing with the opioids. The government doesn’t want you mixing in less of the opioid to keep people from becoming addicted.”

Inside the lobby, beneath signage for Weise Pharmacy in gothic lettering, the pharmacy doors are closed. A spindly chandelier hangs from the drop ceiling. Against the white-mullioned windows and windowed double doors stand a chest of drawers, skis, an American flag, several paintings and signs that say, “Weise Pharmacy is CLOSED,” “Natural Food Shoppe is OPEN” and “Sale! Some items 50% OFF!”

In the “shoppe,” in the room next to the pharmacy, price tags hang from ceramic decanters, vitamin jars, old books, medicine boxes, light fixtures and more paintings. A tag on a “linen covered torso” prices it at $75. The torso wears old campaign buttons for Barry Goldwater for president in 1964 and Haydon Burns, who promised Jacksonville would never desegregate racially, for both mayor and governor. Jacksonville reelected Burns mayor four times; Florida refused to reelect him governor.

In the lobby sits a leather chair with a sign that says it once belonged to former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who led the conservative victory in the 1994 congressional election. “I have a gavel that Newt used!” the sign says. A separate price tag says, “Ask for the gavel too. Both $895.”

Weise tells customers he’ll run the shop until January 1st. Customers tell him how their mother is doing, or that they finally sold their house. “Praise the Lord,” Weise says. “The Lord answers prayer.” Copies of Our Daily Bread, the Evangelical devotional periodical, lie stacked on a low table, free for the taking. He says, “I know the law forward and backward and the government doesn’t like messing with me.”

Gilbert Weise, Sr. speaking at Capitol Hill, year unknown

News articles and legal authorities tell a different story of what’s happened to Weise Pharmacy or “Weise Prescription Shop” in the last 15 years. This story also involves opioids, but differs greatly from what Gill the Pill says.

In 2010, Weise’s son, Gilbert, Jr., and his wife Rhonda, owners of Weise Pharmacy, were arrested for fraudulently attempting to obtain the prescription painkiller Dilaudid, an opioid five to 10 times more powerful than morphine. Rhonda Weise used a fake prescription with the forged signature of a doctor who rented space at Weise Pharmacy. The doctor told both the part-time pharmacist who reported the prescription and later a police detective that he had “never written for Dilaudid a day in [his] life.” Investigators soon found the doctor’s forged signature had been use to fill previous Dilaudid prescriptions.

Twelve years later, in July of 2022, Gilbert, Jr., Rhonda and five other defendants pled guilty for their roles in what the Department of Justice called “a white-coat operation that illegally distributed more than half a million opioid pills and other drugs.” U.S. Attorney David Estes said, “These defendants opened the floodgates to opioid abuse by unlawfully dispensing massive amounts of prescription drugs into an uncontrolled environment. They hid behind their lab coats and professional affiliations to become nothing more than illegal drug dealers.”

a matchstick model of the Ortega Medical Arts Building

For several years, Rhonda and Gilbert Weise, Jr. had filled illegal prescriptions for a “pill mill” clinic called Coastline Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in St. Marys, Georgia. U.S. attorneys presented evidence in court that Weise, Jr. had illegally sold more than half a million pain pills, plus 100,000 hydromorphone pills to a drug dealer for $100,000.

“During the conspiracy,” said the Justice Department’s report, “Weise Prescription Shop, a small locally owned pharmacy, was the top purchaser of hydrocodone powder in the United States and the eighth largest purchaser of oxycodone powder in the United States. Weise Prescription Shop purchased more than 17 kilograms of opioid powder to meet the high demand for opioids from Coastline.”

Compounding pharmacists “have really been put out of business just because they have been harassed to death,” Gilbert Weise, Sr. told Linda Hansen on her right-wing podcast Prosperity 101 on March 10, 2020.

He complained of the “unfair way of saying that we don’t, when we make a product over there in the compounding shop, it’s not [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] approved. Well, the School of Pharmacy taught me how to compound, so it’s part of my licensure.” He added, “I feel the same way about those products as I do the grocery stores of the United States. Nothing in there is approved by the FDA. We still eat it.”

an oil painting of the Weise family home in Schwelm, Germany, by Emil Weise, Jr., 1930s

Drs. Emil Weise, both Sr. and Jr., came to the U.S. from Germany in the 1930s. Emil, Jr. ran a compounding lab and pharmacy at 10 West Duval Street and in the Masonic Temple Building downtown.

from The Southern Jewish Weekly, November 3, 1939

On Hansen’s podcast, Gilbert, Sr. makes a point of saying the Weises were German Christians, not Jews, but a November 3, 1939 ad in The Southern Jewish Weekly said Emil Weise practiced “Nature Philosophy of Healing Art and the Science of Irisdiagnosis,” also called iridology, the diagnosis of a patient’s health from examination of colors, patterns and other characteristics of the eye. On June 18, 1948, Weise’s ad said, “We Salute the New Jewish State.”

from The Southern Jewish Weekly, June 18, 1948

In 1940, Emil drew a pencil sketch of his son Gilbert, seven years old, which now hangs in a hallway beside Weise Pharmacy. Nearby hangs Emil’s 1929 painting of Gilbert Stuart’s 1795 portrait of George Washington, copied from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

self-portrait of Emil Weise, Sr., 1927

Emil, Sr.’s stern self-portrait in oils, showing a bald head, round-framed glasses and a Van Dyke beard, hangs beside his portrait of his wife, Emma, who looks somehow both stern and bashful, her eyes averted to the side. Both portraits are for sale for $98 each. You could buy Emil, Jr.’s 1930s painting of the family home in Germany for $215. The oar Gilbert, Jr. used on the Episcopal High School Crew Team from 1979 to ’81 hangs in an opposite hallway, not for sale.

portrait of Emma Weise, by Emil Weise, Sr., 1927

In 1967, the family hired the storied Jacksonville architectural firm Saxelbye and Powell to design the Ortega Medical Arts Building at 4343 Colonial Avenue in the Lakeside Park subdivision behind Roosevelt Mall near the old-money neighborhoods of Ortega and Avondale. Loyal customers called it the Weise Building. Emil Weise wanted it to resemble Thomas Jefferson’s neoclassical plantation home Monticello, though it’s really a long brick ranch style house with a generic portico attached. Brothers Reinold, Edmund and Gilbert Weise and their mother Ruth all set up shop in the new building, Reinold as surgeon, Edmund as pediatrician, Gilbert as pharmacist, Ruth as proprietor of a vitamin and natural food shop.

artist’s rendering of the Weise Building, the Ortega Medical Arts Building

A matchstick model of the building made by longtime customer Heinz Koblitz sits on a table in the lobby. In early 2009, Koblitz surveyed the building at night, measured the windows, doors and walls, and spent two months and between 6,500 and 7,000 matches building the model. Before Koblitz applied each match, he’d strike it and his wife Judy would blow it out.

a matchstick model of the Ortega Medical Arts Building

Across the lobby hangs the largest of Emil Weise, Jr.’s artworks, an oil painting called Garden of Eden, showing a strange amalgamation of people, including a clothed couple – Adam and Eve? – with naked children and a line of men and women in hats, suits and long dresses approaching a waterway. Eve (?) is seated, breastfeeding, while a bearded Adam (?) reaches up into a tree to pick what looks like an orange.

Garden of Eden, oil, by Emily Weise, Jr., 1930

A typed explanation, mostly in capital letters, taped to the frame says, “This painting (oil) was painted by my father in 1930 it shows sick, tired, wearypeople walking hobbling, limping toward the light==the sun or us the‘son’ og God for healing’ There is someone to give us sustinance, a mother nursing, some taking a bath or water ‘compress’ from the life giving stream of life that comes out og the rock! The artist, my father knew him and painted with feeling for who were lost. I Gilert Weise, Sr. knew what my father had gone through.WWI and the persecution by german authorities for being a man of god. my dad was a naturpath n.d. and ann M.D. as well but always used God”s natural healing methods enjoy the art and ponder!”

Despite his nickname and his son’s criminal history, Gill the Pill has built a lifelong reputation for steering patients away from the pharmaceutical industry when possible. He calls fast food and processed food “fake food,” “funny food” and “fatigue food.” He told Linda Hansen, “If I catch them at the door, I can tell them, ‘Maybe you don’t want to take that much of the diabetic medicine. Maybe you want to change your diet and correct that a little bit.’”

Yet Weise also sells LifeWave X39 stem cell patches, ranging from $150 to $280, each the size of a quarter, which, by exposing the skin to “only certain wavelengths” of light, supposedly can change your stem cells “into any cell your body needs for repair just like when you were 20!” LifeWave is a multi-level marketing company, akin to a pyramid scheme. Its CEO, David Schmidt, is also the inventor of the “Double Helix Conductor,” which LifeWave says “produces a novel blend of electromagnetic and non-electromagnetic fields to improve the speed of wound healing.” No clinical trial data or peer-reviewed sources back up LifeWave’s claims.

On my way out the door, I nearly ran into a perplexed, disheveled and rather dirty looking man who put his hands on his hips and said, “This is a goddam shame. That’s a piece of Westside history right there, an institution!” He said his name was Rick and that he used to come here to sit for a while and drink coffee. “They let me hang out and try to collect my thoughts,” he said. “There’s probably some of my thoughts still lost in there.”

Rick walks a couple miles from the subdivision called Cedar Hills, where he lives in the ranch style house his parents bought in the 1950s. He said he graduated from Nathan Bedford Forrest High School in 1973, then, alluding to the school’s name change, no longer memorializing the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, said, “I’m from the Confederacy and I’m for the Confederacy.”

Before he turned back the way he’d come and wandered across the back lot of the Publix supermarket complex, apparently having changed his mind about visiting Weise today, he looked again at the drive-through portico of the building and said, “I never did like change. Now this place is disappearing too.” Then he said, “Alright, brother,” sucked on his teeth for a couple seconds and told me to have a good day.

prescription book once used by Emil Weise, Sr.

Somewhere I still have the dinosaur — an orange brontosaurus? — I pulled from the “treasure box” almost half a century ago. Or am I confusing memories of memories with imagination? Still I can smell the security of panelboard walls, 1970s carpet and Southern childhood Christianity. A day was a long time back then. The trauma of vaccination dissipated quickly.