Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Colonel Cay's Carriage House

Have a little history with your haircut?  That's the question posed by the current owners of this historic building in Jacksonville's Riverside.  They operate a hair salon in this carriage house, which is all that remains of the estate of Colonel Raymond Cay who moved to Jacksonville in 1904.  He built a lavish home on Riverside Avenue; the carriage house in the rear of the property faces May Street.

Colonel Cay's Carriage House, 1545 May Street, Jacksonville, Florida, built in 1905, Rutledge Holmes architect.  The Riverside Avenue Mediterranean-style mansion Holmes designed for Cay was torn down during the 1960's after serving for a few years as the home of the Jacksonville Art Center.  The carriage house had been sold separately as a residence; by the 1970's it had become a commercial property and remains one today.  It is the home of the Cecil Vignutti Salon for Hair. 

The carriage house is a solid building of rusticated stone, the same material used in the construction of the main house on Riverside Avenue.  The building was long ago adapted for residential use, with an interior that once accommodated vehicles transformed into living space for people.  The large casement windows in front are an obvious part of this transformation, as this type of window was not used at the turn of the last century.  Yet they seem very much at home and appropriate.   

There's plenty of living space upstairs too, with large windows to bring in lots of light.  The red barrel tile roof is in keeping with the roof of the now demolished mansion that was once part of "The Row", the grand parade of homes on Riverside Avenue in the early part of the 20th century.

This side view shows two tall chimneys and additional windows.  A very interesting profile of the house in the Go Local/Buy Local campaign for local businesses contains much more about the history of Colonel Cay's carriage house.

The carriage house isn't the only thing worth admiring on May Street; there's the street itself, one of the few brick streets extant in Riverside.  Others are Elizabeth Place and Aberdeen Street.  As May Street has never been paved over, the granite curb remains exposed to its original eight to twelve inch height. 

The Augusta Block paving bricks remain in good condition.  We can thank the three co-owner's of the carriage house in 1969 for this.  That year, the road was scheduled to be repaved with asphalt.  Bette Ainsworth, Bonnie Brown, and Karen Haswell stood in the path of the paving machines to prevent this and literally saved this time capsule from our past.

Developers have started to value and respect the integrity of this historic neighborhood.  Across the street from Colonel Cay's Carriage House, 1661 Riverside, a condo/townhouse development, blends in nicely.  I approve. 

I appreciate the details that include street parking paved with brick that comfortably joins the vintage brick of May Street.

Back to the carriage house, the city has recognized it as an historic landmark, as it should.  It's too bad the original house was lost in the '60's, but sometimes you have to pause and be grateful for those buildings that were not demolished. 

My philosophy is that we should always support businesses that preserve and respect our architectural history.  So the Cecil Venutti Salon for Hair gets my vote (and I don't even have that much hair anymore)!

Next time, an interesting mixed use building by Jacksonville's premier woman architect of the early 20th century.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Willowbranch Apartments

Is anyone else in the mood for another four-plex?  I am, because I love these little buildings.  You'll find them in historic neighborhoods across the country, and they are abundant in Jacksonville's historic Riverside, Avondale, San Marco, and Springfield.  This one is in Riverside.

Willowbranch Apartments, 2925 Riverside Avenue, Jacksonville, Florida.  Sources list the year of construction as 1942.  I'm skeptical; the heyday of the Mediterannean Revival had passed by the 1940's and this style would have been unusual at that time.  The building looks at least a decade older to me, but what's important is that the Willowbranch is a vintage building, now fully renovated, and a part of a neighborhood with new life at every turn.

The apartments are two bedroom, two bath units, and have fireplaces and hardwood floors.  One unit is currently advertised for rent for $1150 per month.  The ad says the building was gutted to the studs during the renovation/restoration.  The Willowbrook takes its name from the park and creek next door.  I have not been able to determine the architect.  The features are simple; ornamentation is mostly at the roofline and is typical for a Mediterannean Revival.  Simple is not a bad thing...I like this building very much.

The front elevation continues with a parapet above the roofline which is decorated with red barrel tile.  Behind the parapet, a slightly pitched flat roof is out of view, eliminating the expense of an entire tile roof.

Here's an unusual feature for Florida: the driveway along the side of the building slopes down to the backyard....

...which allows for garage parking under the building.  The topography in this part of the state (indeed, in most of the state) does not usually include hills, but here is one, and the architect has put it to good use.

Here's the park next door.  It is a linear park, an extension of the larger Willowbranch Park which is located three blocks north, just above Park Street.  This extension follows Willowbranch Creek south to the St. Johns River.  The creek widens and becomes Willowbranch inlet as it reaches the river, just two blocks away.

Along the creek, I found these.  Are they cypress knees?  Perhaps someone with more expertise could identify them.  They look like cypress knees to me, which makes me wonder if cypress trees once grew here and supplied lumber for some of the buildings.

Willowbranch Park is a fine neighbor for the Willowbranch, just one more of the many four-plex apartment buildings that help keep this neighborhood interesting.  Next post, a building completely different from any that I've shown you.  But it will have to wait until after the holiday weekend.  Have a happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21, 2011

The "Modern" Aberdeen Apartments

Here's a very pleasant 1940's apartment building in Jacksonville's historic Riverside neighborhood that shares a name with an older building just a few blocks away. 

Aberdeen Apartments, 1705 Aberdeen Street and 3122 Riverside Avenue, Jacksonville, Florida, built in 1941.  I have not been able to identify the architect of this excellent building.  The Aberdeen contains eight units.  It is constructed in a front-facing L configuration, on a corner lot, and faces both Aberdeen Street and Riverside Avenue.  At a mere seventy years old, it is a relative youngster compared to the first Aberdeen Apartments, seen below, which were built in 1919!

For more on the original Aberdeen Apartments at 2005 Herschel Street, and the architect Roy Benjamin, see my post from October 1st.  But in this post, I will focus on the 1941 building of the same name.  It's a red brick beauty, and a good representative of the decade in which it was built.  By the 1940's, most architects had dropped the elaborate, "fussy" decorations that were so common in buildings of the 1920's and '30's.  But a closer look reveals this apartment house, despite the lack of that kind of ornamentation, is hardly a plain-Jane!

A metal canopy with a scalloped edge is supported by simple black posts and extends out over the Aberdeen Street entrance.  Sidelights flank the front door.  The Riverside Avenue entrance to the building is identical.  

Metal casement windows, a common design element in the 1940's, are used in the Aberdeen Apartments.  No more old-fashioned wooden double-hung windows in "modern" buildings like this!  It's unusual, and a pleasure, to see windows from that era that are as well-maintained as these.  Until recently, it has been difficult to find replacement windows that match the original metal casements, and many buildings have suffered the consequences.  For an example, see my October 12th post on The Kahler apartments.  The Kahler is such a fine building, it holds up despite inappropriate replacement windows.  But what a difference the originals make in a building like the Aberdeen Apartments!

While the architect forgoes the elaborate cast-stone decorations of earlier decades, brickwork provides interesting patterns and all the decoration the building needs.

A set-back on the Aberdeen Street side allows an additional exposure for the apartments, and more light, which the Florida sun provides in abundance.

A vintage street light on the corner recalls the era when the building went up.  This is one of those places where you can take a minute and easily connect with the past.  The view is virtually the same as you would have seen seventy years ago in 1941.  Of course, the Aberdeen was brand new then-- but it still looks pretty good today!  The building was renovated in 2004.

Speaking of another era, it's worth pausing for a moment to enjoy another attribute of Aberdeen Street.  This is one of a handful of streets in Riverside that retain the original brick paving.  The sides of the street have obviously been resurfaced, and perhaps widened, but the brick is still there, another reminder of times past.  The asphalt of Riverside Avenue interrupts the brick, but it continues on the other side of the intersection for the length of the street.

Now let's go around back.  Here's the other side of that front-facing L, a nice, open backyard... 

...and another large expanse of windows to bring all of that sunshine and fresh air into the apartments.  There is something else in back that is seldom seen in Florida.

It's an entrance to, of all things, a basement!  Generally, there are no basements in Florida because the water table is too high, but the Aberdeen has one.  Actually, a number of apartment buildings and homes in Riverside have basements, but they are rare.

Air vents in the brickwork at ground level reveal the basement is localized to just one part of the building.  Elsewhere, a crawl-space is as much as you'll get.

There is covered parking in the rear of the building for tenants, who can exit by way of a back stairwell.  There are eight one-bedroom, one bath apartments, and eight covered spaces.

Here's a picture that says nothing about the building, but I like it and it's nice to look at, so I'll include it.

Back in front, here's the Riverside Avenue side of the building.  As mentioned above, the treatment surrounding the entrance is the same as on the Aberdeen Street side, providing a simple and attractive front door that welcomes you. 

The leasing company says the apartments include refinished hardwood floors, original pocket doors, and original bathroom tile in excellent condition.  The kitchens have been redone.  The building is well located, with the St. Johns River just two blocks away, and the shops of Avondale nearby.  And, as this view of the Riverside Avenue side shows, tree-shaded sidewalks make the walk to either destination a pleasant experience.

The Aberdeen is a fine example of 1940's multi-family residential architecture and a reminder that the Riverside-Avondale neighborhood was still growing along with the city in that decade.  Expressways, the flight to the suburbs, and endless sprawl had not yet begun.  Walkable, city neighborhoods were the norm, and would remain so for another ten or fifteen years.  Despite the decline that would eventually come, these historic neighborhoods held on and survived, thanks to the many people who did not give up on them.  A beautifully renovated building like the Aberdeen is evidence that Jacksonville's historic neighborhoods are alive and healthy, and the best is still ahead!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Royal Court Apartments

Here's an interesting apartment house in Jacksonville's historic Riverside that's brimming with the kind of architectural features that bring instant happiness to an old-building aficionado like me (and you?).  It's another fine example of the work of one of the city's celebrated teams of the 1920's.

Royal Court Apartments, 2969 Herschel Street, Riverside, Jacksonville; built in 1926, architects Mark & Sheftall  (for more about Earl Mark and Leeroy Sheftall, see my post from October 4th, Two by Mark & Sheftall).  This Mediterranean Revival delight may have used up the neighborhood's quota for archways!  The ones you see on the front are just the beginning!

A passage through the central archway leads to an interior courtyard;  the steps on either side lead to landings and the first-floor apartments on the front of the building.  At the back of the landing, another set of stairs leads up to the breezeway which is lined with twelve arches (six on each side!), and the corresponding second floor apartments.  Other apartments are reached through the courtyard.  The Royal Court is a ten-unit building and contains a combination of two-bedroom apartments and studios.

As you walk through the central passage toward the courtyard, additional archways rise up on either side of you from spiralled Corinthian columns.  The floors of the landings are surfaced with broken tiles.  My wife insists the proper term is cracked tile.  This, she says, is the term she heard from people who knew such things when we lived in a 1925 Spanish-style house in Miami's historic Morningside neighborhood.  It sounds odd to me, and I remember the same experts using the term broken tile.  In either case, you get the idea.

Once through the passageway, you reach the interior courtyard.  I took the first picture from the second floor breezeway, looking down into the brick-paved courtyard.  A planter/fountain serves as the centerpiece for this pretty and inviting space.       

Turn and look back in the direction of the street, and you can the two sets of stairs leading up to the second floor breezeway with its profusion of arches.  Don't you agree, looking at this closer view of the planter, that the vase at the top was once a fountain?    

On either end of the second floor breezeway, are the doorways to two of the apartments.  It appears there may have originally been transoms and sidelights, but these have been filled in.

Here's the view down to the street.  Whichever way you look, the view is framed by all of those archways!  Note the less ornate, but no less stately, columns upstairs.

Back in the courtyard, some doorways lead to individual apartments, while others lead to stairwells.

As is usual in a Mediterannean Revival, cast-stone decorations are strategically placed on the building.

Chimneys peak up over the roofline, a sign of fireplaces inside the apartments.

I almost got a view of one of the fireplaces.  A friendly Royal Court apartment dweller let me inside for a's somewhere there behind the bicycles!  One of the things that has changed since the 1920's-- we all need more storage space for our stuff than they did in those days!  It doesn't look like Mark & Sheftall considered the possibility of indoor bike storage.  The tenant assured me the wood-burning fireplace does work, but this is Jacksonville.  How often do we really light them up? 

The Royal Court Apartments, a landmark building... a landmark neighborhood.  Earl Mark and Leeroy Sheftall both apprenticed in the office of the great Jacksonville architect H.J. Klutho, then distinguished themselves with buildings like this when they struck out on their own.

The tenant I met told me the owner/landlord is a very nice guy who is from Kenya and currently lives in Deland, which is an interesting combination.  I'd like to know the story of how he came to own the Royal Court Apartments.  Based on my observations during my visit, I would say he is acting as a good steward of Mark & Sheftall's architectural legacy.  Don't you wish all apartment buildings had such charm and style?