Thursday, November 3, 2011

St. Johns Quarter: Fenimore Apartments

We can debate whether this large apartment building is actually inside St. Johns Quarter.  It's located on Riverside Avenue, which is one of the borders of the neighborhood.  I've seen Realtors marketing other houses on this block of Riverside Avenue as St. Johns Quarter properties, but that may be just a marketing ploy.  At any rate, I'm including the building in my tour of this "neighborhood within a neighborhood" because it's an interesting counterpoint to some of the smaller buildings we've visited, and it's close enough to count!  The trees make it difficult to see the entire building in a single picture, so here are two views.

The Fenimore Apartments, 2200 Riverside Avenue, built 1921-1922.  Another of Jacksonville's architectural teams, Mellen Greeley and Roy Benjamin, was responsible for this large-scale, three-story apartment house, which fronts Riverside Avenue for a half block.  According to Jacksonville's Architectural Heritage, Greeley, just back from France and World War I, agreed to take over Benjamin's office while Benjamin went to Texas to build five theatres (for more on Benjamin's theatre legacy, including the downtown Florida Theatre, see my October 1st post).  Grady designed The Fenimore, beginning with a few preliminary plans his partner had left behind.

There are four entrances to the building, three on Riverside Avenue, and one on the Copeland Street side.  Each has an elaborate white cast-stone surround with pilasters, sidelights, fanlight, and pediment.  "The Fenimore" is carved in a decorative cast-stone panel above the pediment.

The owner of the building, Clarence Doty, named it The Fenimore after author James Fenimore Cooper ("The Last of the Mohicans"), whose novels were still popular at that time.  Original drawings indicate it was first planned as a two-story building.  Its most prominent features are the recessed balconies, with their iron railings, and its white cast-stone trim.

This is a look inside the Copeland Street entrance to the building.  There are two apartments per floor and no elevator; this is a walk-up building.  The doors facing the hallway have glass panes to allow additional light into the apartments.

Between the greenery tended on balconies by the tenants...

...and the trees and shrubs along the sidewalk...

...the Fenimore nearly disappears behind a green curtain.  While I was taking these photos, a woman walked up to me and said if I really wanted to take a nice picture I should come and look at her century plant.  I did want to take a nice picture, so I agreed to go with her.  She led me to her house next door to the Fenimore, and there, between the two, was this lovely century plant.

I agreed that it was an impressive plant and thanked her, but she told me I didn't have it quite right.  I needed to pull back and include the whole setting in order for the picture to have the full effect.  It was important, she said, that I include the gazebo.  So I tried again.

Actually, I like both pictures.  The lady told me she had lived in her house for thirty-five years, that it had originally been a triplex, but they had converted it into a duplex many years ago.  She wasn't sure when it was built, but said probably sometime in the 1920's.  She was nice and I liked her plant, so I thought it was only fair to include a picture of her house, which was also very nice.

Back next door, The Fenimore is by far the largest inhabitant of this block, but it does not overwhelm its smaller neighbors.  The transition from large apartment building, to duplex, to single-family home, to small apartment building, and so on, makes an interesting urban streetscape. 

The partnership between Mellen Greeley and Roy Benjamin lasted five years following the War.  Both men continued to distinguish themselves as they went their own ways.  Greeley, who grew up in Jacksonville, was eventually regarded as the "Dean of Jacksonville Architects" and was one of the leaders in establishing the Florida Board of Architecture in 1915.  In 1980, one year before his death at age 101, Greeley served as consulting architect for the construction of the cloister at the Church of the Good Shepherd on Stockton Street, a church he had helped design in 1917.  The completion of this part of the church's original design also marked the completion of a remarkable career. 

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