Robert C. Broward

Bob around age nine in White Springs, with another family showing off their new Ford Coupe’

Bob around age nine in White Springs, with another family showing off their new Ford Coupe’

By Victoria Register-Freeman

Author and award winning architect Robert C. “Bob” Broward stood recently in his former San Marco office and greeted family, friends, former colleagues and admirers. The office, repurposed by his daughter Kristanna Broward Barnes and architect Catherine Duncan, is now available for rent as creative space to architects, engineers, contractors, graphic designers, and other folks who want to be in an exciting studio environment. Forty-eight years of good karma is listed on the rental brochure as one of the office’s many attributes.

If, as the dictionary says, positive actions produce good karma, Bob Broward provided such actions. A father of two and grandfather of five, he has a recognized legacy of architectural excellence, having received over 40 merit and honor awards including three “Test of Time” awards. In 2011 he was selected as a Fellow of the American Institute of Architecture, his profession’s highest award. In early 2012, he was inducted into the Florida Artists’ Hall of Fame.

He has been a mentor to many aspiring architects, an Adjunct Professor of Design at the University of Florida, and an advocate for historic preservation. His work exhibited a reverence for nature long before that stance was a popular one. As he is fond of saying, “Everything is a habitat for some living creature.”

Asked to identify the source of his reverence, Broward points to two factors. “First, my family home was on River Road in San Marco, but that road was an unpaved stretch of dirt when I was a boy. It led to the swamp which is now a park. I was the youngest of six children in my family, youngest by nine years, and there were no neighbors until the mid-30s. Even though I was not allowed the swamp, its mystery and lure were irresistible. With Craig’s creek running through it, it became my personal playground. During the day I could see the critters. At night, I could hear alligators bellow and occasionally a panther scream. It was a time before television when we created our own images.

“Second, after a tour flying B-17’s with the Air Force, I enrolled at Georgia Tech to study architecture. I had always loved to draw and remember selling my original drawings of houses with wide eaves to my mother for two cents. I think I charged other folks five cents.  At Tech I was reading a copy of Architectural Forum and saw the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. I knew that was the kind of architecture I wanted to create. His buildings were a part of the environment rather than an intrusion.”

Broward went to Lakeland, where Wright was building Florida Southern College and found a job laboring on the site. As a result of that contact, Wright awarded Broward fellowships to study at both of his compounds, Taliesin East, in Wisconsin, and Taliesin West, in Scottsdale, Arizona. Broward grins when he relates how he inadvertently tipped “the master’s” bulldozer over in a bold but failed attempt to impress Wright.

Honoring Wright’s legacy, Broward’s buildings use open space, natural forms and natural materials to embrace the environment. An excellent example of his style is the Unitarian Universalist Church in Arlington.

“I went out and spent the night on that site before I began to work on the project,” Broward recalls. “It faces a pool of water that reflects the building and curving members of the structure attach it to the land. There is also a nature walk designed as a memorial to one of the church members. I had survived a serious car wreck before I began work on the church and I felt that I had been given a second gift of life which allowed me to express gratitude by giving back. I put so much into that building. Every little detail came out of my heart.”

Another detail of the Unitarian Church was the inclusion of a wall hanging by Jacksonville fiber artist, Memphis Wood. Broward frequently commissioned the work of other artists for his projects. “Memphis Wood was a teacher of mine at Landon when I was in high school. She was a young red-head and quite a lady. Another teacher I remember fondly is Harold Bess, my drafting teacher.”

Broward’s connection with water has informed his architecture. One warehouse he designed has a roof that collects water and shoots it forward in an aesthetic spray. “High winds and heavy rains are normal for us. I would like to see architecture in Jacksonville relate more to the city’s location. We’re on the river, a big water park. It’s such a magnificent river and it‘s not respected enough. ”

At the other end of the architectural style spectrum, Broward has worked to preserve numerous historic structures. Having authored a book in 1983 on Henry John Klutho’s influence on Jacksonville’s architecture, Broward was a consultant for the restoration of Klutho’s St. James Building when it was turned into Jacksonville’s new City Hall in the mid-‘90s. Broward also restored the interior of the marble bank that is now in disrepair. He tried three times to help restore the Downtown Laura Street Trio, a group of structures that has been cited as crucial for Jacksonville’s historic urban identity.

Broward’s stories of early Jacksonville capture a city that is unknown in historic photographs. “My father, who held the record for river crossings, ran the St. Johns River ferry that provided access to both banks of the river. He went to work at 3 a.m. and finished at 3 p.m. seven days a week. If something happened and he had to call in a substitute there was only one, Mr. Westcott, a Dutchman who lived in a boat house off the Southside docks where Prudential is now. I remember walking those docks and seeing lots of people living there. It was the Depression and folks were poor, really poor. I have never seen a picture of the boat houses, as they were called.”

Asked what advice he would give aspiring architects, Broward pauses for a moment and looks out his living room window at the panoramic river view he and wife Myrtice Craig enjoy from their home. It is evident that this is a question he has been asked many times, one that he takes seriously from a legacy perspective. “I would tell them to be prepared to devote their life to their craft. Architecture is not a business; it is an art. You must never be half-hearted in its practice.”

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