Historic fire station on path to demolition

Historic fire station  on path to demolition
Jacksonville’s old Fire Station 5 was built in 1910 and remained in service more than a century. Photo credit: Wayne W. Wood, The Wayne Wood Collection.

Brooklyn’s old Fire Station 5, with its dun-colored bricks, red bay doors and more than a century of history, is in danger of being demolished if someone doesn’t step up to move and preserve the building. The station was constructed less than a decade after the great fire razed the city in 1901, right on the border between the Brooklyn and Riverside neighborhoods in order to serve residents in both neighborhoods, who were constructing larger homes in the area. It had been in operation nearly a century before closing its doors.

City officials announced in November that they were opening a 30-day request for proposals to relocate the station before the City moves forward with plans to extend Forest Street, in order to create better access to a new headquarters for Fidelity National Information Services Inc. (FIS). The prospect isn’t cheap; one estimate to move the building even a few blocks was around $500,000, said Downtown Investment Authority (DIA) Executive Director Lori Boyer. But DIA members and local preservationists hope that someone with the means will materialize.

“It’s an interesting building in that it is in the old suburb of Brooklyn, which was separate from the city of Jacksonville until it was brought in (during) the 1880s,” said Riverside Avondale Preservation Founder Wayne Wood. “This is one of the only permanent remaining buildings from the suburb of Brooklyn. After the great fire of 1901, this whole area of Brooklyn and Riverside began to grow.”

Built in 1910, the iconic fire station’s empty rooms hold generations of history from the time Riverside was greatly expanding with larger, wealthier homes. The station operated for 111 years before moving to its new location at 2433 Forest St. 

The station, which replaced a smaller one, was big enough to accommodate wagons, five horses and 14 men, Wood said. Endangered for years, it is second in age only to the Springfield fire station at 1344 Main St., which was founded the year before and is the oldest fire station in the state still in operation.

Jacksonville’s old Fire Station 5 replaced a smaller station, and now could accommodate more horses, wagons and firefighters. Photo credit: Wayne W. Wood, The Wayne Wood Collection.

“We have been hoping someone would move it for years so the pronouncement by the city to move it for 30 days or else is a showdown to get someone to step up and do it,” Wood said. “I am not overly optimistic about it, but I hope it will be saved. It is reminiscent of the history of that area and the growth of Riverside and the growth after the fire. It is a significant landmark.”

DIA members approved opening the station’s removal and preservation for bid during the DIA meeting Nov. 13.

“If you want to just take it and not ask for funding from the city, we would consider it,” said Downtown Investment Authority Executive Director Lori Boyer. “We had several individuals contact us. We do have interest.”

DIA members also decided to do away with a proposed stipulation that said anyone interested in moving and caring for the building who sought city incentives must show experience with similar projects or running a business. The idea was to expand the possible pool of applicants.

City funding might be available for some costs but a commitment to preserve the building and a business plan would be necessary, she said. The building would need to be removed by March.

“It’s unfortunate that if someone doesn’t step forward, we are going to lose another historic building,” said DIA Board Member Oliver Barakat. “Hopefully we can get creative sooner rather than later. We are going to get as many people (responding) as possible.”

Other DIA board members echoed the sentiment, saying they would love to see the building preserved, especially if it could be moved to a site within the Brooklyn neighborhood. 

For his part, Wood would like to see the station placed with main street frontage, just as the stations have been historically situated.

Jacksonville’s old Fire Station 5 was built in 1910, at a time when Riverside was growing, and people were building larger, wealthier homes. It was constructed right on the boundary between the Brooklyn and Riverside neighborhoods so it could serve both. Photo credit: Wayne W. Wood, The Wayne Wood Collection.

“It is still very much intact, and it is a significant historic building,” Wood said. “It has been on the JHS endangered list for a number of years. Although there are some challenges in moving it, brick buildings of similar structure have been moved a number of times. It is, to my understanding, in good shape and is an excellent building,” he said. “It is in an unfortunate location, and I would urge anyone who has the wherewithal and plans to do it because it is an important Jacksonville landmark.”

Cathleen Murphy, an advocate for preserving the fire station, has created a Facebook page supporting the historic building.

“Demolishing the building would mean losing an important piece of Jacksonville history and firefighting history. If walls could talk, I’m sure Old Fire Station No. 5 would have many stories to tell,” Murphy said.

About the FIS headquarters

FIS employs approximately 1,300 people in Jacksonville, and the expansion will add 500 new jobs with estimated salaries of $85,000 by 2029. The plan is to consolidate all three Jacksonville facilities into the new headquarters. Construction is expected to be complete by the summer of 2022.

“My team and I are proud to work with FIS to expand their presence in our city, bringing 500 additional jobs to our urban core,” said Mayor Lenny Curry, in a written statement.

The 300,000-square-foot headquarters building will be built on land that Florida Blue employees currently use for parking. The health insurance company agreed to sell the parking area when the DIA approved a plan that would allot a $3.5 million payment if Florida Blue agreed to build a 750-space parking garage by 2021 on city-owned land between Park and Magnolia streets, currently the site of a retention pond. The garage will be available to the public on nights, weekends and holidays.

Along with the new FIS jobs, Florida Blue’s parent company, GuideWell, recently announced that it would be hiring for 750 new jobs – a mix of full-time and seasonal, contract positions – at its Riverside office.

“We continue to grow here in Jacksonville and wanted to expand our presence at the Riverside tower,” Florida Blue North Florida Market President Darnell Smith said. “Our Riverside office is centrally located and an attractive career opportunity for potential employees who live north and west of downtown.”

By Jennifer Edwards and Kandace Lankford
Resident Community News

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