by Joe Wilhelm Jr.
Its last service to the city was storage duty, but renovations have made the former Downtown Fire Station No. 1 a center of attention again.
The fire engines rolled out from behind the red garage doors facing Adams Street until it was decommissioned in 1985. The City used the building for storage until it was auctioned off 10 years later, and eventually sold to businessman Ben Baggett. He now lives in the former firefighter bunkhouse and office space upstairs.
“I was always infatuated with the loft feel,” said Baggett, 48. “Parking is also a problem and the garage space solved that.”
Baggett was part owner of restaurants in Savannah and Jacksonville and bought the fire station when his business brought him to Jacksonville.
“It was my first house purchase,” said Baggett, a Jaguars fan from Wrightsville Beach, N.C. “Like any renovation, it cost more and took longer than I thought.”
The brass fire poles that firemen slid down when answering calls may have been removed as part of the renovation, but a lot of the hidden features of the building were revealed through Baggett’s improvements. The front section of the upstairs, which faces Adams Street, has been changed from the bunk room to a basketball court-sized living room/kitchen. The hardwood floors run from wall-to-wall paralleling the street and a hot tub-size notch was cut out of the ceiling to allow the light from the windows at the peak of the building to illuminate the room. The biggest room of the 4,500 square-foot, three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bathroom apartment is utilized for entertaining guests quite often, said Reggie Fountain, a realtor with Prudential.
After owning and improving the property for over a decade, Baggett is ready to release his hold on the unique piece of real estate. The over 10,000 square-foot building is on the market once again with an asking price of $1.595 million.
“It’s an interesting residential and commercial property,” said Fountain. “We just have to find the right fit for it.”
The largest room isn’t the only area to incorporate natural light from the ceiling into its design. Two of the bedrooms and all of the bathrooms have skylights to help save on electricity.
The living room/kitchen is sectioned off from the rest of the apartment by exposed brick wall and wooden-framed glass doors. On the other side of the glass doors is a tiled garden room, which leads into the master bedroom.
When Central Fire Station No. 1 was in service, the garden room and master bedroom area provided offices for the department and district chiefs and the Fire Inspection Bureau, said Wayne Doolittle, a retired firefighter.
That function was preserved within the apartment. The upstairs has space for two offices and a meeting room, which Baggett — the former owner of Harpoon Louie’s Pub — uses to conduct his own business, as a partner in his family’s resort management business.
The garage area has been left untouched since Baggett bought the property in 1995. The garage has three bays facing Adams Street and two bays facing Ocean Street. The former fire department communications room, called “The Booth,” is still intact, but the switchboard system used to communicate with the City fire stations was removed before the station was decommissioned. The downstairs was left alone to make it easier to convert for commercial use.
As for Baggett, he is looking for something a little smaller as he splits time between Jacksonville and the resort properties he has part ownership of in Boone and Wrightsville Beach.
“I’m a season ticket holder with the Jaguars,” said Baggett, “so I’ll always have a home in Jacksonville so I can catch the football games.”