At six stories, it’s far from the tallest building Downtown but at one time that distinction was held by the Dyal-Upchurch Building.
Following the Great Fire of 1901, it was the first multistory structure that was built as part of Jacksonville’s revival. It is also the first building designed by Henry John Klutho, an architect who was living in New York City and decided to relocate to Jacksonville after he read about the fire. The disaster also brought the men who developed the building here. Benjamin Dyal owned a sawmill and Frank Upchurch invested in lumber and turpentine.
There’s also a commercial real estate angle to the story. Office space in the building at the corner of Bay and Main streets was leased so fast after construction began that Klutho was called on to add an additional floor to meet the demand. Shortly after that building opened in 1902, the Atlantic National Bank was founded and occupied the first floor until the financial institution’s new headquarters on Forsyth Street was completed in 1909.
The Dyal-Upchurch Building is not a true skyscraper since its outer walls are load-bearing. One unique feature is the the structure sits on 426 wooden pilings that were driven into the ground. Six-inch cast iron columns and twenty-inch I-beam girders support the interior.
The first floor is faced with Indiana limestone, which was also used for the windows. The top of the building originally had a limestone cornice and parapet which were removed after a fire gutted the building’s upper floors in 1915. The rest of the facade is built of granite-colored bricks. Archival newspaper accounts claim that more than 1 million bricks were used in the project.
The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 and a year later became the first building in Jacksonville to take advantage of a rehabilitation tax credit for its first renovation.
It was purchased in 1998 for $1.6 million by the Husk Jennings advertising company, which spent $600,000 renovating the top floor where the firm relocated. In 2002, the City established the Downtown Historic Preservation and Revitalization Trust Fund. $7 million was set aside to assist companies to purchase and restore old buildings. The fund could pay up to half the cost of exterior work and 20 percent of interior improvements with a $1 million limit for each building. The fund allowed Husk Jennings to undertake the rehabilitation of the rest of the building at a cost of $1.72 million with the City contributing almost $340,000.
Orlando developer Cameron Kuhn purchased the Dyal-Upchurch Building in 2005 for $4.5 million. He defaulted on the mortgage when he declared bankruptcy in 2008. The Jacksonville Bank foreclosed on the property and took possession of the building. Last February, it was sold to A. Duda and Sons for $3.73 million.
A community service project tradition that began in 1999 is currently on exhibit at the Main Library.
The Junior League of Jacksonville’s “Festival of Trees” is making its fourth annual appearance Downtown. Each tree also has a sponsor each year and the funds raised are used to reflect the organization’s motto: “Women Building Better Communities.”
Junior League of Jacksonville President Andrea Rizzi said the event has had several homes in its history and added, “We love the Main Library. It’s a very public venue that’s accessible to everyone and we have found a home here.”
She also pointed out that adorning 35 Christmas trees, each with a different literary theme, is “quite a decorating effort. Some of them took more than five hours to complete.” More than 300 members volunteered over 1,400 hours to decorate the trees.
League volunteers will also coordinate a series of story times for children in the Children’s Department at the library. This season’s guest readers include WJCT President and CEO Michael Boylan, Jaguars place-kicker Josh Scobee and Ch. 12/25 News Anchor Joy Purdy. Even Santa Claus will make an appearance at story time (Dec. 19 at 2 p.m.).
To learn more about the readings or about the Junior League of Jacksonville, visit www.juniorleaguejax.org