by Max Marbut
Sept. 1, 1926 was a big day in Jacksonville and an even bigger evening. That’s when The Carling Hotel at 31 W. Adams St. opened for business and according to newspaper accounts, it was quite a party.
Described as a “brilliant dinner dance” guests included more than 500 of the “elite of the city” who saw “elaborate appointments meet admiring eyes.” The first two signatures in the new hotel’s register were those of Jacksonville Mayor John T. Alsop Jr. and Harry Hoyt, president of the Chamber of Commerce.
Following a dinner of filet of sole and dancing to music provided by the hotel’s two orchestras, guests were sent home with souvenirs, folding combs for the ladies and cigarette lighters for the gentlemen.
The 335-room hotel was named after Carling Dinkler, president of the Dinkler Hotel Company of Atlanta. At 31 years of age, he was the youngest hotel executive in the country. A room with a bath could be reserved for as little as $2.50 amd suites were advertised for $8 a day.
Dinkler properties were known for their luxury and by 1929, the company owned and managed 22 of the South’s finest hostelries. In addition to The Carling the inventory also included The Ainsley in Atlanta and the St. Charles in New Orleans. Another milestone of 1929 was May 3 when the Jacksonville Historical Society held its organizational meeting at The Carling.
The location of the building is notable in that unlike other tall buildings constructed Downtown in the period it was built in the middle of the block rather than on the corner.
The hotel’s name was changed to “The Roosevelt” in 1936 and for years it was a landmark of Jacksonville hospitality.
On Dec. 29, 1963 the hotel was full of guests who were in town for the Gator Bowl game when an electrical fire started in the ceiling in the ballroom. The Fire Department got the first call at 7: 30 a.m. Soon smoke was filling every floor and people were climbing out windows and exiting the hotel on bedsheets tied together. Haydon Burns, who was mayor at the time, called in the U.S. Navy to help evacuate the building. Eight helicopters from Mayport Naval Station and Cecil Field Naval Air Station arrived and began landing on the roof to ferry guests to safety. Among those rescued was Miss America 1964 Donna Axum who was here as a guest of the Gator Bowl Association.
All but 21 guests made it out safely. Those who perished were found still in their beds after succumbing to carbon monoxide poisoning. Another fatality was an assistant fire chief who had a heart attack during the rescue efforts and died at the scene. After sustaining more than $350,000 in damage the hotel closed.
It remained shuttered until the 1980s when it was renovated and opened as a retirement home, Jacksonville Regency House, which closed in 1989. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.
The hotel’s current incarnation as a high-rise apartment building is the result of a historic preservation project undertaken by Vestcor Companies. With the aid of $5 million in City grants and a $15.5 million low interest loan from the City, The Carling was converted into 100 apartments which opened in July, 2005.
Part of the most recent restoration was the reproduction of the hotel’s original terrazzo entrance.
The Carling Hotel circa 1930.
The guest rooms have been converted into 100 apartments like this one on the 9th floor.