This week in 1966, construction began Downtown on the Sheraton Jacksonville Motor Hotel along the Southbank.

50 years ago: Ground broken for Downtown Sheraton hotel on Southbank

By: 
Aug. 15, 2016

Construction began on a new $5.5 million motor hotel in Gulf Life Center on the Downtown Southbank.

Completion of the 10-story, 302-room Sheraton Jacksonville Motor Hotel was scheduled for mid-summer 1967.

Amenities would include a coffee shop with 124 seats, a 125-seat cocktail lounge and a 185-seat Polynesian restaurant.

Plans also included a ballroom with a capacity of 600 for banquets and 900 for theater-style meetings, along with a barber shop, beauty shop and gift boutique.

The hotel would offer suites, apartment suites and guest rooms, all with private balconies.

The groundbreaking was presided over by M.S. Niehaus, president of Gulf Life Insurance Co., and Ernest Henderson III, president of Sheraton Corp. of America, which would operate the hotel under a long-term management agreement.

It would be the first Sheraton facility in Jacksonville, Henderson said.

The $25 million Gulf Life Center also would include the 27-story Gulf Life home office tower, a one-story retail building, a six-level parking garage and an employees’ facility with a 600-seat cafeteria.

General contractor for the hotel was The Auchter Co. of Jacksonville.

• The Duval County grand jury resumed its investigation of city financial affairs, concentrating on departments under the supervision of Commissioner Dallas Thomas.

Subpoenas were served on five people to appear before the panel. Three had been called for previous sessions.

Repeat witnesses were W.G. Connors, president of Connors Construction Co.; W.T. Hill, an employee at the city zoo; and Bill Burney, reported to be a son-in-law of Thomas.

The other subpoenas were issued to Ed Martin and Edgel Vannoy, employees at the city prison farm.

• Members of the Duval Air Improvement Authority unanimously approved the rules it would enforce to end air pollution in the Jacksonville area.

The approval came during a brief regular session in which representatives of the Jacksonville Junior Chamber of Commerce assured the authority of any support it might need to inform the public of the work or plans of the authority.

The problem of air pollution was difficult to solve, as the source of the problem was directly tied to the economics of an area’s industries, said authority Chair G.D. Auchter.

If the regulations were too stringent, he said, businesses might not be able to afford the necessary cost of meeting the authority’s standards.

Auchter noted the regulations adopted were similar to those used by the state Board of Health for power plant pollution.

• More than 2,500 people attended the dedication of the $750,000 sanctuary at Beaver Street Baptist Church.

A 100-voice choir led the congregation, along with business, government and civic leaders in the singing of the hymn “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name.”

Mayor Lou Ritter congratulated the congregation on the planning and construction of the sanctuary, which seated about 3,200 people.

“This is a glorious and banner day in the history of Greater Jacksonville,” Ritter said. “In a day when the inner city is yielding to the suburbs — if not surrendering to decay — the churches of Jacksonville are rebuilding and expanding.”

• A man was arrested by the FBI and charged with fleecing motorists in a dice game operated in a roadside pecan stand along U.S. 1 near Hilliard.

Louis Amitrano, 39, was taken into custody by FBI agents and booked into county jail on a charge of interstate transportation in aid of racketeering.

D.K. Brown, special agent in charge of the Jacksonville FBI office, said Amitrano was indicted on two counts by a federal grand jury.

The charges arose after a number of complaints from out-of-state motorists who stopped at the Plantation Pecan Farm.

Travelers were offered a pair of dice, which they could roll for prizes. The first roll was free, but the unwary tourists often were given the opportunity to try for higher stakes only after first putting up increasingly large amounts of money for bigger prizes, Brown said.

• WJCT TV-7 was about halfway through a renovation project that when finished would be “the finest educational television station in Florida,” said Fred Rebman, station manager.

He said the facility would be more advanced than most commercial stations.

The work, estimated to have a value of more than $60,000, was being donated to the station, according to Mrs. Charles Williams III, station president.

The renovation was being performed by companies that did not have merchandise or materials that could be donated to the station for sale during its annual fundraising auction.

“We’ve never had support like this before,” Rebman said. “It definitely shows a community interest and need for non-commercial programming.”

The first phase of the project was expected to be complete by Aug. 27, two days before public schools opened.

The station would resume its instructional telecasts Aug. 29 to school classrooms, under contract with the Board of Public Instruction.

The second phase of construction would be completed during the school system’s Christmas vacation.

It would include new control rooms enclosed in sound-insulating glass, offices for members of the technical staff, a record and sound effects library, a film editing room and darkroom, a storage area for props and auction items and a conference room.

When the work was completed, WJCT would have the largest single broadcast studio in the South and would be the finest educational television facility in Florida, Rebman said.

• Charged with murdering a drinking companion in a saloon shootout, Andrew Hawkins, 46, was freed after the incident was ruled justifiable.

Justice of the Peace Gordon Poppell ordered Hawkins cleared in the death of Genie Anderson Jr., 26, when testimony revealed Anderson fired the first shot after an argument in a bar on Monroe Street.

Hawkins told police he and Anderson were drinking together when Anderson shot at a third man in the bar.

When the third man left, Hawkins said, Anderson began threatening him and a female bartender. Hawkins said he attempted to leave the bar and the victim started to shoot at him.

He said he returned the fire, killing Anderson.

• Duval County Republicans were urged by gubernatorial candidate Claude Kirk to support a new constitution for Florida.

“The progress we hope to achieve in tax revision and education can never be accomplished under a constitution written in 1895,” he said to about 100 members of the Young Republican Club at a meeting at the Mayflower Hotel.

Kirk said if he was elected governor in the November general election, constitutional revision would be one of his major goals in the 1967 legislative session.

“We cannot solve the problems of a growing state with a constitution written nearly 100 years ago. If Florida’s government is going to be operated on a sound, businesslike basis, then we must have a constitution modern enough to meet today’s and tomorrow’s needs,” he said.

• Discussion began on the possibility of building one or two community recreation centers with two-thirds of the cost to be borne by the federal Housing and Urban Development Department.

City Recreation Department officials met with Dennis Carr, who represented the Atlanta HUD office.

A number of prospective sites were considered, but one area near Wilder Park was pinpointed as a “must” location.

While no details of the type of building planned for a center were outlined by Carr, he indicated as much as $400,000 might be allocated to Jacksonville for the facility.