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Jax Daily Record Friday, Jan. 19, 201807:00 AM EST

A fortune was run from SWD building, now proposed for a Hotel Indigo

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Downtown building was the headquarters of Stockton, Whatley, Davin & Co., which once had a $3.8 billion portfolio.
by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

SWD: The people to see.

That slogan, the trademark for Stockton, Whatley Davin & Co., was familiar to Jacksonville residents for decades, as was the company’s headquarters office building Downtown at 100 W. Bay St.

Established in 1884, it was one of Jacksonville’s first major business enterprises. SWD grew by the early 1980s into the largest mortgage loan servicing company in the Southeast with more than $3.8 billion in its portfolio in addition to about $100 million in real estate holdings.

The company also was instrumental in the development of Northeast Florida, including Deerwood, Jacksonville’s first gated community, and Ponte Vedra Beach.

The story began in Quincy, near the Florida-Georgia border a few miles west of Tallahassee.

Confederate Col. William Tennent Stockton had returned home after the Civil War, crippled by battle injuries and his incarceration in a Union prison camp.

When he died in 1869, his widow was left with seven children – five boys and two girls – and she moved the family to Jacksonville. Mrs. Stockton rented an abandoned three-story building at Forsyth and Julia streets that was built in 1860 as a boarding school for “frail children” from northern states who could not tolerate cold weather. Part of the building was the family’s home and the other floors were rented out as a boarding house.

Stockton’s sons grew up and began opening businesses that would become some of the most well-known in Jacksonville.

James Stockton, with his partners Brown Whatley and Joseph Davin, founded SWD in the late 19th century as a mortgage banking, real estate and insurance firm.

The company developed the San Marco district in the 1920s and began the early development of Ponte Vedra Beach in the 1930s.

 In 1946, SWD acquired from the Alfred I. duPont Estate the abandoned San Jose Hotel, which was designed in 1925 by architect Harold Saxelbye. The hotel business had failed, but the property’s golf course and clubhouse continued as a semiprivate operation.

After the acquisition, SWD began a $300,000 expansion and improvement project that expanded the kitchen, added a new pro shop and sauna and steam room in the men’s locker room and a new wing with lockers and showers for women.

On June 30, 1952, Whatley wrote a letter to mortgage bankers across Florida advocating for the formation of a statewide association of mortgage bankers. One month later, more than 60 bankers met in Jacksonville and established the Mortgage Bankers Association of Florida.

J.J. Daniel became president of the company in 1960 and led the residential development of the Deerwood area and Deerwood Country Club.

By that time, SWD was the fourth-largest mortgage company in the U.S. and was serving more than 50,000 mortgages with a value of about $420 million.

In 1961, management of about $100 million in land holdings of the Miami-based Arvida Corp. was assigned to SWD, linking two of Florida’s largest real estate and real estate management firms. The merger would later lead to development of the Sawgrass resort community and the headquarters of the PGA Tour.

Daniel announced in June 1962 that SWD planned to demolish its building at 100 W. Bay St. to make way for construction of a new office building and headquarters.

The new building, now slated to become Hotel Indigo, was designed by architects Saxelbye & Powell and built by The Auchter Co.

Part of the firm’s operations was moved into the Atlantic Coast Line Building — now the CSX Building on the Northbank riverfront — while SWD’s cashiers were moved to a temporary office at 50 W. Bay St.

The company’s mortgage portfolio had grown to more than $510 million, making it the largest mortgage servicer on Florida and third largest in the country.

Daniel cut the ribbon to open the new building in November 1963.

The seven-story structure housed the company’s executive offices and real estate, mortgage, insurance and property management staff. Six floors were devoted to offices and the seventh floor was an employee lounge.

In 1964, SWD was purchased by the General American Oil Co., which was purchased in 1983 for $1.1 billion by Phillips Petroleum Co., which announced its intention to sell SWD.

Several banks and corporations made offers for SWD’s combined 50,000-acre real estate management interests and its $100 million mortgage portfolio, but Phillips opted to split the company’s assets.

First National Bank of Boston bought the mortgage banking business for $120 million. Gate Petroleum bid $60 million for the real estate — less than the appraised value, but it was the only bidder on the real estate only.

The 16,000-acre acquisition included Deerwood Country Club, the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club and Ponte Vedra Realty. Gate transformed some of the undeveloped land into Deerwood Park and The Shoppes of Ponte Vedra.

The first sale of the former SWD property became the 8,000-acre Guana State Park, when Gate sold it for $49 million to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Gate owned and managed Deerwood Country Club until 1999, when it was bought by members, and it continues to operate The Ponte Vedra Inn & Club.

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