by Bailey White
By Nov. 1, the W.A. Knight building’s marbled entryway and hardwood floors will be ready to welcome its first tenants. With the second floor almost complete, and work on the third floor and downstairs retail space moving steadily forward, the 12 loft apartments on West Adams Street will soon offer Jacksonville its first residential space converted from a historic commercial building.
Christina King of Langton Associates, the company undertaking the restoration process, said “there is a list of 206 people interested in the spaces and we’re adding more.”
Each one bedroom/one bath, apartment has its own special feature, often in the form of remnants from its original tenant. One unit on the third floor has 14-foot ceilings.
Lisa King, also with Langton Associates, said that a study of the original floor plan revealed that the room had been part of a doctor’s office and had been used for X-rays back when the machines were huge and mounted from the ceilings. A second floor door retains the lettering of its former tenant — the Florida Rock Industry Company, which had its first office in the building.
Modern conveniences include ceiling fans, washers and dryers and new kitchen appliances. There is new, natural wood cabinentry in the kitchen and track lighting in the hallway. Tenants will be provided with one parking space per apartment in the garage at the corner of Main and Bay streets.
According to Lisa King, the restoration has transformed a building that was “essentially moth balls,” into livable space. She said the building was structurally stable when construction began last October, but it lacked aesthetics.
“FCCJ had offices there in the 1970s, and had these ugly green curtains and shag carpeting everywhere,” said Lisa King. “They had even put wood paneling over the marble entryway, which concealed the well-preserved interiors — a surprise for the restorers. We had planned our budget with the assumption that we’d have to replace everything.”
Instead, most of the apartments have the original wood floors. The building retains its original windows, some with cathedral style edges. Detailed tile work, which Lisa King describes as standard decor for a commercial building of that time, was part of the second and third floor landings, and was in perfect position to be used in the bathrooms of a couple of the units.
“With so much care and craftsmanship, [included in the tile work] it’s hard to imagine regarding this as plain,” she said.
Replacements were made with attention to the original plans for the building and stylistic characteristics of the 1920s. A metal cornice on the facade needed repair. The intricate scroll work is, “really a lost art,” said Lisa King. “We were thrilled to work with the Sheet Metal Workers Union. They made a beautifully executed rehabilitation using a pattern they made of the original.”
Lisa King said character is an intangible feature of the apartments.
“Some of the most prominent people in Jacksonville started with offices in this building,” she said. “Besides the rock company, the doctors who eventually founded Riverside Hospital had their first offices in the building. It is exactly that type of person — the cutting edge pioneer — who will appreciate our work and want to make a home here.”