Elena Flats boarding house Downtown is latest in demolition vs. preservation debate

  • By Max Marbut
  • | 12:00 p.m. January 22, 2015
  • | 5 Free Articles Remaining!
The 107-year-old Elena Flats is being considered for designation as a historic landmark. The owner has applied to the city for a demolition permit.
The 107-year-old Elena Flats is being considered for designation as a historic landmark. The owner has applied to the city for a demolition permit.
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A 107-year-old former boarding house near the heart of Downtown could be the next battle in the demolition vs. preservation debate.

The Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission could start it by determining whether to designate the Elena Flats building at 122 E. Duval St. a historic landmark. The former boarding house was built a few years after the Great Fire of 1901.

The owner, Jimmie Lee Clark Jr., applied for a permit to demolish the building near the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.

The discussion will center on whether the structure possesses sufficient historic signficance for the commission to request from City Council historic landmark designation, which also would reject the request for permission to tear down the building.

The owner could appeal the council’s action and renew the demolition application.

The situation is similar to the commission’s evaluation of the First Guaranty Bank & Trust Building, also known as the Bostwick Building, said Joel McEachin, city Historic Preservation Section supervisor.

The commission recommended, and council approved, historic designation for the “jaguar building.”

The building at East Bay and Ocean streets was eventually foreclosed on by the city for delinquent code violation fines. It was sold at auction and is slated for redevelopment as an upscale restaurant and lounge.

Elena Flats’ age qualifies it for consideration for historic landmark designation. While it is not architecturally significant or documented to be the site of a historic event, the fact that it is one of the few examples of early 20th century multifamily housing still standing could tip the scales in favor of preservation.

McEachin said other than Elena Flats, the vacant Plaza Hotel at 353 E. Forsyth St. and the Palms Hotel at 129 N. Market St., which remains in business, are the only remaining examples of multifamily masonry construction built in the early 1900s. Many years ago, several such structures existed, but most have been demolished.

“The 1913 maps show about 12 apartment buildings,” McEachin said. “It’s too bad we haven’t preserved more of the sites.”

In some ways, the elements for preservation are different.

Elena Flats is not located along a main entrance to Downtown, which helped preserve First Guaranty.

Also, First Guaranty was built with load-bearing brick walls,

Elena Flats is wood-frame construction with brick veneer, which could diminish its value for preservation and redevelopment if there is significant water damage inside. The structure’s exterior is showing signs of deterioration.

McEachin said Wednesday the city has requested access to inspect the condition of the structure, but has not been allowed in by the owner.

Clark did not return phone calls for this story.

According to Duval County property records, Elena Flats’ assessed taxable value in 2014 was $184,910.

Kathleen Bagg, spokeswoman for the Diocese of St. Augustine, said the diocese might be interested in purchasing the property across the street from the basilica, but only if the building is demolished.

Elena Flats is on the commission’s Jan. 28 agenda for a public hearing. The panel convenes at 3 p.m. in Room 851 of the Ed Ball Building at 214. N. Hogan St.

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