Plans by reality TV show personality Capt. Sandy Yawn to demolish a century-old LaVilla building are on hold.
Yawn bought the building at 618 W. Adams St. more than two years ago.
The star of the Bravo reality TV series “Below Deck Mediterranean” intended to transform it into a restaurant — then found mold, a caved-in roof and second floor, and prohibitive renovation costs.
Yawn and her business partner applied June 9 for a permit to demolish the building.
Area historic preservation advocates and property owners quickly jumped on board to halt the razing and on June 22, the Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission ordered a historic review of the building.
That review will give the people and organizations pushing to preserve the building and the other remaining turn-of-the-last-century structures in the city’s once-thriving historic black neighborhood what they seek — time.
Ennis Davis, American Planning Association Florida Chapter vice president of membership and a certified planner active in LaVilla historic preservation efforts, said the demolition delay is needed “to figure out what the heck is going on” and if the building is eligible for local landmark status or the National Register of Historic Places.
“You want to figure that out before you haphazardly give a demolition permit on something that could be very significant to Jacksonville’s history,” Davis said June 24.
The commission voted 5-0 to sponsor an application to determine if the two-story, 6,840-square-foot structure a block from the Duval County Courthouse is eligible for local landmark status.
Yawn said in 2020 she wanted to renovate the building into the Maritime 618 restaurant.
She said July 5 that when she bought the building sight unseen, she was unaware of its problems.
She bought the property with partner Chad Quist in June 2020 through Yawn Properties LLC for $185,000.
After demolition, they plan to redevelop the 0.10-acre site with a replica of the building and find a tenant to operate the nautical-themed restaurant.
Yawn said her company is scheduled to meet this week with city officials to discuss the landmark review and possible solutions.
“How do you save something that’s not structurally sound? That’s my question,” Yawn said.
“When you walk into that building, you look at it and ask how do you make it safe without spending five times the money?”
“If the city can figure out a way to help out (financially), that’s awesome,” she said.
“But to put that on someone’s shoulders and to take on that liability, that’s the scary part.”
Yawn said at least five bids from contractors said it could cost $5 million to $7 million to mitigate and shore up the structure.
The Champlain Towers South condominium collapse in June 2021 and changes to the service industry brought on by the pandemic also played a role in the decision to seek a demolition permit.
Yawn said her company received a notice from the city requesting graffiti be removed from the building a couple of weeks before the demolition permit application was filed.
The demolition plan by contractor ELEV8 Demolition was dated June 9.
After the Daily Record reported June 10 about plans to demolish the building, the city received a lot of phone calls about saving it, according to Downtown Investment Authority Redevelopment Coordinator Susan Kelly.
Kelly said the Historic Preservation Commission agreed to sponsor the landmark designation review after hearing public comment at its June 22 meeting.
The vote directed the city Planning and Development Department to study the building’s historic value.
In Jacksonville, a building owner, the commission or City Council can request a building be reviewed for landmark status.
Reviewers will look for any significance to the architecture, ties to historic events, if it contributes to city, state and local history and if it’s suitable for restoration.
Kelly said the report could be ready by the next commission meeting July 27, but the study might take more time.
The commission will evaluate the report and decide whether to recommend that Council designate the building a local landmark. Only Council can designate a structure a local landmark.
If the commission does not recommend the designation, or if Council rejects it, Yawn Properties would be granted the demolition permit.
If Council grants landmark status, the building will be preserved.
The building’s landmark eligibility could come down to whether or not it is linked to the Great Fire of 1901.
Davis, who researches historic districts and structures statewide, said the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department considers the building the old Fire Station No. 4.
According to Davis, if JFRD is correct, the station’s role in responding to the Great Fire would make the building historic.
But he said the property also could be the former Sims Tire Co.
A July 2, 2020, email from City Planner Supervisor Joel McEachin to engineering firm Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc. says he “has lingering doubts” the building is the pre-1901 fire station.
McEachin said maps and legal descriptions of LaVilla show the fire station at 610 W. Adams St. According to the email, that structure was demolished in 1982.
The email says the building more likely was the Sims Tire Co. starting in 1926.
Duval County property records say 618 W. Adams St. was built in 1914.
Yawn said July 5 that the chance to repurpose a century-old firehouse in a neighborhood with LaVilla’s heritage was one reason she bought the property, but her company’s research also showed it was Sims Tire Co.
Regardless of its origins, Davis said the building likely is one of the last remaining structures in what was LaVilla’s red-light district. In a April 15, 2019, article on thejaxsonmag.com, Davis wrote that the four-block area called “The Line” featured bordellos, saloons and gambling houses.
LaVilla, once called the Harlem of the South, was a sanctuary for Black culture and commerce post-Civil War. The late 20th century saw a decline in LaVilla’s influence as many of its historic homes and buildings were demolished.
“We’ve torn everything down,” Davis said. “So you have this one building that could have a lot of different storylines.”
No matter the storyline, Yawn says she isn’t giving up on the property.
Yawn and Quist are looking for an investment partner to help finance construction of a new building and still plans on Maritime 618, she said.
“I’m committed to building the building,” Yawn said. “I’m just not committed to restructuring something that’s existing because of the liability and what could happen.”