The Arlington Federal Savings and Loan Building is a lasting reminder of the “Mad Men” era of American architecture, but it’s in danger of going the way of that period’s three-martini business lunches because of plans to replace it with a car wash.
A group of Arlington residents determined not to let that happen attended the Dec. 5 City Council Land Use and Zoning Committee meeting to support an ordinance that would give the mid-century modern building historical protection and save it from demolition.
“It is really a gem,” said former Council member Bill Bishop, one of several dozen supporters of the building who turned out for the meeting.
“It is not ever going to be duplicated again. And if it goes, it’s gone forever.”
After a lengthy hearing in which the property owner’s attorney, Paul Harden, argued that the building had deteriorated too much to be renovated, the committee sided with its defenders by voting 5-0 to advance the ordinance to a vote by the full Council.
The former savings and loan is at 930 University Blvd. N., at northwest Arlington Expressway and University Boulevard. It is across from the Town & Country Shopping Center that is being redeveloped as College Park.
Ordinance 2023-0701 would designate it as a historic landmark, which would subject any plans to demolish or alter the structure’s street-facing portions to a review by the Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission for historical appropriateness.
In September, the historic commission voted 6-0 to recommend approval of the historic designation, saying it met four of seven criteria for protection.
Owner Charles Tower opposes the designation, and made plans to sell the property to Take 5 Car Wash. Online information has shown it listed at $1.8 million.
Harden told the committee that the building didn’t meet one of the four criteria – its suitability for renovation or reconstruction.
He offered a report from a building contractor saying the building was “failing,” had cracks in it and lacked steel reinforcement. He said Tower purchased the building not knowing that it might become subject to historic protection, which would drastically lower its market value.
“He’s now the proud owner of a building you’re changing the rules for him on,” Harden said.
TDC Jax LLC bought the site in March 2021 for $650,000 from Ameris Bank, property records show. State corporate filings show Tower, of Jacksonville, and James Coleman of Middleburg lead the LLC.
Bishop, an architect, disagreed that the structure was in poor shape, saying “structurally there’s nothing wrong with this building.”
Built in 1961, the savings and loan’s most distinguishing feature is its precast concrete facade, which includes an array of triangle and diamond shapes interspersed with vertical columns. These designs form the building’s brise soleil – a French term that translates to “sun breaker” – which provides shading from sunlight and solar heat while still allowing natural lighting through the windows.
In a 2022 book about the architecture of Jacksonville, local historian Wayne W. Wood said the building’s brise soleil “ranks as one of the most inventive concrete structures in Jacksonville.”
The 5,068-square-foot, single-story structure was designed by Miami-based architect Edwin T. Reeder, whose work included numerous designs in the mid-century modern style. Among his projects was a remodeling of the former Central National Bank building at 404 N. Julia St. in Downtown Jacksonville, where a mid-century modern facade was added to the original facing.
Today, the bulk of the Arlington property’s windows are boarded up and discarded bits of clothing and trash peppered the property on a recent day.
The sign over the main entrance faintly read “Atlantic Coast Bank,” one of the building’s previous occupants, and the street sign was missing letters, making it read “BEST MONEY MR T RATE IN TOWN DETAILS INSIDE.”
Proponents of the historic designation say the building is emblematic of the vintage architecture of Arlington, which boomed in population during the mid-century era after the opening of the Mathews Bridge in 1953.
The Old Arlington Inc. preservation nonprofit and other supporters would like to see it adapted for reuse as a restaurant or brewery to help revitalize Arlington.
The building would be the first mid-century modern structure to achieve historic landmark status.
“This is one of the most historically significant buildings in Arlington,” Wood told the committee.
“The fact that it’s at the gateway to Arlington makes it even more important.”
The property also is in the Renew Arlington Community Redevelopment Area, which the city hopes to assist with rejuvenation.
On its website, Architectural Digest defines mid-century modern as a style created during the middle decades of the 20th century by designers influenced “by the optimism of the post-World War II boom and by the exploration of a range of materials, including steel, concrete, and newly available insulated glass.”