Despite neighborhood opposition and efforts to delay, demolition crews razed a more than century-old building in LaVilla owned by Bravo TV personality Capt. Sandy Yawn.
Workers with contractor ELEV8 Demolition were on site March 29 taking down the remaining exterior walls of two-story, 109-year-old structure at 618 W. Adams St. to clear the way for what Yawn says will be a new nautical-themed restaurant.
The city approved a demolition permit in February for ELEV8 and Yawn Properties LLC for the $24,000 teardown after the city Historic Preservation Commission voted in November to recommend denial of local landmark designation of the building.
The demolition is a loss for historic preservation advocates working to save what is left of LaVilla’s post-civil war architecture present when the neighborhood was a sanctuary for Black culture and commerce.
Yawn did not immediately respond March 29 to questions about the future of the project.
But in a Feb. 10 text message thread to the Daily Record, the reality star repeated her assertion for more than a year that mold and structural problems with the roof made it unsalvageable and unsafe.
Yawn wrote in the thread that she intends to reuse some of the original building materials of what was once the Sims Tire Co. in the 1920s and ’30s. in the restaurant’s construction.
The hope is to rebuild a smaller version of the building(,) saving some original brick that can be used to keep some history,” Yawn wrote.
In February, Yawn could not give a timeline for the restaurant’s development. She said the property required soil testing and once city permits were approved, she hoped to begin the project “right away.”
Yawn bought the property with partner Chad Quist in June 2020 through Yawn Properties for $185,000.
At the time, she wanted to renovate the building into the Maritime 618 restaurant.
But the star of the Bravo reality TV series “Below Deck Mediterranean” later found mold, a caved-in roof and second floor, and prohibitive renovation costs.
Yawn and Quist applied June 9, 2022, for a permit to demolish the building. Yawn said June 10 they could not restore it.
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 demolition was delayed in June 2022 when the commission agreed to community requests to study the site to determine if it was a candidate for City Council to designate a landmark.
Former home of a tire company
A report by the Historic Preservation Section of the city Planning and Development Department found the Spanish Colonial Revival-style structure was home to the Sims Tire Co., owned by Claude E. Sims in the 1920s and 30s.
It grew to become one of the largest tire companies in Florida.
The department staff found that Sims had ties to the association responsible for the initial planning of what would become the Mathews Bridge linking Downtown and Arlington. His brother was the twice-elected mayor of Atlanta Walter A. Sims, according to the report.
Ennis Davis, American Planning Association Florida Chapter vice president of membership and a certified planner active in LaVilla historic preservation efforts, said in July 2022 that the building was likely one of the last remaining structures in what was LaVilla’s red-light district.
In an April 15, 2019, article on thejaxsonmag.com, Davis wrote that the four-block area called “The Line ‘’ featured bordellos, saloons and gambling houses.
Despite its staff recommendation to approve, the commission voted 2-2 to deny the landmarking. Commission Chairman Jack Demetree said in the meeting that it was “a stretch” to say Sims’ contributions to the development of the city and LaVilla were significant, according to the meeting minutes.
Two commissioners were absent for that vote.
Planning and Development staff said Yawn’s company had not made any efforts to shore up the building’s structure since buying it.
The commission meeting minutes say Yawn opened conversations with the Downtown Investment Authority to discuss city incentives to restore the building but had “not materialized into anything substantive” and said the effort was “pretty much stalling.”
Neighborhood advocates working in LaVilla also tried to save the building.
Adrian Swanigan grew up in LaVilla and is a member of the DIA’s Historic Enhancement and Cultural District Committee Meeting.
Swanigan said in February that advocates and a real estate developer active in Downtown were willing to work with Yawn to find a compromise and save the building.
He said he was hoping for a different result from the commission.
“It wasn’t so much that we were actually expecting it (the designation denial), but we still entrusted the Jacksonville Historic (Preservation) Commission to do the job that they do on behalf of the public,” Swanigan said. “We anticipated that they would do their due diligence to deal with the concerns that the community had as well as accommodate the developer.”
Hope for the future
Although the Sims Tire Co. building has been razed, stakeholders in LaVilla are working to save what remains of LaVilla’s history.
The committee under the DIA is working on historic markers for a heritage trail planned for LaVilla, part of the broader 30-mile Emerald Trail loop plan.
In June 2021 and February 2022, City Council appropriated a total $456,290 for building improvements to the Historic Stanton School at 521 W. Ashley St.
According to Swanigan and Devonte Sykes, another organizer in LaVilla, stakeholders are working to form a 501(c)3 organization similar to Riverside Avondale Preservation, which is the lead advocate and facilitator for Riverside Avondale’s historic neighborhoods.
Sykes and Swanigan said stakeholders are also working to get LaVilla designated a historic district by the state and federal governments.
“We’re already in the stages of developing that part of it (the 501(c)3), but really the biggest thing that we’re focusing on right now is enlisting more people from the community to participate in the organization,” Sykes said.