City approves permit for Pratt Funeral Home conversion into Airbnb and restaurant
The $2.1 million project cost is part of developer Eric Adler’s expected $4 million renovation of the historic LaVilla area building.
| 12:00 a.m. November 20, 2023
The city issued a permit Nov. 17 for Avant Construction Group to renovate the Pratt Funeral Home on the edge of LaVilla into an Airbnb and a restaurant.
Avant will convert the 9,482-square-foot space at 525 W Beaver St. at a cost of almost $2.1 million. The building will have 13 apartments and a small plate restaurant and wine bar.
The Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission voted Oct. 25 to recommend to the National Park Service that the 108-year-old former funeral home and casket factory be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The national designation would make the project eligible to apply for federal funding. A search of the National Register database does not show it listed yet.
The funeral home had been in continuous use until it closed in 2019.
Owner and developer Eric Alder initially wanted to call it The Raven, an homage to the poet and writer Edgar Allan Poe.
In September, he said he still planned to play off of the former existence as a funeral home but also spotlight its history in the LaVilla neighborhood.
He now plans to call it LaVilla Place.
The building met three criteria for the historic register recommendation.
It the early 1920s, it was Jacksonville’s most successful Black-owned and operated businesses. The building was custom-built to serve as a funeral home, mortuary and casket factory.
The property has significant commerce and ethnic heritage. Black businessman and funeral director Lawton Pratt, who was one of the wealthiest residents of Duval County, was involved in founding funeral homes around the state.
The building’s architecture also qualifies it for consideration. It was designed and built by noted architect Joseph H. Blodgett, also a prominent African American in Jacksonville.
Pratt was the second licensed Black funeral director in Florida and the founder of the Florida Negro Embalmers and Morticians Association. That organization’s first meeting was held at the Pratt Funeral Home.
At a meeting of the Downtown Development Review Board in September, Alder said he expected to spend $3 million to $4 million for the complete renovation of the building’s interior. There are no plans to make major changes to the exterior.
Jason Canning is the architect.
When the Hillman-Pratt and Walton Funeral Home, its full name, is reopened next year, one room could pay tribute to the first Black Native American woman to earn a pilot’s license.
Adler said May 30 his development team is working to discover whether the funeral home assisted with Bessie Coleman’s remains after her 1926 death.
According to Adler, Coleman’s remains could have been transported to Hillman-Pratt. The development team has been reviewing more than a dozen of the funeral home’s ledgers to find documented proof of the connection.
“We’re planning to have one area of the (project) or one apartment to have a bit of an homage to her,” Adler said.
Coleman was killed April 30, 1926, when she was thrown from an airplane cockpit during a test flight and fell more than 2,000 feet. A March 31, 2020, article in thejaxsonmag.com says that the flight was at Paxon Field in Jacksonville.
Through 525 Beaver LLC, Adler paid $645,000 for the property in July 2021. Adler is manager of Silver Street Capital LLC, shown as the developer.
Adler said previously he expected to break ground 30 to 60 days after the city permit is approved and expected the apartments to open in 2024 with short-term and long-term rentals.
The Jacksonville City Council voted 15-1 on May 23 to approve a $1.25 million forgivable loan package for Adler’s restoration and adaptive reuse project.
Council and the Downtown Investment Authority board approved an incentives deal that includes a $572,680 historic preservation, restoration and rehabilitation forgivable loan and a $678,750 code compliance forgivable loan.
In August 2022, Council voted to grant Adler’s request to designate the building a local landmark to make it eligible for the DIA program funding.
Adler said his primary construction lender for the project is Local Initiatives Support Corp, or LISC, which finances development projects that include affordable and workforce housing.
While the LISC loan is outstanding, Adler said three units, or 20% of the project, will be reserved as workforce housing, which has monthly rents below market-rate prices.
The remaining units will be short-term and market-rate rentals.
The property is west of the United House of Prayer for All People church and across West Beaver Street from Old Stanton High School.
The Pratt Funeral Home was established in 1900. The business moved to 525 W. Beaver St. when the building was constructed in 1915-16.
In 1943, it became Hillman-Pratt Funeral Home and then Hillman-Pratt & Walton from 2002 until it closed in 2019.
The building was in continual use as a funeral home until it closed four years ago.