Falling apart and nearly knocked down to make way for a parking lot, building will become luxury apartments.
It’s been inhabited by college students, a future deputy sheriff and businessmen as well as by rooming-house tenants paying $125 a week.
They all played a part in the life of Elena Flats, which opened about 1909 with four apartments after the Great Fire of 1901 destroyed much of Downtown.
In its 109 years, uses ranged from a boarding house to a 25-unit rooming house to nothing but a vacant, deteriorating building.
It came close to demolition for use as a parking lot, but now it’s being restored at a projected cost of $2.8 million to offer four luxury apartments to be rented for about $2,500 a month.
Investors Jack Meeks and JoAnn Tredennick bought the almost 7,000-square-foot building at 122 E. Duval St. in 2015 and hope to complete renovations and restoration of the historic structure next year.
“They built after the fire for the professional class,” Tredennick said. “This was pretty high-end.”
Architects Melody and Bill Bishop are working with Meeks and Tredennick on the project.
Bill Bishop, a former City Council member, said the building was “one vote away from the wrecking ball” when Meeks and Tredennick stepped in.
The building was designated as a city landmark, sponsored by the Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission.
Halpert Contracting is working on the restoration. The job superintendent is Bill and Melody Bishop’s son, Bill.
Meeks and Tredennick said in 2015 they planned to invest more than $1 million to restore the building and install plumbing, electrical service and HVAC. They paid $65,000 for the land and building, which Tredennick said is the lot value.
Tredennick said the estimated restoration cost has risen to about $400 a square foot, which works out to about $2.8 million.
“Your initial estimate is generally going to be low,” said the experienced restorer.
In addition to “surprises,” like needing to rebuild the area under the porch, costs increased during the strong housing market and because of the need for specialists, she said.
“It is labor intensive. The more there is to save and the more there is to restore on the interior and exterior, the more costly it is,” she said.
They’ve been working on it for three years, dealing with structural repairs and Hurricane Irma last year causing delays in materials.
Taking it apart to save it
There will be four apartments of about 1,700 square feet each, with two downstairs and two upstairs.
Each will comprise two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a partial bathroom, a front parlor with a restored fireplace, the kitchen and a dining-room size area that can be used as a formal dining area or for another use.
“The kitchen was originally at the very back of the unit, which is typical of the floor plan for the time at which the building was constructed,” Tredennick said.
The apartments will feature kitchens in the center and the bedrooms on the back.
Each unit will have outside access and a back porch. Apartments will share a front porch on each floor.
Meeks and Tredennick are restoring as much of the brick, wood and other features as they can and rebuilding the rest.
The front windows and second-floor skylights are being restored while new Pella windows are installed in the back.
“You disassemble the building, shore it up structurally and reassemble the building,” she said.
The historical interior woodwork was removed, restored and is stored in a warehouse until it is returned. That’s the same with other materials.
“We removed, documented, cleaned and restored brick,” Tredennick said.
They first had to remove junk, including old carpeting, doors and beds.
“You always hope you would find something interesting that gives some indication about the residents, but we didn’t find anything like that. Most of what we found was junk,” she said.
The building’s interior is being framed in and the shape is evident of what’s to come. Ceilings are about 11 feet on the first floor and 10 feet on the second.
Also to be restored is the name “Elena” in tile on the front porch.
The history prepared for the landmark designation found that the property owner at the time of construction had a 4- or 5-year-old daughter by the name.
Occupants in 1909 included the Jacksonville chief of police’s son who went on to become a Duval County deputy sheriff. In 1910, tenants included C.B. McNair Jr., associated with McNair Lumber Co.
The structure underwent ownership and use changes as the suites were divided into individual rooms.
In the 1950s, it appears to have been rented for use by female students of Jones College.
“I got a letter from a woman who lived there when she was young and the building was used as a boarding house,” Tredennick said. “It was just charming.”
In a letter dated Dec. 9, 2016, a woman in Eastman, Georgia, wrote to Meeks that she lived in the building in 1953-54 with other students and her room was on the back west side of the second floor. She recalled the phone number as Elgin 69605. They “walked everywhere,” including from her part-time job at Southern Shipbuilding.
The building sits across Duval Street from the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception and offers views of Downtown that include the 42-story Bank of America Tower.
The landmark application described the elements.
“Catering more to middle class families and businessmen, the design and quality of materials used in construction of the Elena Flats are also evident such as marble thresholds and small hexagonal tiles in the bathrooms, coffered ceilings and wainscoting in the dining room, decorative stairways to the two upstairs suites, as well as numerous examples of leaded glass in the front windows.”
Tredennick said she and Meeks will seek Historic Preservation Tax Credits for the restoration.
“These are like archaeological digs,” she said.