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A Jacksonville jewel shines again

The Frank Lloyd Wright-influenced Klutho Apartment Building, ravaged by years of neglect and a fire, has been returned to its original beauty

By BRANDY HILBOLDT ALLPORT

Times-Union home and garden editor .

After years of renovations, the Klutho Apartment Building is ready for its close-up. The Springfield structure played a major role in the Jacksonville movie industry scene during the early 1900s. (Tom Mix and Oliver Hardy slept there.)

The building, at Eighth and Main streets, was designed in 1913 by Henry Klutho, who was influenced by his acquaintance, the renowned Frank Lloyd Wright.

After a grand reopening at 11:30 a.m. Thursday, the building will serve as a showcase for historical photos and exhibits of examples of Klutho architectural artifacts that have been salvaged from other local buildings he designed. It will also serve as office space for businesses and non-profit organizations.

Thursday's festivities are in keeping with the building's ties to big-screen history. A duo of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy impersonators from Orlando will perform a few bits for the crowd before Mayor John Peyton cuts the ribbon. Staffers at the theater at Henrietta's restaurant will screen old movies and offer a $5 buffet. Henrietta's, at the corner of Ninth and Main streets, is built on the site of movie lots that Klutho owned and operated.

Visitors who walk through the building at the opening can note details such as marble wainscotting and heart pine staircase in the lobby and intricate tile floors.

It's impossible to miss the stained-glass windows with their distinctive geometric pattern representing an abstract flower rising from the ground (also a Klutho design) and gold-leaf accents. Kirk Reber, artisan and owner of Creative Glassworks in Atlantic Beach, donated his time to restore many of the surviving, original 48 windows. He had to replicate dozens of others.

"The Klutho Apartment building is one of the city's most important works of outdoor art," said Wayne Wood, author of Jacksonville's Architectural Heritage: Landmarks for the Future (University of Florida Press) and a board member of the Jacksonville Historical Society. "It is a prime example of the Prairie-style influences of Frank Lloyd Wright."

FreshMinistries a faith-based, ecumenical organization, acquired the Klutho building in 1999. FreshMinistries sponsors projects that promote housing, economic development and youth programs in Northwest Jacksonville and around the world. Funding for the $1 million-plus building renovation came from FreshMinistries, city and state grants and private donations.

The complete renovation is quite an accomplishment, considering that when it started, three stories of debris had collapsed into the building, settling in the basement, the result of years of neglect and an arson fire in the early 1990s.

David Lee, president of Dav-Lin Construction, donated services and labor for the renovation, as did Jacksonville archi- tect Robert Broward. Broward, who returned from an internship with Frank Lloyd Wright in 1950, met Klutho and continued their friendship until Klutho's death in 1964.

"It's a miracle that the building has survived and a wonderful feeling to know that it is restored," Broward said. "Not only is the design innovative -- the prow roof that gives a visual feeling of leaping -- but it is amazing to see how Klutho physically put it together. . . . That magnificent staircase, we still haven't found out what holds it up. We tore walls out, but we still don't know."

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What a great restoration project. I'd like to see the city and the SPAR put a larger effort into turning that general corner (8th & Main) into an arts and dining hub, for the area.

Maybe something similar to the efforts and incentives being put forth on the Bay Street Town Center project. With the existing urban commercial building mass, Carl's, Boomtown and Henrietta's already there, the pattern is already set, it just needs a little pushing, imo.

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I would agree with Lakelander about incentives being offerd for these retail corridors should include Springfield's Main & 8th corridors,at least within the confines of the historic district.And from there all the way to the Main Street Bridge.

Oh yeh,the Klutho really does look good.The bulding had a roof that had caved in on itself,destroyed by fire and was totally dilapidated when I first moved here.Just shows if you have enough people that care,and enough funds,anything is possible.

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