At the intersection of Laura and Forsyth streets in downtown Jacksonville, three distinctive historic buildings have sat, vacant and crumbling, for decades now.
These grand buildings, collectively dubbed the Laura Street Trio, were once critical pillars to downtown Jax’s burgeoning financial district. Today, however, they’ve been largely left to rot away, leaving some without historic context to wonder, “What’s so great about those old buildings?”
As we await the beginning of SouthEast Group’s planned overhaul of the three buildings, let’s take a look back at each of their histories.
The Trio’s history begins with the Old Florida National Bank Building, also known as the Marble Bank. The building was the first of the three to be constructed; it went up in 1902, opening as Merchantile Exchange Bank. Its Neoclassical Revival design, highlighted by its large windows and marble columns, was helmed by Baltimore-based architect Edward H. Glidden.
The bank didn’t last long in its new building; by 1905, it had been purchased by what would soon become Florida National Bank. Its new owners set about expanding the building, while retaining its original design elements.
Another round of renovations in 1916, this time focused around the building’s interior, involved adding a skylight as well as building out the grand central banking lobby, for which the building would become known. The redesign was led by Mowbray & Uffinger, the same firm that would later design the Barnett National Bank headquarters building.
Florida National Bank soon grew beyond its relatively small space within the building and would later expand into the adjacent Bisbee Building – a fellow Laura Street Trio member. By the 1960s, the bank had left the building altogether and a new bank, Jacksonville National Bank, took over its space.
Its new tenant enacted a new round of renovations in the late ‘70s, restoring many original design elements that had been removed or modified over the years. It soon gradually expanded its operations to the other two Trio buildings.
But the bank would soon be consumed by a flurry of mergers, eventually becoming a wing of NationsBank of Florida by the 1990s. NationsBank sold the Trio just a few years prior to its merger with BankAmerica, creating Bank of America.
The Trio was acquired by German investor Angela Schneider in 1999. When she began threatening to demolish the historic structures, the city of Jacksonville instead agreed to purchase them for $3.025 million in 2002.
The building has sat vacant since the mid-‘90s. It’s currently owned by SouthEast Group, which plans to convert it into an upscale restaurant.