Following the Great Fire of 1901, downtown Jacksonville had been largely reduced to an empty wasteland. The rebuilding effort would inevitably be lengthy and complicated – a reality that prompted many to flee to other growing areas to the south.
But there was one man who couldn’t wait to arrive in Jax.
Henry J. Klutho was born in the small town of Breese, IL, in 1873. The son of German immigrants, Klutho began dabbling in architectural study when he moved to St. Louis at age 16.
Soon, he would move to New York to serve as an apprentice at the city’s architectural firm. He even spent time overseas in Europe observing its classical architecture before heading right back to work in New York.
In 1901, he came upon an article in The New York Times about a huge fire that had destroyed much of Jacksonville, FL. Feeling inspired, he completed his work in New York and quickly moved south.
Upon his arrival in Jax, Klutho immediately began networking with local businessmen and politicians, who were eager to rebuild and regrow the hundreds of city squares that had burned to a crisp just months earlier.
Klutho’s ambition and the locals’ desperation made for a perfect marriage, and within a year Klutho had designed his first building in Jacksonville: the Dyal-Upchurch building.
Many other projects would follow in quick succession as Klutho became the city’s most esteemed architect. During his first decade in Jax, Klutho designed the Morocco Temple, the Seminole Hotel, a new city hall building, and the Carnegie Library among many others.
A few years into his new life in Jacksonville, Klutho met and befriended fellow architect Frank Lloyd Wright during a business trip in New York. Wright and his associates were pioneering a new style of architecture referred to as Prairie School style; it was characterized by strong horizontal lines, open floor plans, and the incorporation of natural materials into the construction process.
Prior to meeting Wright, Klutho’s style was more classical, using many design elements that were intentionally subverted by Wright and his associates. Wright’s philosophies would strongly influence Klutho, who began incorporating elements of Prairie School design into his work.
Klutho’s biggest achievement came in 1910, when he was commissioned to design a new commercial building along the north side of Hemming Park. In addition to designing the four-story building, Klutho also acted as the project’s construction manager.
The building opened its doors in 1912 and was dubbed the St. James Building. It housed Cohen Brothers department store and other small shops, and it also featured two stories of office space above the stores. Klutho occupied one of those offices himself for several years.
Klutho’s work, while crucial and reliable, never received the level of local appreciation that it has after his death in 1964. Many of the buildings he designed were torn down or critically altered over the years, including renovations to the St. James Building that prompted Klutho to move out.
Today, many of the Klutho projects that are still standing have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places, giving them added protection against demolition or further disfiguring of the original structure. This includes the Dyal-Upchurch building, the St. James Building, the Carnegie-Bedell Building, and two-thirds of the Laura Street Trio among others.
Klutho Park in Springfield, which he helped design, is named in his honor.
And his grand St. James Building project, though altered over the years, still stands along Hemming Park and now serves as our city hall building.
While it’s tragic that Klutho died before his works started receiving proper historical recognition, it’s clear that the work he did following the city’s great fire will remain a prominent feature of downtown Jacksonville for years to come.