Very few of downtown Jacksonville’s historic buildings still have portions of their old-school signage intact.
But sure enough, when you look up toward the top of the Churchwell Lofts building at 301 E. Bay Street, you’ll see the black “J.H. Churchwell Company” banner added to the building in the 1920s.
But the building itself predates its days as home to J.H. Churchwell Co.
Robert Victor Covington commissioned the four-story warehouse building for his wholesale dry goods and notions company in 1905. He and his company operated out of the building until 1923, when Covington decided to retire.
That’s when the Churchwell brothers jumped in and bought the building for their own dry goods and notions company. Within a few years, the Churchwell family company had set up shop in the building.
The family would soon split the company – which was founded in 1911 – off into two branches. J.H. Churchwell became the head of wholesale operations, which would remain within their downtown Jax building.
J.H. Churchwell Company operated for several decades in the building, sticking around even as many other businesses fled the declining downtown area. But it eventually became impractical for the company to keep utilizing so much space, prompting the company to consider redevelopment.
In the mid-2000s, the company’s former office space was stripped down and converted into 21 loft-style residential condominiums, along with ground-floor retail units. The $3.9 million project was led by local architecture firm Fisher Koppenhafer and completed in 2007.
The Churchwell Lofts, as they’re now known, added to the few existing residential options in downtown Jax. The ground-floor retail units have struggled to find suitors, but in 2011, Olio opened in one of its units and has since become among the city’s most popular eateries.
The Churchwell Company, meanwhile, moved to a smaller space in Murray Hill.
The project to convert the Churchwell Building into loft-style condominiums represents one of the earliest efforts to bring a residential element to adaptive reuse projects in the city’s urban core, helping to establish a trend that continues today.