Though somewhat nondescript and often overshadowed by the neighboring Greenleaf & Crosby Building, the W.A. Knight Building is noteworthy for one big reason: it was perhaps the first major example of adaptive reuse in downtown Jax.
Built in 1921 and opening in 1923, the W.A. Knight Building at 113 W. Adams Street originally served as a straight-forward, three-story office building. It was designed by Marsh & Saxelbye and constructed by O.P. Woodcock Company.
Many of its tenants over the years are now lost to the ages, but a few are known for sure. For example, Florida Rock Industries was an original tenant of the building, and multiple doctors held office space in the building over the years. FSCJ leased office space within the building during the ‘70s as well.
Like many downtown office buildings, it hosted several different tenants over the years. And like many historic buildings downtown, it eventually ran out of tenants to cycle through and fell dormant by the ‘90s, putting it one administrative whim away from demolition.
Luckily, development company Langton Associates stepped in to invest in the property. With the help of $600,000 in loans from the city, the company undertook the task of converting the historic office building into twelve one-bedroom lofts and two ground-floor retail units.
It would be the first historic preservation project of its kind in the downtown area, even predating the city’s incentive program for such projects.
The $1.6 million renovation took place from 2001 to 2002. Tacked-on elements from over the years were stripped away revealing a marble entryway, well-preserved hardwood floors, and original tile, all of which were incorporated into the renovation design.
The W.A. Knight Lofts became available for lease in 2002, around the same time its retail units were completed. The building became both the first successful example of adaptive reuse in downtown Jax and the first loft-style apartment units downtown. At the time, the lofts were among the only residential units in the area – aside from a slump following the late-2000s recession, vacancies among the loft units have been a rarity.
The ground-floor retail units, however, have had a tougher time staying occupied. Mossfire Grill was originally planned for one of the units, but it opted against opening in the building. The popular Japanese eatery Ieyasu opened in that unit in 2003.
The other unit almost scored Moon River Pizza as its tenant in 2004, before the pizzeria pulled out and opted for a spot in Murray Hill. Ieyasu then signed on to expand into that unit – but within two years, it shut down, leaving both units vacant.
Chew, a concept from Jonathan Insetta, opened within the space in 2006 and managed to stick around for five years before Insetta bolted to Riverside with his new Black Sheep Restaurant concept.
Pho Noodle Bar took over part of the unit, which was re-divided into its original two spaces.
In late 2013, The Volstead, a speakeasy concept bar, opened in the other unit. When Pho closed, Kazu Sushi Burrito opened.
Today, Kazu and The Volstead continue to operate in the building’s ground floor and all twelve residential units are routinely occupied.
The W.A. Knight Building may not be the most architecturally impressive building in downtown Jax, but its renovation set a valuable precedent for future revitalization and adaptive reuse projects in the urban core.