After years of neglect, what was once a depleted former bank building on a high-visibility downtown street corner is now the upscale, state-of-the-art Cowford Chophouse.
The Bostwick Building, as it was previously known, was one of the first new structures to open after the Great Fire of 1901 ripped through downtown Jax. It was, in fact, the first project to receive a permit after the fire.
It was designed by New York architect J.H.W. Hawkins, and built to house the operations of First National Bank – whose branch location at that same site had burnt to the ground in the fire. It was finished in 1902.
Unfortunately, First National Bank failed just a year after the new building was completed.
Guaranty Trust and Savings Bank stepped in and purchased the building, and even had it expanded in 1919, almost doubling its size.
But by 1922, it too had failed. A third bank jumped in afterward, but it didn’t fare well either. By the early ‘30s the building was abandoned and the bank had folded.
William Bostwick Jr., who had served as vice president at Guaranty Trust & Savings, paid off the bank’s creditors to take control of the property. Under Bostwick, it became an office building, serving that purpose for decades.
Famed architect Henry Klutho even called the building home from 1944 to 1960 after leaving his previous space in the St. James Building.
But with newer, nicer office buildings being constructed around downtown – and the rest of the city – it became unrealistic for the Bostwick Building to compete. By the early 1980s, the building had been abandoned.
It sat unused and neglected for years. Structural damage started to accumulate, but little was done to protect the building aside from boarding up its windows.
In the early ‘90s, those boarded-up windows were painted by local artist Jim Draper in celebration of the pending addition of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Eventually, roof damage led to water intrusion, causing damages to both the Bostwick Building and adjacent properties.
Because of all the building’s issues, and hefty fines from the city, the Bostwick family filed for a permit in 2012 to demolish the building.
The city, in turn, proposed that the building be designated a historic property.
This set off a back-and-forth battle between the family and the city. The Bostwicks wished to demolish the building, and refused offers from several buyers. One of those potential buyers was Jacques Klempf, who offered $325,000 for the property.
By 2013, city council had approved the building’s historic designation, and foreclosed on the property. Klempf then purchased the property via city auction for $165,000 the next year, with the plan of turning the property into a restaurant.
Work began almost immediately – but it wouldn’t be an easy process.
The building’s inside was essentially ruined. Foundation issues had to be addressed. The exterior walls had to be propped up during much of the construction process, while the interior was built up from scratch.
Despite the challenges involved, much of the building’s exterior façade was preserved throughout construction.
Construction, which was led by Danis Construction, took around three years and cost over $6 million. Jax-based Design Cooperative helped with the interior design.
In late 2017, Cowford Chophouse finally opened its doors to much fanfare. The new steakhouse features an elegant, upscale interior design, incorporating local elements such as the St. Johns River. Pieces of wood from the original building are incorporated throughout the interior, and many of the original windows still remain in the walls. It boasts three stories, including a rooftop bar, with seating for around 300 patrons.
Its staircases are adorned with photos from the construction and restoration process.
So far, the restaurant has been a big hit with locals. And the beautifully-done restoration is already being recognized for innovation and attention to detail, having been featured on American Institute of Architects’ website.
It remains to be seen how the steakhouse will fare years down the line, but no matter what, Klempf and his team have done a great service to the city by restoring and revitalizing this important piece of Jacksonville history.