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Ambassador Hotel | Photo © 2014 Bullet, www.abandonedfl.com

Ambassador Hotel

Location Class:
Built: 1923 | Abandoned: 1998
Historic Designation: National Register of Historic Places (April 7, 1983)
Status: Under Renovation
Photojournalist: David Bulit

The 310 West Church Street Apartments

Known as the Ambassador Hotel, the six-story brick, and limestone building was built in 1924 and opened as the upscale 310 West Church Street Apartments. Designed by architects Hal Hentz, Neel Reid, and Rudolph Adler, the Georgian Revival-style brick and limestone building was built in the shape of an “H” which provided every unit room with a window. With a restaurant located in the basement and all units rented out by 1923, the 310 West Church Street Apartments was Jacksonville’s first big downtown apartment building.

According to Ennis Davis and Robert Mann in Reclaiming Jacksonville, the original tenant included influential Jacksonville citizens of the time. Fred and Cordelia Meyerheim leased unit HA5; Fred was president of Furchgott’s Department Store. Their son Harold and his wife Persis occupied unit HA4; Harold was a manager at Furchgott’s and would take his father’s place as the company president in 1945. Carl and Margaret Oltrogge occupied unit H1; Carl was a manager for the S. B. Hubbard Company and Margaret operated the restaurant in the apartment building’s basement. Dannette and Helen Mays occupied unit N3; Dannette was the vice president of the Jones Lumber Company. Arthur DuQuette, owner of the Union Clothing Company, stayed in unit D4.

1949 Griner sanborn
1949 Sanborn Insurance Map of Jacksonville, Florida. By this time, the hotel’s name had been changed to the Griner Hotel. Library of Congress

Ambassador Hotel

In 1944, the 310 West Church Street Apartments was purchased by hotelier Charles Benjamin Griner who once owned the “Dixie” chain of hotels which included the Dixie Walesbilt Hotel in Lake Wales. He converted the old apartment building into a 120-room hotel called the Three-Ten Hotel. However, it wouldn’t be the last time it would be renamed as it would only be three years before it was renamed in 1947 as Hotel Southland, and again in 1949 to the Griner Hotel.

Following Griner’s death in 1955, his widow Doris sold the property to Ralph Schwartzberg and Isadore Fishman of Chicago, Illinois, who changed the name to the Ambassador Hotel. Doris Griner would eventually regain ownership of the property upon default by the mortgage. In 1973, the Easton Land and Development Company purchased the building and continued to operate it as the Ambassador Hotel.

As Jacksonville’s downtown went into decline, the Ambassador Hotel fell into disrepair along with it. In 1983, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places, but code violations and multiple drug busts and raids have given the hotel a bad reputation and lost any hope of saving it. Most of the residents in the hotel at that time came from the adjacent LaVilla neighborhood, where most of the houses were condemned or demolished. Some of the homes were condemned due to drug raids by police.

One resident, Carrie Bell White, lived in Room 314 of the Ambassador Hotel. On the walls of her room, she writes her tragic life story of living in constant poverty, trying to make sense of a “wrongful death“, and her obsession with social security numbers and birth certificates. In her own words, she says “I do not Have a Recorded Birth Certificate nor my Son nor my Husband We are Christians, American and Black no Social Security # are correct either They are going to this years Assign us a Social Security Card with our numbers on them and name Greene Edward I Greene Edward II Green Violet Mae.”

Griner Hotel postcard
A postcard featuring an image of the Griner Hotel, formerly known as the 310 West Church Street Apartments. The back reads, “Preferred by Particular People” Fireproof—100% Air-conditioned, Jacksonville, Florida. H. W. Johnson, Manager. AAA Official Headquarters Office.” Abandoned Atlas Archives
Hotel is Raided by Police

On June 12, 1997, police raided the building after weeks of surveillance and undercover buys of crack cocaine, and at least one other raid at the hotel. No drugs were recovered but two arrests were made and drug paraphernalia was found on the fifth floor. Police also found a hidden closed-circuit monitoring system on the fifth floor, used to warn them of oncoming police or to monitor drug customers.

City property officials were with the officers during a raid to check for safety code violations and other problems. Among the code violations found were faulty wiring, cracked walls, improper screens, poor sanitation and lighting, and locked fire escape doors. Residents received notices stating that the building no longer complied with code and that it would have to be fixed to remain open. The Ambassador Hotel was officially condemned in 1998.

Ambassador Hotel postcard
A postcard featuring a colored photograph of the Ambassador Hotel, ca 1950s. The back reads, “Ambassador Hotel, Julia and Church Streets. Jacksonville, Florida. Fireproof—Air conditioned—large airy rooms reasonably priced—A friendly hotel.” Color photography by John D. Freeman. Abandoned Atlas Archives
Future Plans

Since then, many people have been interested in renovating the dilapidated hotel, but as of yet, none of the plans have gone through. In 2005, renovations were halted at the hotel along with the nearby Duval County Courthouse. In 2009, Lamonte Carter, director of Oasis Venture Group, had plans to convert the hotel rooms into 50 apartment units but nothing has come of it.

In July 2018, St. Augustine-based development group, Axis Hotels, LLC. acquired the property for $5.4 million which includes the Ambassador building, the adjacent building, and 1.5 acres located in the same block. Axis plans to renovate the old apartment building into a four or five-star, 100-room boutique hotel with a rooftop bar. 404 North Julia Street located next door will be demolished to make way for a new building which will include 200 apartments and 15,000 square feet of retail space.

You can read about the Ambassador Hotel and many other abandoned places in my books, Abandoned Jacksonville: Remnants of the River City and Abandoned Jacksonville: Ruins of the First Coast.

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David Bulit is a photographer, author, and historian from Miami, Florida. He has published a number of books on abandoned and forgotten locales throughout the United States and continues to advocate for preserving these historic landmarks. His work has been featured throughout the world in news outlets such as the Miami New Times, the Florida Times-Union, the Orlando Sentinel, NPR, Yahoo News, MSN, the Daily Mail, UK Sun, and many others. You can find more of his work at davidbulit.com as well as amazon.com/author/davidbulit.

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