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Claude Nolan Cadillac Building | Photo © 2016 Bullet, www.abandonedfl.com

Claude Nolan Cadillac Building

Location Class:
Built: 1948 | Abandoned: ~2005
Status: Abandoned
Photojournalist: David Bulit

Claude Nolan Cadillac Building

The Claude Nolan Cadillac Building on Main Street was originally designed by Henry J. Klutho, famous in northeast Florida for his Prairie Style architectural designs. His others include Jacksonville’s Florida Baptist Convention Building, the Bisbee Building of the Laura Street Trio, and Palatka’s Hotel James. The showroom of the Claude Nolan Cadillac Building was designed as a glass box to showcase Nolan’s exquisite American automobiles, featuring large plate glass windows framed in concrete and brick, and a suspended marquee of galvanized iron and glass over the sidewalk providing cover for pedestrians viewing the auto displays without eliminating natural light.

Claude Nolan

Claude Nolan founded Jacksonville’s first Cadillac dealership in 1907 and was considered one of the city’s greatest innovators. When he opened the Cadillac Motor Car dealership in 1907 in Jacksonville, it was the city’s first automobile dealership, and the first Cadillac dealership located in the South. He is also credited with originating the idea of selling automobiles in installments, a practice that has since been adopted by the entire automotive industry. In 1910, he became the first native Floridian to fly over the state in an airplane. He also organized a race at the Jacksonville Fairgrounds between a Cadillac and a biplane where the Cadillac won.

Around the early-1920s, Nolan organized the Nolan-Peeler Motor Company with his nephew Stanley Peeler which operated multiple plants in Miami.

Claude Nolan
Undated photograph of the Claude Nolan Cadillac building in Jacksonville

The first automobile drove from Miami to Key West in 1928, fifty-four of which were driven on the Florida East Coast Railway Trestle, before the completion of the overseas highway. This somewhat historic ride was in a LaSalle roadster driven by Gus Mann with Cluade Nolan as a passenger. That same year, he conversed on the telephone with Berlin, Germany, becoming the first Floridian to talk directly with Europe. Along the way, Mr. Nolan acquired Pontiac franchises in Miami and Jacksonville and operated a number of automotive trade businesses in Florida and Georgia dealing in Steward Warner, Alemite, Duco, Philco, and other products.

He never married, but he looked after his sister, Lila Nolan Peterson, and her daughter Claudia after the death of Lila’s husband. In time, Claudia married Connor Brown who joined the family business in 1938. In 1943, Claude Nolan died at St. Lukes’s Hospital in Jacksonville after a long illness at the age of 52.

Claude Nolan
Claude Nolan. 1932. The Miami Herald
Claude Nolan
Nicholas Dreystadt, president and general manager of the Cadillac Motor Company, is seen here shaking hands with Claude Nolan. 1936. The Miami News

Connor-Brown Cadillac

Nolan’s family continued to operate the Claude Nolan Cadillac dealership after his passing, while Brown took over as distributor. By the end of World War II, Brown had expanded his business, establishing Connor Brown Cadillac in Fort Lauderdale and building a branch of Nolan-Brown Motors on Bay Harbour Island in Miami Beach. However, he did relinquish the Trail Pontiac franchise in Miami.

Unfortunately, in 1948, the historic Claude Nolan Cadillac building underwent significant alterations. An architect named W. A. Moore Jr. removed the original Henry Klutho windows, covered the delicate brick and concrete details with stucco, and removed the cornice and glass canopy. The original façade was also covered over with concrete and Art Deco marble paneling, making it unrecognizable.

In 1965, Connor Brown was the largest Cadillac distributor in the Florida territory. However, that same year, Cadillac terminated all of its distributor agreements, leaving Brown as the only Cadillac dealer in Jacksonville, Miami, Miami Beach, and Fort Lauderdale. To assist with the business, Jack Helmick, a graduate of Auburn University and the University of Florida College of Law, joined Claude Nolan Cadillac in 1965.

Helmick played a crucial role in the company’s future. He later acquired the Claude Nolan franchise location in Jacksonville and started Claude Nolan Cadillac Inc. During the 1960s and 1970s, the company underwent many changes. Brown and George Williamson opened George Williamson Cadillac in South Miami. Williamson later bought out Brown’s interest in the dealership.

Claude Nolan Inc. relinquished its Pontiac franchise in Jacksonville in order to concentrate on the growing Cadillac market and dealerships in Miami and Miami Beach were sold. The Cadillac dealership at 2044 Biscayne Boulevard in Miami, Cadillac’s largest dealership, remained in the hands of Claude Nolan Inc. and operated as Nolan-Peeler Motors well into the 1990s.

When Connor Brown died in 1976, his wife Claudia Nolan Brown took over operations of Connor Brown Cadillac until 1979 when she sold the company. As president of Claude Nolan Cadillac Inc., Helmick has continued the tradition of growth established by his predecessors. In the Fall of 1985, the dealership relocated to its new facility on Southside Boulevard. Today, the former Cadillac building stands as one of many post-World War II, pseudo-modern monstrosities. Although the drastic remodel completely obscured the original facade, there still remain two skylighted garages behind the building that Klutho also designed for Claude Nolan.

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Connor Brown. 1963. The Miami News

Future of the Claude Nolan Cadillac Bldg. in Jacksonville

The E. H. Thompson Company, a food service distribution company, moved into the former Cadillac building shortly after Connor Brown Cadillac moved to South Boulevard. In 2014, the three buildings that make up the Claude Nolan complex were designated landmarks by Jacksonville’s Historic Preservation Commission.

Pollutants from an 1880s gas plant and junkyard, located on the property of the former Pak View Inn, have contaminated the soil around the former Claude Nolan Cadillac complex, as well as Confederate Park. The cleanup of the properties would have the City of Jacksonville adding a protective underground wall and demolishing the buildings constructed in the polluted area. Since the city declared the two larger buildings historic landmarks, the only building to be razed will be the one-story maintenance building.

The underground wall would extend down 40 feet, and the soil inside would be carted away or mixed with a cement-like material to keep the pollutants where they are. The full cost of the cleanup is expected to cost $17 million. A local developer announced plans to convert the abandoned Claude Nolan Cadillac building into loft condominiums several years ago. However, that plan never materialized

You can read about the Claude Nolan Cadillac Building and many other abandoned places in my books, Abandoned Jacksonville: Remnants of the River City and Abandoned Jacksonville: Ruins of the First Coast. They are also available at Amazon and your local bookstores.

1949 sanborn claude
1949 Sanborn Insurance Map for Jacksonville, Florida. Library of Congress

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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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