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Independent Life Building | Photo © 2019 Bullet, www.abandonedfl.com

Independent Life Building

Location Class:
Built: 1955 | Abandoned: 1999
Status: Abandoned
Photojournalist: David Bulit

Independent Life Insurance Company

The Independent Life and Accidental Insurance Company was founded in 1920 by seven businessmen; George Cook Coburn, Jacob Franklin Bryan II, James Henry Gooding, Claybourne Garland Snead, John Samuel Young, James Arthur Howard, and Harry Hill Lyon. The company’s home office was located at 420 Main Street in downtown Jacksonville. Independent Life succeeded in its early years by offering modest death benefits of $75, allowing people with no insurance at all and a small budget to afford life insurance.

After the end of the first year, active insurance premiums amounted to $708,000. By this time, the company had three girls working in the office and fourteen agents in the field. In need of more office space, the Independent Life Insurance Company moved its home office into the Mutual Life Building on the corner of Main and Forsyth Streets.

By 1932, Independent Life had $3,853,000 in active insurance premiums despite it being the early years of the Great Depression. The company continued to grow throughout the Great Depression. In 1934, Independent Life moved its home office to the Rogers Building which it quickly outgrew. By 1938, the company had moved its offices into the former Board of Trade Building, the first fully air-conditioned office building in Jacksonville.

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Postcard depicting the Board of Trade Building in downtown Jacksonville. 1910

In 1945, the Independent Life Insurance Company bought the West Building at the corner of Bay and Laura Streets for a home office for $125,000. The five-story building was fully refurbished with the addition of a new air conditioning system. Within just a few years though, the company had outgrown its current office and it became obvious that a new building would have to be built to meet the company’s future needs.

The important assignment of planning and designing such a building was turned over to a committee of three of the founders’ sons; Jacob Franklin Bryan III as chairman, Charles Arthur Snead, and Harry Hill Lyon Jr. The committee selected a site on the east side of Julia Street between Duval and Church Streets, across from the former Ambassador Hotel. While the board of directors had in mind a six-story building, the building committee recommended a ten-story building. After many meetings with the architect and the board, a 19-story tower was agreed upon.

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Postcard depicting stores and building along Bay from Laura Streets. The West Building can be seen on the right side which became the home office in 1945 of the Independent Life Insurance Company. 1905

Independent Life Building

Standing at 19 stories and 260 feet tall, the 262,000 square-foot building was completed in 1955 as the headquarters for the Independent Life and Accidental Insurance Building. The early-modernist, concrete-reinforced structure was designed by KBJ Architects, who also designed many other high-rises in Jacksonville such as the BB&T Bank Building and the Everbank Center. Granite, marble, and limestone were used extensively for the building’s interior and also featured street-level retail along Julia Street and a sky lounge on the top floor.

In 1975, Independent Life relocated its headquarters to the newly completed Independent Square. Independent Square is known today as the Wells Fargo Center, designed by KBJ Architects and Jacksonville’s second-tallest building.

View looking at the construction of the Independent Life and Accident Insurance Company home office building. State Library and Archives of Florida
JEA Tower

The Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA) acquired the building in 1976 and relocated its operations there, which is why the building is occasionally referred to as the old “JEA Tower.” During the late 1980s, JEA purchased the Universal Marion Building. By 1990, they had relocated most of their offices from the old Independent Life building, officially abandoning the building in March 1999.

There has been a bit of interest in purchasing it throughout the years, but the work needed to renovate such a large structure has been a factor as to why it’s still empty. One proposal involved constructing a 13-story addition on the east building of the tower, as well as a parking garage.

In October 2019, St. Augustine-based Augustine Development Group bought the former JEA tower intending to develop 140 apartments on the second through 18th floors, a grocery store on the 21,000-square-foot ground floor and basement, and a rooftop terrace with a pool, lounge, and a high-end sushi and seafood restaurant on the top floor. Construction was set to begin in early 2020 but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed construction.

In my books, Abandoned Jacksonville: Remnants of the River City and Abandoned Jacksonville: Ruins of the First Coast, you can read about the old Independent Life Building and many other abandoned places.

JEA Tower
A colored postcard featuring the Independent Life Building in Jacksonville, Fla. The back reads, “Home Office of the Independent Life & Accident Insurance Company — the largest company in the nation writing weekly premium insurance only.” Postmarked September 9, 1957. Abandoned Atlas Archives

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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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