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Jackson Rooming House | Photo © 2019 Bullet, www.abandonedfl.com

Jackson Rooming House

Location Class:
Built: 1901 | Abandoned: 1989
Historic Designation: National Register of Historic Places (March 7, 2007) African American Heritage Site
Status: AbandonedUnder Renovation
Photojournalist: David Bulit

Jackson Rooming House | Photo © 2019 Bullet, www.abandonedfl.com
The building has a large number of supports to prevent it from collapsing

The Jackson Rooming House located in Tampa began as a six-room cottage built by Moses and Sarah Jackson in 1901. Due to its close proximity to Tampa Union Station, additional bedrooms and a second floor were added to be operated as a boarding house for African-Americans and other travelers of African descent during the era of racial segregation. It was also one of the only places in Tampa where black travelers could find lodging, as they were not accepted in standard hotels of the day. For example, black travelers who found themselves at the Union Depot Hotel and Cafe, located directly across from Union Station, were made aware that the hotel was a “whites only” establishment, and was directed to the Jackson Rooming House.

During its time the Jackson Rooming House played host to several prominent entertainers, including Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, James Brown, Ella Fitzgerald, and Ray Charles. Acts such as these would come to play in the nightclubs of Tampa’s black business district, which thrived nearby along Central Avenue until the 1960s. Even Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made a brief stop at the boarding house during his visit to Tampa in 1961.

During the urban renewal of the 1960s and 1970s, most of the neighborhood surrounding the house was razed. When the house was added to the National Register of Historic Places on March 7, 2007, the Jackson Rooming House was believed to be the last free-standing residential dwelling in downtown Tampa.

1915 sanborn tampa
1915 Sanborn Insurance Map for Tampa, Florida. Library of Congress

The boarding house closed down in 1989 and since then, it has deteriorated to the point that it suffered from a dilapidated roof and disintegrating interior. Willie Robinson Jr., grandson of Moses and Sarah Jackson currently owns the building and has done his best to maintain the property, by 2010, code violations on the building began to add up. Before the house could be condemned, Robinson formed a 501(c) nonprofit organization that would work to save the property and manage its restoration.

Since then, its restoration has proven easier said than done. Several would-be collaborators on the project have backed away from it, most notably local DJ Bubba the Love Sponge who initially planned to purchase the building and begin restoration of the house. In 2017, the Jackson House Foundation worked with an engineering firm to stabilize the foundation. While the beams installed to shore the building have most likely saved it from collapsing, they have only slowed down the process. As time is running out, the foundation estimates it will need about $1.5 million to restore the building to its former glory, with the goal of turning it into a museum of African-American history.

In November 2019, Jeffrey Vinik, owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning donated $1 million towards the building’s restoration. In passing the state’s 2020-2021 budget, Governor Ron DeSantis vetoed about $1 billion in spending before signing a $92.2 billion budget. Among the cuts was $500,000 intended for the restoration for the Jackson Rooming House in Tampa.

Jackson Rooming House | Photo © 2019 Bullet, www.abandonedfl.com
The boarding house has been closed since 1989

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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