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Jacksonville Jewish Center | Photo © 2019 Bullet, www.abandonedfl.com

Jacksonville Jewish Center

Location Class:
Built: 1927 | Abandoned: 2005
Historic Designation: National Register of Historic Places (April 2, 2021)
Status: Abandoned
Photojournalist: David Bulit

Judaism in Jacksonville

Located near the Horace Drew Mansion in Springfield lies the old Jacksonville Jewish Center, later known as the Jacksonville Job Corps Center. Its history dates back to 1901 when five orthodox Jewish families got together to form the Hebrew Orthodox Congregation B’nai Israel on December 6, 1901. With just 40 members at its start, the membership of the congregation had grown to 75 members by 1907. The congregation purchased the lot at the corner of Jefferson and Duval Street in the LaVilla neighborhood for $25,000 and erected a synagogue in its place.

With a growing membership, the congregation hired a rabbi ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 1926, who introduced Conservative Judaism and the synagogue-center concept as a means of strengthening and perpetuating Judaism in the community. In 1927, a down payment was placed on a larger site in Springfield and Congregation B’nai Isreal changed its name to the Jacksonville Jewish Center.

Over the next 35 years, the Jacksonville Jewish Center expanded its facility to meet the needs of its growing congregation. By 1959, the facility included a two-story sanctuary and chapel, a school, a library, a gymnasium, a meeting room, and office space. In November 1963, The Jacksonville Jewish Center acquired a property in Mandarin. The following summer, the synagogue’s day camp moved to the new facilities which included a recreational park with an Olympic-sized swimming pool and playing fields. The facility is still in use today.

Jacksonville Jewish Center
The exterior of the Jacksonville Job Corps Center, formerly the Jacksonville Jewish Center. 2019

Jacksonville Job Corps Center

Three years after the Jewish Center relocated to Mandarin, the Labor Department bought the property for $400,000 and opened it in 1979 as the Jacksonville Job Corps Center to train and educate high school dropouts. The Corps operated at this site for 26 years before moving to a new location in 2005. The property was bought in 2006 with plans to turn it into luxury housing, but the recession put a halt to any plans.

On April 25, 2011, a fire broke out in the main sanctuary prompting officials to demolish the building. Neighbors believed that it was the homeless who were using the building for shelter that started the fire. Two buildings remain on the property which includes a dormitory building and the gymnasium/auditorium. The cornerstone of the building was saved and moved to Klutho Park on the other side of Third Street. The historic center was nominated for the National Register of Historic Places in 2010 and added to the list on April 2, 2021.

In 2015, the property was bought once again by a developer with plans to build a mixed-use apartment complex on the site. The plans called for demolishing a vacant dentist’s office next door and restoring the facades of the two historic buildings left on the property. The gymnasium building would be converted into 34 residential units with commercial space on the ground floor facing towards Klutho Park. The dormitory would have been converted into 16 apartment units. Those plans never materialized and the property remains vacant.

You can read about the former Jacksonville Jewish Center 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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