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Laura Street Trio | Photo © 2017 Bullet, www.abandonedfl.com

Laura Street Trio

Location Class:
Built: N/A | Abandoned: N/A
Status: Abandoned
Photojournalist: David Bulit

Marble Bank

The Laura Street Trio is a group of three historic buildings located at the corner of Forsyth and Laura Streets in downtown Jacksonville. The Trio consists of two skyscrapers, the Florida Life Building and the Bisbee Building, and the Old Florida National Bank, more commonly known as the Marble Bank.

The oldest of the three, the Marble Bank was constructed in 1902 as the Mercantile Exchange Bank. It was designed by Baltimore-based architect Edward Hughes Glidden in a Neoclassical Revival style, accented with large windows and marble columns flanking the main entrance.

Born on April 15, 1863, Glidden’s family founded the Glidden Varnish Company in Cleveland, Ohio. Despite his father’s desire for him to continue in the family business of manufacturing varnish, Glidden studied architecture in Cleveland and, from 1908 to 1912, at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. In 1899, he designed the first building credited to his name, the Mount Royal Apartments in Baltimore. In the December 14, 1901 issue of The Engineering Record, it was announced that “E. H. Glidden is stated to be preparing plans for a building for the Mercantile Exchange Bank, to be erected on Forsyth and Laura Sts.” Although he had already been elected an associate member of the Maryland branch of the American Institute of Architects by this time, his only credited work was the Mount Royal Apartments making the Mercantile Exchange Bank one of his earliest works.

Mercantile Exchange bank
Postcard depicting the Mercantile Exchange Bank, ca.1902

The Mercantile Exchange Bank did not last long and by 1905, the building had been bought by the newly organized Florida Bank & Trust, predecessors to the Florida National Bank. The new banking firm expanded the building to its present size but retained the Neo-Classical Revival style. The entire exterior is sheathed in marble, including six massive columns also made of marble that flank the front entrance.

The building underwent another renovation in 1916. The interior completely was gutted and redesigned by New York-based architectural firm Mowbray & Uffinger. Known for bank buildings and as vault engineers, they designed over 400 banks in the pre-World War II era throughout the country. The grand banking lobby was created, complete with a spectacular skylight, coffered ceiling, and classical plaster detailing. During the 1950s, two dropped ceilings were added that covered the skylight and ornamental plasterwork.

1949 laura street trio sanborn
1949 Sanborn Insurance Map of Jacksonville, Florida. Library of Congress

Company Acquisition

In the 1940s, Florida National Bank soon outgrew the bank building and began expanding operations to the adjacent Bisbee Building. By the 1960s, they had completely vacated the building and it was soon occupied by the Jacksonville National Bank. In 1978, the new owners commissioned architect Robert Broward to restore the interior, which included removing the dropped ceilings, and revealing the skylight and the plaster detailing. The firm’s operations would soon expand into the other two buildings of the Trio. In the 1980s, Jacksonville National Bank merged with NationsBank which acquired BankAmerica in 1998, creating Bank of America. A few years before the acquisition though, Nations Bank sold off the Laura Street Trio. The buildings have sat vacant since the mid-1990s.

1909 Laura Street Trio, Marble Bank postcard
1909 postcard depicting the Florida National Bank building and the National Bank of Jacksonville behind it. It reads, “Forsyth Str. Post Office and Banks, Jacksonville, Fla.” Abandoned Atlas Archives
1925 Laura Street Trio, Marble Bank interior postcard
1925 postcard depicting the interior of the First National Bank, better known today as the Marble Bank. Abandoned Atlas Archives

Photo Gallery

Bisbee Building

Bisbee Building Old L

The second of the three buildings to be built, the Bisbee Building was constructed between 1908 and 1909, adjacent to the Marble Bank. The 10-story tower was designed by prominent Jacksonville architect Henry J. Klutho in a Chicago School-influenced Prairie Style. Construction began in 1908, the building was originally designed to be only 26 feet wide, about half its present width. The novelty of being one of Jacksonville’s first skyscrapers made the office space highly sought after, being completely rented out before construction even finished.

Building owner William A. Bisbee asked Klutho to design a duplicate section to double the future building’s capacity. The Bisbee was constructed amid a three-way race with the Atlantic National Bank Building and the Seminole Hotel to become Jacksonville’s first skyscraper. The Bisbee won the race but the Atlantic National Bank Building was slightly taller, making it Florida’s tallest building at the time.

Completed in 1909, the Bisbee Building was known as the first reinforced-concrete high-rise office building in the South it was designed by prominent Jacksonville architect Henry J. Klutho in a Chicago-influenced Prairie Style, making the building of great importance in introducing the modern architecture of the Midwest to Jacksonville.

While the building housed various tenants over the years, by the 1940s, Florida National Bank was the building’s main tenant as they outgrew their space in the Marble Bank. In 1961, a new headquarters building for Florida National Bank opened at 214 North Hogan Street at what is now known as the Edward Ball Building. The bank vacated the Bisbee Building but was soon replaced by Jacksonville National Bank’s expanding operations. Like the Marble Bank, the Bisbee Building came under the ownership of NationsBank as a result of mergers and acquisitions. It was sold, along with the other two buildings, to German investor Angela Schneider in 1999. The city of Jacksonville purchased the Trio in 2002 and is now owned by SouthEast Group, which plans to restore it for use as office space as well as a ground-floor bodega.

Bisbee Building
Postcard for the “New Bisbee Building, Jacksonville, Fla.,” postmarked May 6, 1912. Abandoned Atlas Archives

Photo Gallery

Florida Life Building

The Florida Life Building was constructed in 1912 as the headquarters for the Florida Life Insurance Company. The structure was yet another of Klutho’s designs. Standing at eleven stories tall, it briefly held the title of the tallest building in Florida before being superseded less than a year later by the Heard National Bank Building.

In 1914, a penthouse was added and the rooftop was landscaped with grass and shrubbery. This was built as a residence for C. E. Clark, secretary of the Peninsula Casualty Company, which had its offices below and which was the sister company of the Florida Life Insurance Company. Although the building was built to house the Florida Life Insurance Company, the firm went bankrupt just three years later. Throughout the years, the building served as an office building for various tenants including both Florida National Bank and Jacksonville National Bank, although not concurrently.

Ownership fell into the hands of NationsBank just as the others did with the merger of Jacksonville National Bank. In 1994, a piece of copper flashing fell off the building and onto the sidewalk during a storm. Without any consideration of the structural damage it may cause, the terra cotta Sullivanesque capitals from the eleventh floor. As with the other two, the Florida Life Building was sold to Angela Schneider, who then sold the building to the city. It’s now owned by SouthEast Group, which plans to convert the Laura Street Trio into a Courtyard by Marriott hotel.

Florida Life Insurance Bldg
Florida Life Insurance Building postcard, published by the H & W. B Drew Co., postmarked April 23, 1913. Abandoned Atlas Archives

Photo Gallery

Future of the Laura Street Trio

In 1999, German investor Angela Schneider acquired the Laura Street Trio. Schneider spent the next few years attempting to resell the property but failed to find any buyer due to the conditions of the buildings and downtown economics. She then decided the property was worth more without the buildings and made the decision to demolish them. To save the buildings from being demolished, the city of Jacksonville agreed to purchase the property for $3.025 million in 2002.

In 2005, Orlando developer Cameron Kuhn purchased the Laura Street Trio as well as the nearby Barnett Bank Building. Kuhn had owned twenty properties in downtown Orlando along with other properties in Jacksonville, Tampa, Atlanta, and New Orleans. Due to the real estate market crash in 2007, however, his properties were being foreclosed upon and he filed for bankruptcy in 2010. Currently, the Laura Street Trio is owned by SouthEast Development Group which plans to convert the Marble Bank into an upscale restaurant, and the adjacent towers into apartments while also converting the bottom floor of the Bisbee Building into a bodega.

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

Laura Street Trio Marble Bank 2
1920s postcard depicting the First National Bank building along with the adjacent Bisbee and Florida Life Insurance buildings. Abandoned Atlas Archives
Laura Street Trio
1927 postcard depicting the Laura Street Trio—the Marble Bank, the Bisbee Building, and the Florida Life Insurance building. Abandoned Atlas Archives

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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