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W. P. Sumner Company | Photo © 2019 Bullet, www.abandonedfl.com

W. P. Sumner Company

Location Class:
Built: ~1903 | Abandoned: 2012
Status: Abandoned
Photojournalist: David Bulit

W. P. Sumner Company

Once part of Jacksonville’s Ward Street red-light district, this brick structure was constructed in 1910 for the W. P. Sumner Company. The company was first founded in 1887 by William and Alberta Sumner as a grocery store mainly dealing with butter and cheese. When William died in 1900, their son Charles took over the business. On May 3, 1903, Sumner’s business was destroyed along with over 2,360 buildings during the Great Fire of 1901.

The W. P. Sumner Company reopened on Laura Street where it quickly grew leading to the need for a larger facility. This is when the four-story brick building on Ward Street would be constructed. Sumner operated a six-ton ice plant on the first floor, the second floor was used for cold storage, and the third and fourth floors were used for dry storage. While the manufacturing operations were located in the four-story structure, the business’ retail was done through the connected single-story building. Charles Sumner died in 1915 and the business ceased operations as well.

W. P. Sumner Company | Photo © 2019 Bullet, www.abandonedfl.com
Inside the former W. P. Sumner Company building in Jacksonville, Fla.

Jefferson Richard Berrier

A number of small businesses would occupy the buildings until 1920 when it would be occupied by the J. R Berrier Ice Cream Company. By this time, Ward Street had been renamed Houston Street, and what was the city’s red-light district was now filled with retail stores and wholesale businesses.

Jefferson Richard Berrier had a sketchy history, both as a businessman and as a person. He operated his ice cream company until 1929 when he sold the business to Foremost Dairies. He went back into the ice cream business in the late-1930s, operating a company in Jacksonville and another in Richmond, Virginia. While setting up the company in Virginia, Berrier’s brother was accidentally electrocuted when testing the switchboard which was being installed, killing him. Berrier refused to pay out his late brother’s workmen’s compensation to his wife.

In the early-1950s, with nearly one hundred accounts, Berrier decided the ice cream business wasn’t profitable anymore and stopped delivering to those accounts. This resulted in the loss of all but only a handful of accounts that were willing to pick up their goods from the plant. When questioned by the Federal Trade Commission, he claimed his business had declined due to competition from larger companies such as Velda Farms, Foremost, and the now-defunct Borden. He later recanted his statement and simply explained he was out of town too much to properly take care of his business.

Even though he was no longer in the ice cream business, Berrier continued to operate soda fountains in various locations in Jacksonville. In 1961, his business was picketed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) due to his refusal to hire any African American girls as waitresses. The picketing ended when a judge declared the picketing unlawful as it was accompanied by threats and intimidation of customers.

Later Tenants

Back in 1924, Berrier moved out of the Houston Street building and Gray-VonAllmen Sanitary Milk Company moved in. The building was once again vacated during the Great Depression and sat empty until the Cunningham Furniture Company began using it for shipping its products. Cunningham Furniture Company was once one of the largest home furnishing businesses in the Southeast and Florida’s oldest furniture company. In 1936, Galinsky Plumbing would be the building’s next tenant, using it to store supplies and plumbing fixtures, and would operate out of there until the business’ closure in 1983.

The 1980s saw a number of restaurants come and go until 1992 when JoAnn’s Chili Bordello opened. JoAnn’s Chili Bordello was a small restaurant chain founded by Leonard Doctors and JoAnn Perschel. The restaurant was kinda like Hooters, except instead of being a sports bar, it was made to look like an old-fashioned bordello with red velvet, crystal chandeliers, waitresses dressed up in French Corsets and garter belts, and the motto “seventeen varieties of chili served in an atmosphere of sin.”

With a history like this along with the area’s former history of being a red-light district, it’s not surprising how this building is commonly thought of to have been an actual bordello in the past. In that regard, it’s interesting to note that the original location on Atlantic Boulevard was a strip club, before and after the restaurant’s establishment.

JoAnn’s Chili Bordello operated until 2000 when it would be occupied by a couple of bars such as the Sinclair and the Voodoo Lounge. Although there were plans to turn the former W. P. Sumner Company building into yet another bar, the building has sat empty since 2012.

You can read about the W.P. Sumner Company and many other abandoned places in my books, Abandoned Jacksonville: Remnants of the River City and Abandoned Jacksonville: Ruins of the First Coast.

13394 cover
The cover of the menu at JoAnn’s Chili Bordello which operated in the former W. P. Sumner Company building on Houston Street.

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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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