it was completed on October 21, 1912, the St. James Building was the
magnum opus of Jacksonville architecture and of the architect Henry
John Klutho. Prior to the 1901 Fire,
this site was occupied by the St. James Hotel, one of Jacksonville's
grandest hotels during the tourist boom of the 1870's and 1880's. After
the St. James Hotel's destruction by the Fire, the owners of the
rebuilt Windsor Hotel purchased the vacant lot to prevent another rival
hotel from being built there. Jacob and Morris Cohen, owners of
Cohen Brothers' store, purchased the lot in February, 1910, with the
stipulation that they could not construct a hotel on the site. In
March, 1910, the Cohens commissioned H. J. Klutho to design a
department store building for their new property. Unimpressed
with the owner's idea of a two-story retail building, Klutho submitted
three rather conventional two-story designs followed by a dramatic
four-story plan, which he convinced the Cohen brothers would soon
become the city's major office and shopping center. They accepted
Klutho's proposal of a four-story building covering the entire city
block, as well as his innovative concept of a mixed-use design: small
privately run shops were located on the ground-floor periphery; a
massive department store filled the center of the first story and all
of the second story; and two floors of rentable office space were
located above the store. It was the largest building in
Jacksonville and the ninth-largest department store in the U.S.
St. James Building was Klutho's Prairie School masterpiece, combining
design principles of Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan into his own
creation. It was featured in the June 1914 issue of The Western Architect, which was a largely devoted to Klutho's work.
St. James Building is richly decorated with terra-cotta Sullivanesque
ornamentation, abstractly depicting spiral seashell motifs and plant
likenesses native to this area. Klutho personally designed each of
these ornaments, requiring the Conkling-Armstrong Terra Cotta Company
of Philadelphia to send him all of the molds for his final approval
before they made each section. Moreover, Klutho served not only
as architect but construction manager as well, letting all contracts
and approving all bills and payrolls. By using the "fast track"
method of construction, the building was completed in less than
the interior of the St. James Building was a tour de force
by itself. A huge octagonal glass dome, seventy-five feet in
diameter and supported by eight colossal heroic statues, flooded the
two-story department store with sunlight. Ornate open-cage
elevators carried patrons from the lower level to the upper three
stories. Shortly before Jacob Cohen's death in May 1927, this
domed canopy was removed to create additional commercial space.
Klutho moved his office from the building in disgust, lamenting that "a
showplace was killed."
many bad remodelings, the St. James Building was beautifully
renovated to become Jacksonville's City Hall, completed in 1997. The
project included reconstruction of the octagonal glass skylight and
many of the lost architectural details on the facade. The St.
James is not only one of Jacksonville's most monumental works of art,
also one of the most beautiful city halls in America.