Photo: A street scene from the late 1920s with the Marble Bank and Bisbee Building just in frame on the left.
The Laura Street Trio is a group of three historic buildings; the Florida Life Building, the Bisbee Building, and the Old Florida National Bank, more commonly known as the Marble Bank.
The Marble Bank, the oldest of the three, sits on the corners of Forsyth and Laura Streets. Designed by Edward H. Glidden, it was built in 1902 as the Mercantile Exchange Bank soon after the Great Fire of 1901. In 1905, it was bought by the newly organized Florida Bank & Trust, predecessors to the Florida National Bank. The bank underwent a massive renovation, expanding the building to it’s current size and sheathing the entire facade in marble.
In 1916, the interior of the bank was gutted and redesigned, adding a large banking room with a skylight, classical plaster detailing, and a coffered ceiling. During the 1950s, dropped ceilings were added that covered the skylight and detail work. In 1978, the Jacksonville National Bank, the owners of the building at the time, commissioned architect Robert Broward to lead the restoration of the interior; the removal of the dropped ceilings, revealing the skylight and the plaster detailing. Unfortunately, the bank was sold in the 1990s and it’s owners allowed it to deteriorate to the state it’s in today.
Photo(Nomeus, 2010 – Flurbex.com): This room was the result of the 1916 renovation.
The Bisbee Building was constructed in between 1908-1909, adjacent to the Marble Bank on Forsyth Street. Known as the South’s first reinforced-concrete high rise office building, 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.
The building was originally constructed to be a narrow skyscraper, only twenty-six feet wide and ten stories high. The novelty of being Jacksonville’s first skyscrapers made the office space highly sought after, being completely rented out before construction even finished. William A. Bisbee, the owner, directed Klutho to double the size of the building, leading to the removal of the east wall and adding an identical vertical section.
Photo(Nomeus, 2010 – Flurbex.com): All three buildings are in terrible condition, the Florida Life Building being the worst, having no windows and holes in the concrete.
The Florida Life Building, built facing Laura Street, was also designed by Klutho. Constructed in 1911-1912, it was built around the same time Klutho’s St. James Building was constructed, now Jacksonville City Hall. Standing at 11 stories high, it was Florida’s tallest building when it was built, though that feat would be surpassed by the Heard National Bank Building just a year later.
Constructed for the Florida Life Insurance Company, the firm folded in 1915, and the building changed owners a number of times throughout the years. In 1994, a piece of copper flashing fell to the sidewalk during some heavy wind. Without any consideration, it’s then owners, Nations Bank, removed the terra cotta Sullivanesque capitals from the eleventh floor, doing structural damage in the process.
In 2002, the City of Jacksonville purchased all three buildings to transfer them to a developer who can save them. A number of developers have stepped forward with plans to restore the buildings but they remain in a such a sad state to this day.
Photo(Nomeus, 2010 – Flurbex.com): The original bank vaults inside the Marble Bank.