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.
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.
The Florida Life Building, built facing Laura Street, was also designed by Klutho. Constructed in 1911, 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, the owners at the time being Nations Bank, removed the terra cotta Sullivanesque capitals from the eleventh floor, doing structural damage in the process.
In the 2000s the Laura Street Trio were recognized as some of Jacksonville’s most significant – and endangered – historic buildings. In 2002, under Mayor John Delaney, the City of Jacksonville purchased all three buildings to transfer them to a developer who could restore them. Orlando developer Cameron Kuhn purchased the Laura Street Trio, as well as the nearby Barnett National Bank Building, but went bankrupt in the 2008 housing market crash before restoring them. The project subsequently sat idle.
The buildings were purchased by Southeast Development Group, commercial real estate firm based in Jacksonville. Through a joint venture partnership with the Molasky Group, they plan on revitalizing the Laura Street Trio and Barnett National Bank Building.
Renovations on the Barnett National Bank Building are estimated to take 16 months from the start, the Barnett will total 157,000 square feet including a national retail bank on the ground floor and mezzanine. Floors three through seven will have 40,000 square feet of commercial office space and higher education. Floors eight through 18 will have over 100 loft and one-bedroom apartments, including luxury units on the top floor with majestic views of the St. Johns River.
Estimated to take 22 months to complete, the Marble Bank will house the upscale Bullbriar restaurant, owned by acclaimed chef Scott Schwartz of 29 South in Fernandina Beach. A 145-room Courtyard Marriott boutique hotel will occupy most of the Florida Life and Bisbee towers, and the three buildings will be joined by a common core elevator/stair system. The ground floor of the Bisbee will feature a much-needed downtown bodega-style grocery called Cucina Urban Pantry. The Laura Street Trio contains 90,000 square feet, plus nearly 50,000 square feet of new construction facing the corner of Adams and Laura Streets. An amazing rooftop bar and café, green space, patios, and a motor court to drop off hotel and restaurant guests on Adams Street will highlight the new construction.
Concurrent to the revitalization of the buildings, a parking garage will be constructed to serve both commercial tenants and residents of the buildings, as well as the public-at-large. The garage, located across the street on what is now a city parking lot, the new garage will include 550 spaces and 5,400 square feet of retail, with completion expected 12 months from start.