Fate of Historic LaVilla Buildings Still Uncertain Old Hospital, Nearby Structure May Be Moved

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Byline: Alliniece T. Andino, Times-Union staff writer

As the future of a national landmark in LaVilla remains uncertain, the fate of a neighboring structure hangs in the balance as well.

Jacksonville city officials are still waiting to hear if Old Brewster Hospital on West Monroe Street can be relocated and remain on the National Register of Historic Places. Historic buildings on the register receive better protection from destruction and qualify for tax exemptions and grants.

A review board may decide in November whether Brewster, the state's first hospital for blacks, will lose its landmark status if moved to be part of the LaVilla Experience, a historic park proposed by City Councilman Reggie Fullwood.

In the meantime, a building adjacent to Brewster, believed to have been Brewster's nursing school, could not be temporarily protected by the Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission. The city-owned structure met two criteria, but needed to match four criteria to qualify as a local landmark.

The buildings need to be removed from West Monroe Street because the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission says there are plans to develop the property into a medical and professional office complex.

However, the City Council last week approved a $40,000 grant for Tots 'N' Teens Theatre to establish an office and to help save Brewster's neighbor.

Sharon Coon, who runs the theater, said she wants the building to house the program, which now operates from her home. If the city pays to move the building near Genovar's Hall on Ashley Street, the anchor for the LaVilla Experience, Coon plans to raise funds to pay for the building's restoration.

The Florida Black Arts Trail that is being developed could provide a matching grant for the project, which would become an "art stop" where students can hear an oral history of LaVilla, tour the area where James Weldon Johnson was reared and create artwork of their own, she said.

Nearly all of the historic structures in LaVilla, which were deteriorating, were demolished as part of the city's redevelopment plan for the area, so residents have been inspired to save Old Brewster Hospital and its neighboring building.

Brewster is part of a city tour of black historic sites and the Black Heritage Trail of Florida. …