Florida Life Building
Built in 1912 by Henry John Klutho.
Robert Broward, the author of the publication, The Architecture of Henry John Klutho, (1983), stated that the Florida Life Building was the, “most beautiful high-rise building in Jacksonville after more than 70 years”. Although recognizing its Chicago School influences, Broward’s comment was directed more to the abstract Prairie School embellishments that characterize much of the building, especially the magnificent terra cotta capitals, and the elaborately decorated framed entryway. According to Broward, these design elements, also seen in the St. James Building completed in the same year, clearly placed the Florida Life Building in the Prairie School. As with the St. James Building, Klutho was able to skillfully blend design elements used in the landmark works of Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright to create his own unique designs that in the case of the Florida Life Building was successfully applied to high-rise construction.
Before the tragic removal of the overhanging cornice and ornate terra cotta capitals, the Florida Life Building has been referred in contemporary publications on Jacksonville’s architectural heritage as not only the best example of a skyscraper in the city, but also the most beautiful high-rise building in Jacksonville. Because of the strong sense of verticality that Klutho was able to achieve in the well proportion design of the Florida Life Building, in the publication, Jacksonville’s Architectural Heritage, Landmarks for the Future (1989), the author, Wayne W. Wood, described the building as being “Jacksonville’s purest statement of a “skyscraper”. Wood went on to state that the Florida Life Building more than achieved the definition of a skyscraper as defined by Louis Sullivan, the generally recognized father of the skyscraper. The publication went on to quote Sullivan who stated, “It must be tall, every inch of it tall. The force and power of altitude must be in it. It must be every inch a proud and soaring thing, rising in sheer exaltation that from bottom to top it is a unit without a dissenting line.”
Designed by noted Jacksonville architect, Henry John Klutho, the Florida Life Building shares many design elements characteristic of Chicago Style high-rise construction developed during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The west or primary elevation of this reinforced concrete building was richly detailed with Klutho’s uniquely designed Prairie School architectural embellishments in polychromatic terra cotta and copper. Because of its narrow one bay width, the eleven-story building has a strong vertical presence that is reinforced by soaring pilasters that originally terminated with decorative terra cotta capitals under a broad overhanging cornice. The Florida Life Building also shares the vertical divisions characteristic of Chicago Style buildings with their distinct base, building shaft, and capital. The elaborately decorated base of the first and second floors supports the building shaft composed of the third to the eleventh floors. The recessed windowsills, lintels and buff brick spandrels offset the strong vertical presence of the two wider outer pilasters and the two thin inner piers that create tripartite window openings on each floor horizontally. Contrary to most Chicago Style buildings, the Florida Life Building does not have any floors in the capital level. However, a similar affect was produced by terminating the outer pilasters with large decorative capitals placed under a wide overhanging cornice trimmed in copper.
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