During the early 1960s, Robert H. Jacobs of S.S. Jacobs Company hired NYC-based architects, Ketchum & Sharp to design a $15 million mixed-use development straddling Church Street. At the time, Downtown Center's Universal Marion Building would become the tallest building on the Northbank and second tallest in the city.
The overall development would consist of four separate buildings bringing a mix of uses to downtown Jacksonville:
1. J.B. Ivey's & Company:
Opening in August 1962, this six-floor, 180,000-square-foot department store would serve as the retail anchor of Downtown Center. The seventh in the Charlotte-based chain, it was the first major department store to be constructed in a metropolitan United States downtown location in 30 years.
2. Universal-Marion Office Building:
Opening in August 1962 along with Ivey's for $12 million, this 19-story, 226'-tall office building, was the epicenter of the development, and included a rotating restaurant on the top floor. Universal-Marion occupied floors 11 and 12.
3. Park South Building:
Located across the street, this building opened on Nov. 13, 1960. It consisted of a six-level, 400-space parking garage with a Purcell's Women's Store at ground level.
4. Medical Building - Never Built
This five-story building would have sat at the corner of Main & Church Streets. Plans called for it to contain a 250-space underground parking garage, along with a drugstore and restaurant at street level. A "temporary" surface parking lot has been on this site for nearly 50 years.
On Top of the Universal Marion
Owned by Carl Holmquist, the 250-seat Ember's Restaurant opened on the 18th floor of the Universal Marion Building in 1964. Rotating 360 degrees every 1.5 hours, it was said to be the largest revolving restaurant in the world. Live Maine lobsters were flown in from Booth Bay, Maine every Friday to the restaurant, which stayed open until 12:30am daily. Business would decline as the city's suburban areas began to increase in popularity and replace downtown as the city's social center. By the early 1970s, the Ember's Restaurant would be no more. Today, this space has been converted into office use for the Jacksonville Electric Authority.
Ember Restaurant (above)
Article and images by Ennis Davis
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