Rock and roll will be here to stay when the Jacksonville Historical Society completes renovation of the building that formerly housed the Florida Casket Co. – and so will lots more local music history.
And an exhibit of the song writers, singers and more who made Jacksonville’s music is just part of what will be added when the 103-year-old brick building becomes a new history center on Palmetto Street.
Built in 1920 next to what began in 1878 as St. Luke’s Hospital, the future Jacksonville History Center received its unofficial groundbreaking Thursday. Along with expanded space for archives and events, part of the first floor will focus on the memories and memorabilia of people who lived through the birth of the blues, Southern rock and more.
“Not just rock, not just blues, not just jazz, not just classical — you name it, not just those things,” Historical Society CEO Alan Bliss said. “This city, like almost any city, has an amazing musical history. It is complicated, it’s diverse, and it never fails to surprise people to discover how many stories there are wrapped up in music. And it’s musical composers, it is performing artists, it’s road managers, it’s tour operators and concert promoters, it’s record store operators.”
The 13,500-square-foot building, near VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, was built in 1920 when the casket company needed to expand and moved there from Myrtle Street. It shares a parking lot with the former St. Luke’s Hospital building, originally built in 1878 and now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The casket factory’s first floor was where the coffins were made, before they were finished on the second floor with “luxury fabrics and hardware,” Bliss said.
“They stored them on the third floor awaiting shipment to morticians and funeral directors all over the American Southeast,” Bliss said. “They did that until 1966. The building has been used for a variety of storage uses ever since then, and to walk into it now, it’s really like walking into sort of a time machine. It exudes the authenticity of the moment in 1920.”
The renovation is needed to expand the society’s historical archives, moved years ago to the former hospital next door. But there are so many artifacts, including 100,000 historic photos of Jacksonville, that extra storage space is being rented, Bliss said. So the second floor of the casket factory will be used to securely process, archive, digitize and catalogue the images for access by researchers anywhere. An event space is planned for the top floor.
Renovation will be completed in three phases, with the first part including construction of additions on the east and west sides, plus a catering kitchen, bathrooms and an elevator. That $1.6 million phase should be done by spring.
The second phase, at $1.5 million, will see restoration and construction on each floor. The third and final phase will bring themed exhibits to the first two floors of the museum. A principal exhibit, the history of Jacksonville’s music, should be done by 2025, Bliss said.
“The beat goes on, if you will forgive me, but these are stories that we have been working hard at collecting over the past 2½, three years now,” Bliss said. “We have an oral history collection of interviews that now exceeds 100. We have been gathering artifacts, illustrations, posters, memorabilia and documents, and all of it will help strengthen this exhibit.”
The society has owned the casket factory since 2012.
The society has held sneak previews of some of the music history at pop-up exhibits at The Beaches Museum and now Jacksonville’s Museum of Science & History.