Nineteenth-century ideas of the best educational environment included high ceilings, large classrooms and an abundance of light and fresh air. Victor Earl Mark and Leroy Sheftall, students of Henry J. Klutho, adhered to this theory in their design of the South Jacksonville Grammar School in 1916. Eventually, the building was put to administrative use by the Duval County School Board, which sold it in 2001 to siblings Barbara Cesery and Bill Cesery, renowned Jacksonville developers with a vision to create one of the city’s first examples of the live/work concept. The structure has been accepted for a listing on the National Register of Historic Places in recognition of its educational and architectural significance.
When The Lofts San Marco’s building first opened, the neighborhood surrounding it looked quite different than it does today. For one, it wasn’t known as San Marco. The building, located at 1450 Flagler Ave., began its lifespan in 1916 as the South Jacksonville Grammar School. It was designed by Mark & Sheftall Architects, a firm led by two students of Jax’s famous early-1900s architect Henry Klutho. As the name suggests, it served what was then known as South Jacksonville, a town formed in 1907 that spanned an area similar to today’s San Marco neighborhood. South Jacksonville was experiencing a surge of growth at the time the school was built, spurred by its position as a major transportation hub between downtown Jacksonville and everything south of the river. An amusement park even popped up along the Southbank.
By the early ‘30s, though, the idea of Jacksonville and South Jacksonville existing as separate cities had become increasingly impractical, and the two cities consolidated into one Jacksonville in 1932. South Jacksonville Grammar School, meanwhile, continued operating as a public school within the newly-combined city’s school system. In fact, it remained in use as a public elementary school until 1971. By this point, a unified Duval County School Board held responsibility for maintaining the city’s school system. The board transitioned the building into an administrative annex building, not far from its main offices on Prudential Ave. By the turn of the millennium, the school board no longer needed the space, and it was put up for sale.
The property was then purchased by San Marco-based developer Cesery Companies, who set about converting the former school building into 38 loft units. They also added new townhomes adjacent to the historic property, with attached garages, a fitness center, and a swimming pool. Upon relaunch, The Lofts San Marco was billed as the first “live/work/play” space of its kind in the neighborhood. In 2004, the old school building was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
Today, it continues to operate as a unique feature – and hidden gem – of the San Marco neighborhood, providing big-city-style live/work space just outside of downtown Jacksonville. And thanks to restorative efforts, its historic building has now surpassed 100 years of existence – and looks poised to continue thriving in its new use for years to come.