The Park Lane Apartment Building is a riverfront fixture that’s much beloved in Riverside. But this laid-back building caused quite a stir in 1926. When the 16-story Park Lane Apartments was constructed, it seemed all out of scale with the neighborhood’s stately residences — although it isn’t atypical in this part of Riverside anymore. Park Lane still stands near Memorial Park and the Publix shopping center on Riverside Avenue. It now houses condominiums.
No doubt Park Lane proved novel during its early days. It featured “setback construction,” a first for Jacksonville’s tall buildings. This arrangement meant that the upper apartments could boast open terraces & sun parlors, allowing up to 25 miles of the St. Johns River to be seen. Another unusual idea came from New York via Francis Mason, Park Lane’s developer. He originally built the establishment as co-op apartments, with each apartment to be a home of its own, and the whole governed by the co-op residents. His venture proved to be a forerunner of Florida’s high-rise condos. By the way, the lowest priced units at Park Lane went for $12,000. Any idea how much would this be in today’s currency? About $156,000.
Fifteen thousand people attended a two-day open house, which included inspections of two of the 32 apartments. That year, 1926, also saw the construction of several other Jax landmarks: the magnificent Florida Theater (still in operation), the 18-story Barnett National Bank Building (still used for offices), the Elks Club (used for offices and commercial space), the 13-story Carling or Roosevelt Hotel (now renovated into loft apartments), the 17-story Lynch Building (today’s 11 East Forsyth Building, with offices having been converted into apartments), the 14-story George Washington Hotel (demolished), the classically-designed police station at 711 Liberty Street (gutted and rebuilt for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s regional crime lab), the Scottish Rite Temple (an Egyptian Revival style structure still in use), and St. Vincent’s Hospital (heavily renovated and in use).
The man who drew up the plans for Park Lane was also the same Riverside Avenue resident who supervised the construction of Memorial Park and co-designed the Florida Theater. The architect Roy A. Benjamin became known throughout the Southeast as a theater specialist, designing over 200 movie houses. Mr. Benjamin was born in Atlanta in 1888, but raised mostly in Ocala, Florida. He and his family moved to Jacksonville in 1902, not long after the Great Fire the year before.
For many years, the Park Lane remained the third tallest building in Jacksonville.
~written by Glenn Emery