New Group Works to Preserve the Old in Pensacola

May 23, 2018

Credit Pensacola SOS/Facebook

There’s no shortage of historic buildings in Pensacola, and a newly-formed group wants to make sure it stays that way.

SOS – Save Our Structures – has its roots in the razing of the John Sunday House, which was built in 1901 by John Sunday -- a prominent African-American leader and architect in Pensacola. It was razed in 2016, says SOS co-founder Teniade Broughton, despite its historical, architectural, and cultural importance.

“One of the things we learned from losing the John Sunday House, was that relationships between developers, investors, preservationists, and the community were adversarial,” said Broughton. “So we wanted to talk about ways to bring everyone together; how we can save these structures.”

Broughton says that’s led to a wider discussion over preserving other antique structures.

“How developers don’t have to worry about losing money; how we can still help the city grow; at the same time being able to appreciate this place with its unique historical value,” said Broughton.

It’s somewhat ironic that of all the historical houses to be torn down it would be that of John Sunday. SOS’ other co-founder, Teresa Hill, points to his designs and his construction methods.

“People all over the world study his style, because he is unique to Pensacola,” said Hill. “In the sense that he built his homes to withstand hurricanes; to withstand termites. That’s why we still see his homes 120-150 years later on our streetscapes.”

Pensacola SOS co-founders Teniade Broughton (L) and Teresa Hill.
Credit Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

The battle to save the John Sunday House – albeit failed – did provide some lessons learned moving forward.

“I think that we learned that even though a home is located within the Architectural Review Board’s district, that it’s still not 100 percent protected,” Hill said. “I think that also [lent] itself to come up with a way of bringing us all to the table.”

The group’s main focus these days is relocating a shotgun home – built in 1905 according to public records -- from its original address of 413 North B Street. It had been scheduled for demolition to make way for a duplex, and Hill says they discovered the house while researching the county demolition permits for structures 75 years old and older.

“We went through permits that have been applied for,” said Hill. And literally on our days off in our free time just drive around the neighborhood to take a peek at them from the outside to see – do they look solid? This one really stuck out to me; the foundation looked solid, the outside looks clean. It looked as though it was literally preserved in time.”

SOS contacted Abrams Construction Group of Pensacola, and asked if they would be interested in donating the house and saving the cost of razing it. The owner agreed and the house was saved.

“This is the part of preservation where community history is important,” says Teniade Broughton. “The house was next door to the lots where [educator/activist/community leader] Ella Jordan lived. They’re turning the other Jordan House into a museum, but her other home was on the lot next to this house.”

One of the higher-profile projects by SOS regards plans to place a Taco Bell in East Hill. At issue are two older homes on the site. Teresa Hill says they’ve sent petitions listing more than three thousand signatures to parent firm Yum! Brands, Inc. to donate the buildings rather than tear them down.

“Taco Bell is just now closing – or has recently just closed – on one of the properties; so we are unable to get inside until they close,” Hill said. “But we have looked at it from the outside and we have a very long list of interested people. We think it will be a very quick process.”

These and other houses – some dating back to the early 19th century and maybe before then – are irreplaceable parts of Pensacola’s history, contends Teniade Broughton.

“Isn’t that interesting how, when you grow up in a place, you don’t see it as valuable as when you leave, or as other people might have?” said Broughton.

Another project by Pensacola SOS is contacting residents who own empty lots, to see if they would be interested in taking the homes and bringing them up to code. About 30 people have shown interest so far.

More information is available on the Pensacola SOS Facebook page.