Built-in 1909, the Richmond Hotel was located in the LaVilla neighborhood of Jacksonville, Florida. It operated as a hub for prominent black residents and celebrities such as Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday.
In 1942 the Jacksonville Architectural Heritage magazine described the Richmond as:
“[O]utstanding hotel for colored people in Jacksonville…[located] close to all principal Negro businesses, theaters and churches, and less than a five-minute drive from the railroad terminal. Most of its 38 rooms have running water, with bathrooms adjacent. The Richmond Hotel boasts a quiet, homelike atmosphere. A Tea Room is operated for the convenience of guests.”
With desegregation, the Hotel closed its doors in 1969. Throughout the 70s and 80s, various retail stores used the ground-level of the building. The two upper levels were used as a boarding house renting to the locals.
As far as retail outlets the most famous was the DeLoach Furniture Co. A family-owned furniture store that served Jacksonville for over 90 years, closing in mid-2010.
During its heyday from the 1920s to the 1960s, LaVille was known as the “Harlem of the South” with its many theaters such as the Ritz Theatre, the Strand Theatre, and the Roosevelt Theatre. Popular restaurants and nightclubs that lit up the streets after dark were the Hayes Luncheonette, Mama’s Restaurant, Nick’s Pool Parlor, and Manuel’s Taproom. Guests visiting the clubs and theaters would stay at the Richmond.
Some feel the success of the Richmond Hotel can be attributed to the Great Fire of 1901. On May 3, 1901, in a candle factory, a fire erupted in the LaVilla neighborhood, spreading to the St. Johns River and lasted eight hours and burned 146 city blocks. By the time the fire was distinguished, over 2,300 buildings were gone, and nearly 10,000 residents were left without homes.
Residents of the neighborhood were angry, especially James Weldon Johnson, a principal of a local school felt the local fireman only attempted to save the white neighborhoods:
“We met many people fleeing. From them we gathered excitedly related snatches: the fiber factory catches afire – the fire department comes – fanned by a light breeze, the fire is traveling directly east and spreading out to the north, over the district were the bulk of Negroes in the western end of the city life – the firemen spend all their efforts saving a low row of frame houses just across the street on the south side of the factory, belonging to a white man named Steve Melton.”
From the help of New York architect Henry J. Klutho and others, the LaVilla neighborhood was rebuild, brought back to life, and the Richmond Hotel was born.
Today, the Richmond Hotel operates under the name Delo Studios. Photographers can rent studio time for portraits, product shots, or pinups. There is an art gallery, meeting and event space, and a water gallery where individuals can view specially curated art with a water/beach theme.