Built-in 1910 the W. P. Sumner Company was once in Jacksonville’s red-light district on Ward Street. Founded in 1887 by William and Alberta Sumner as a grocery store specializing in selling butter and cheese. In 1900 when William died, his son Charles took over the business. During the “Great Fire” on May 3, 1901, the W. P. Sumner Company along with another 2,360 building were destroyed.
Reopening in a small building on Laura Street, but quickly needed a larger facility and constructed a four-story brick building on Ward Street. The first floor was used for a six-ton ice plant, the second-floor cold storage, and the third and fourth floors were used for dry storage. The family’s retail business was conducted in a connected single-story building.
All business operations ceased in 1915 when Charles Sumner died. Up until 1920, several small businesses occupied the building when the J. R. Berrier Ice Cream Company took over the entire building. Ward Street would be renamed as Houston Street and the once red-light district was now filled with retail and wholesale businesses.
Both as a businessman and as a person Jefferson Richard Berrier had a sketchy history. Selling his ice cream company in 1929 to Foremost Dairies, he went back into the business in the late-1930s in both Jacksonville and Richmond, Virginia. In setting up the switchboard in Richmond, his brother was accidentally electrocuted while testing it, killing him immediately. Berrier refused to pay his sister-in-law’s workmen’s compensation.
The ice cream company became known for its mammoth-size, multi-flavored shakes, which were called Spinning Wheels. Even though he had over a hundred accounts, Barrier decided in the early-1950s the ice cream business was no longer profitable and stopped delivering to those accounts. A small number of accounts stuck with him and agreed to pick up their ice cream from the plant. He claimed to the Federal Trade Commission that his business declined because of competition from the larger companies, Velda Farms, Foremost and Borden. In later statements, he explained that he was out of town too much to properly take care of the business.
Berrier had moved his ice cream plant out of the original building in 1924 and the Gray-VonAllmen Sanitary Milk Company took possession. During the Great Depression, the milk company went out of business and the building sat empty until the Cunningham Furniture Company moved in. The next tenant would be the Galinsky Plumbing who moved in in 1936 and stayed until 1983 when they went out of business.
During the remainder of the 1980s, the building was the home of several restaurants. The most notable was JoAnn’s Chili Bordello founded in 1992. JoAnn’s Chili Bordello was a small chain of restaurants founded by Leonard Doctors and JoAnn Perchel. The interior was made to look like an old-fashioned bordello with red velvet, crystal chandeliers, and waitresses dressed up in French Corsets and garter belts. Their motto was, “Seventeen varieties of chili served in an atmosphere of sin.”
In 2000, JoAnn’s closed, and a couple of bars opened, but since 2012 the building has sat empty.
Photograph by The Jaxson