TAMPA — The Jackson House wasn’t in good shape in October 2020, but the former segregation-era Black boarding home was safe enough for a guided tour.
Its deterioration since then has been rapid.
Today, the downtown structure that was built at the turn of the 20th century and has been closed to the public since 1989 looks ready to fall apart. The roof is sagging and missing large swaths. Exterior walls are sliding to the ground. A piece of its front porch awning is gone, and the rest seems ready to detach.
And now, it’s hurricane season.
“I hated to see June 1 come,” said Carolyn Collins, chairperson of the Jackson House Foundation. The foundation owns the building and wants to turn it into a Black history museum.
Can the Jackson House at 851 E Zack St. survive a major storm?
“No,” said Jerel McCants, the architect hired for its restoration. “It’s in bad shape.”
It likely cannot withstand a Category 1 or even a tropical storm, he said. “I think windstorms of 50 miles an hour easily could cause significant damage to the structure.”
Wooden stabilizers installed in the 24-room boarding home’s interior in 2016 could prevent it from completely falling over. That said, if too much of the Jackson House blows away and must be replaced with modern wood, it could lose historic landmark designation, which requires a building’s exterior to be mostly authentic.
And that could jeopardize a $1.5 million state historic preservation grant that is conditional upon meeting U.S. Department of Interior Historic Preservation Standards.
Overall, including the state grant, the foundation has raised around $3 million. Around $2.5 million is needed to restore the building.
It will take about another $1.6 million to furnish it as a museum that honors Tampa’s last standing segregation-era boarding house, where James Brown, Ella Fitzgerald and Cab Calloway stayed and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited.
The holdup continues to be a fire code-required 10-foot buffer between the two-story, 4,000-square-foot Jackson House and the neighboring parking lots to the east and west sides.
To create that buffer, lot owners 717 Parking must provide 2,100 square feet of their land to the foundation. That would erase 10 parking spaces.
The city has offered the company the 9,172-square-foot vacant public right of way that runs behind the Jackson House and the lots. The city estimates that narrow strip of land could fit 27 parking spaces, netting the company 17 spaces. But 717 has so far declined the deal. Negotiations are ongoing.
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There is a Plan B, Collins said. In place of easements, they have designs for fire walls to be added to the portions of the Jackson House abutting the parking lots. That would appease the fire code.
But that modern addition to the exterior could also jeopardize the state grant, McCants said, while tripling construction costs.
717 Parking president Jason Accardi said the company would provide access to their property, without charge, to prepare the building for hurricane season.
Collins would like to see the exterior shored up within the next 30 days, if possible.
While past efforts to stabilize it were necessary, McCants wonders if those are also why the structure has deteriorated so rapidly in recent years.
“A lot of the original materials were stronger than how they are made today,” McCants said. “That’s why a lot of older buildings built over 100 years ago are still standing. Stabilizing a historic building means tinkering with the original materials and retrofitting new stuff.”
Even if they were told to start the restoration work tomorrow, McCants said, it would take months to go through the permitting process.
So, for now, the Jackson House’s future depends on luck.
“I am as nervous as one could be,” Collins said. “Let’s just keep hoping that we don’t get a big storm.”