If you’ve been reading our coverage recently of the controversy surrounding the proposed demolition of the John Sunday estate in downtown Pensacola, you may still be scratching your head at what all the big fuss is about.
What’s so important about an old “run down” and “beat up” home, as a local radio host described it this week?
Let’s start with the man — John Sunday, a pivotal figure in Pensacola history and one of the most prominent African Americans on the Gulf Coast during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
“What makes Pensacola unique is our history,” said John David Ellis, founder of the John Sunday Society, in an interview with Andrew McKay of NewsRadio 1620 this week. “John Sunday is someone who we owe a lot of what has made Pensacola great.”
As we reported, Sunday built the home in 1901 in a predominantly black neighborhood of downtown Pensacola, where most of the city’s population was still located prior to the “white flight” migration of whites outside the core of the city.
Sunday, born in 1838, served in the Union Army during the Civil War and returned to Pensacola as a state legislator and city alderman during Reconstruction. Trained as a wheelwright, Sunday built a substantial construction business and helped establish the Belmont-Devilliers area as a center for black commerce.
The home is a testament to Sunday’s success over oppression and perseverance over insurmountable odds. For years — like so many historic Pensacola-area homes — it has sat vacant, neglected, dismissed and forgotten.
Now, some in our community wish to see the home bulldozed for a few dozen cookie-cutter townhomes.
This isn’t the first time we’ve been down this road. For years, our community has been at the crossroads to which we’ve been faced with a choice: to preserve or to profit?
As Ellis said this week, “There’s just too much thought being put into the money and not enough thought being put into the community.”
We couldn’t agree more.
There are many examples in recent history when our community has been faced with the choice of whether to preserve our historical homes and buildings or to raze them for future development.
“The reason why there’s a road block is because this home is in a historic preservation district,” Ellis said. “In my mind, historic preservation means we are to preserve the history that is there.”
Through our research, we’ve discovered multiple historic properties in downtown Pensacola that were once threatened with demolition and now stand as testaments to our deep history and culture.
“Why do we need to preserve the home,” McKay asked Ellis. “It’s just a house.”
Sorry, but this isn’t “just a house.”
Would those who call the Sunday Home “just another house” or “just another building” apply the same logic to the beloved Hotel San Carlos, which was torn down in the late 1990s (the federal building that replaced it is faced with $30 million in repairs) or the Quina House, the oldest home in Pensacola on its original foundation?
Those who favor demolition in the pursuit of the free market may want to take a trip back in time and ask themselves if they’d rather see a Pensacola that respects and preserves its history or a Pensacola void of its past.
In the spirit of preservation, we took a look at several historical homes in Pensacola that were saved from the threat of demolition and are now treasures of our community.
The Quina House
Undoubtedly the most prominent example of historic preservation in Pensacola, the Quina House is the oldest home still on its original foundation in America’s First Settlement.
The home, located on South Alcaniz Street, dates back to about 1810. It was constructed of three kinds of pine, cypress and oak. The historic home is named for its earliest known resident, Desiderio Quina, who purchased the home in 1821 and operated a nearby apothecary.
In the mid-20th century, the building fell into neglect and disrepair and like many surrounding homes, was faced with the threat of demolition to make way for future development. The building was purchased in 1966 for $7,000. The Pensacola Historic Preservation Society repaired and reserved the house to convert it to a museum. It is now furnished by artifacts from the Federal period through the late Victorian period.
The Julee Cottage
Built around 1805 on West Zaragoza Street in downtown Pensacola, the Julee Cottage was named for one of its earliest owners, Julee Panton, a free woman of color. Panton lived and worked in Pensacola throughout the early nineteenth century. Julee Panton bought the home after being freed from her slave status and rented the structure to other African-American residents.
The cottage is an early example of platform frame construction, reminiscent of the Creole cottages of the New Orleans French Quarter. It is the only surviving form of this urban Creole architecture in Pensacola.
Like Sunday, Panton was among many African-American Pensacolians who contributed significantly to the development of the city and region. The home is a rare piece of history of the colonial south. This style of building was popular in the urban setting of the early nineteenth century in Pensacola and is starkly different from the creole style cottage of the same period. The interior of the home houses and African-American heritage exhibit as well as furnished interpretive rooms representing the unique reconstruction era in Pensacola.
The McMillan House
The McMillan House was constructed by Margaret McMillan in 1880. The home is an example of the Gulf Coastal cottage style popular after the Civil War.
Hurricanes Ivan and Dennis, that hit Pensacola in 2004 and 2005 respectively, severally damaged the McMillan House, then situated on Cevallos Street. The storms left the building uninhabitable. The damage came to the attention of the city’s architectural review board and the owner of the McMillan House petitioned for demolition of the building in order to rebuild on the lot. The review board denied demolition because local non-profit organization West Florida Historic Preservation, Inc. offered to relocate and renovate the historic building.
The McMillan House moved to its current location on Zaragoza Street in 2007. The University of West Florida Historic Trust now operates the McMillan House as part of their collection of historic structures in the Pensacola Historic Village. The McMillan House offers an exhibit on World War II and the Pensacola home front during the war effort.