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Crew have begun work to demolish Pensacola’s historic 1928 Hallmark School as a Texas-based homebuilder moves forward with plans to erect 76 townhomes on the site.

Located at 115 South E Street, the school was named for George Stone Hallmark, a prominent Pensacola judge. Closed in 2011, the school was sold for $1 million in 2013 to Pensacola-based 349 LLC. Following several unsuccessful attempts to develop the property, 349 — a partnership between attorney Fred Levin and longtime associate Fred Vigodsky — sold it last month for $1.65 million to Dallas, Tex.-based D.R Horton, one of the nation’s largest homebuilders.

The George S. Hallmark Elementary School, circa 1928. (UWF Archives/Special to The Pulse)

Demolition permits were issued for the 89-year-old school back in January, and city records list the permits as having expired in March. City officials, however, said the permits were still valid due to delays in asbestos testing and abatement.

“Because demolition of the structure cannot occur until the testing and abatement have been completed, the contractor was not able to start the demolition until approved by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection,” said city building official Bill Weeks. “The demolition contractor was allowed to continue the work on this demolition permit in accordance with the Florida Statutes regarding permit life.”

As of Thursday, crews from Maverick Demolition had razed most of the library outbuilding and were well underway with interior demolition of the main school building.

Despite the building’s age and its handsome Renaissance Revival architecture, it’s not located within any of the city’s historic districts and was thus unshielded from redevelopment. A proposed historic preservation ordinance introduced by city council president Brian Spencer last year would have required board review before any structure built before 1940 could be demolished, but that proposal was pulled prior to a vote.

Pensacola’s Hallmark School in April 2017. (Derek Cosson/The Pulse)

“I do think this is a loss and it’s another historic neighborhood school that has been demolished in the past few years,” said Ross Pristera, a historic preservationist with the University of West Florida Historic Trust. “This site had a lot of potential with the large amount of open acreage and a great historic building. The original school building could have been rehabilitated and the developer could have applied for historic tax credits and a local ad valorem tax exemption.”

“Architecturally, the school had great Renaissance Revival details and fit with other buildings of this period,” Pristera said. “With this loss, more generic-looking buildings will replace the interesting architecture that makes Pensacola unique from other cities. Besides the architectural importance, the personal connections related to this school are strong since it served the community for decades.”

City council members in June issued final approval of the new proposed plat for the five-acre site, which calls for 76 0.03-acre townhome parcels arranged around the perimeter of the property. D.R. Horton hasn’t yet released details about the development or construction timeline.

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