Pensacola’s historic John Sunday House has been granted another 60-day reprieve from the wrecking ball despite the news that Mayor Ashton Hayward supports the home’s demolition. The city’s Architectural Review Board today voted to again delay a decision on the home’s demolition in order to allow more time for preservationists to put together a plan to save it.
The Sunday House, located at 302 West Romana Street, was built in 1901 by John Sunday, one of Pensacola’s most prominent and successful African-American figures in the late 19th and early 20th century. Sunday served as a city alderman and state legislator during Reconstruction, built a substantial construction business, and helped establish the Belmont-Devilliers area as a center for black commerce.
The home’s current owners, Donald and Gayle Paro, say they’ve tried unsuccessfully to sell the home, which hasn’t been occupied for a decade. Arguing that renovating the house would be cost-prohibitive, they’ve entered into an agreement to sell the 1.5-acre parcel to a development group headed by Pensacola attorney Charles Liberis, who hopes to build 27 townhomes on the property. But because the house is located within a designated review district, its demolition must be approved by the city’s seven-member Architectural Review Board.
Pensacola mayor Ashton Hayward was among those who spoke in support of razing the house at today’s meeting, arguing that redevelopment of the site would provide much-needed downtown housing and help grow the city’s tax base. Liberis has estimated that the townhomes would contribute more than $100,000 per year in tax revenue to the city.
However, some opponents of the house’s demolition have argued the Paros never seriously tried to sell the home, and many, including Sunday’s descendants, have pressed for preservation. Several members of the Architectural Review Board have also questioned the Paros’ efforts, referring to their lack of maintenance over the past decade as “demolition by neglect.” Controversy over the proposed demolition led to the formation of the John Sunday Society, a citizen group whose goal is “to preserve the property in its place.” John David Ellis, a local real estate broker and the society’s president, asked board members today for more time to complete and present a plan of action.
In light of today’s vote to push a decision back, the board is now set to take up the demolition issue at its June meeting.