As we celebrate the addition of the Palafox Historic District to the National Register of Historic Places, we thought we’d take a look back at the history Pensacola’s “Main Street.”
Named for José Rebolledo de Palafox y Melci, a 19th-century Spanish nobleman and general, “Palafox Street” wasn’t the first name the street bore. The British, who held Pensacola from 1763 through 1781, called the street George Street in honor of then-King George III. The Spanish renamed Palafox and many other city streets after General Bernardo de Gálvez retook Pensacola during the Revolutionary War.
On Halloween Night 1905, a huge fire swept through the west side of South Palafox Street. An entire block — the area that today contains the Blount Building and Brent Buildings — was completely destroyed, with damage estimated at $300,000 (more than $7 million in today’s money).
Pensacola’s horses and dogs received the gift of a water fountain in 1909, courtesy of a nationwide campaign by the National Humane Alliance. The fountain — which now sits in front of the post office on South Palafox Street — was originally placed at Palafox and Garden Streets, in the shadow of the Blount Building and the San Carlos Hotel, which was demolished in 1993.
Built in 1897, the Masonic Temple Building has stood tall over Palafox Street for well over a century. One of the original tenants of the building was Avery Hardware, now known as Pensacola Hardware. Renovated after being long vacant, the building is now home to Vinyl Music Hall, a live music venue.
The Bass Building, located at Palafox and Gregory Streets, was built in 1912. Long home to Hannah’s Pharmacy, the space is now occupied by Palafox House, an event venue owned by Great Southern Restaurants.
One of the oldest extant buildings on Palafox is the Old Escambia County Courthouse, built in 1887 as the United States Customs House & Post Office. A land swap in 1937 brought the building under the county’s control, and it was used as the county courthouse until being replaced by the M.C. Blanchard Judicial Center in 1978. The courthouse, renovated in 2008, now houses arts organizations such as Artel Gallery.
The historic center of the city is Plaza Ferdinand VII, the place where Andrew Jackson accepted the transfer of Florida from Spain to the United States in 1821. So central to Pensacola life was Plaza Ferdinand that many 19th and 20th century newspaper reports and advertisements simply called it “The Square.” Pensacola’s city hall was located on the square until the mid-1980s, when it moved into a new building on West Main Street. The old city hall building is now the T.T. Wentworth Florida State Museum. Towering over the square in the above photo is the American National Bank Building — today called Seville Tower — which was Florida’s tallest building when it was completed in 1910.
The Brent and Blount Buildings, seen here in the 1920s, rose from the ashes of the 1905 Halloween Night Fire and have stood proudly for more than a century. The two buildings are currently undergoing an extensive renovation as part of Bobby Switzer’s mixed-use One Palafox Place development. The buildings’ upper floors will house offices, 26 residential units, and a new downtown co-working space, while retail shops, bars, and restaurants will occupy the ground floor.
Of the 94 historic buildings within the Palafox Historic District, more than half were built from 1880-1914. Unfortunately, not all of the buildings from that period were able to be saved. The Gilbert Hotel, located on the southwest corner of Palafox and Government streets, dated back to at least 1882, when it was called the Merchants Hotel. Sadly, the building was demolished and replaced with a parking lot.
Another building that hasn’t survived is the Mallory Building, once located at Palafox and Intendencia streets. Just a few years after the above photo was taken, the building was razed and replaced with a one-story art deco building which housed Abbott’s Tailors for many years and is currently home to World of Beer. The site is significant as the location of the house where Andrew Jackson and his wife Rachel stayed during his time as military governor of Florida in 1821.
Some of Palafox Street’s historic buildings have changed so much you’d hardly recognize them. Now owned by the Elebash family, a balcony and fresh coat of paint have been added to the 1930s-era building which once housed the “Palafox Apartments.” Dog House Deli, Moonflower Salon, Khon’s on Palafox, and Elebash’s Jewelers now occupy the ground floor of the building.
The Bear Block, home for many years to the Pensacola Restaurant Supply Company, was built in 1892 as the headquarters for the Lewis Bear Company. Purchased by Quint and Rishy Studer in 2012, the building is now home to restaurants and shops, including the recently-opened Bubba’s Sweet Spot, an ice cream and candy store owned in part by golfer and Pensacola Bay Area native Bubba Watson.
Introduced in 1884, streetcars were Pensacola’s first public transportation system. The system’s first line — initially using horse-drawn streetcars — ran from the foot of Palafox Street north to Wright Street. As the system was expanded and electrified, travelers were able to reach Palafox from East Hill, North Hill, and East Pensacola Heights, as well as points as far away as Kupfrian’s Park and NAS Pensacola.
For two centuries, wharves at the foot of Palafox Street anchored the city’s position as a maritime hub. Eventually, however, most commercial shipping moved to the Louisville & Nashville and Frisco docks constructed by the two railroad lines serving Pensacola. In the 1950s, Palafox Wharf was redeveloped with a municipal auditorium — later called Bayfront Auditorium — that stood until 2005, when it was demolished after having sustained major damage during Hurricane Ivan. Today, the site is home to Plaza de Luna, one of the city’s most popular parks.