Apalachicola’s Chapman School and Auditorium is now considered one of Florida’s most endangered historic sites, according to the Florida Trust For Historic Preservation.
The Trust announced its 2013 11 Most Endangered Historic Sites list at the Annual Statewide Preservation Conference in St. Augustine last weekend.
The Chapman School, a 1934 historic art deco building located at the corner of Highway 98 and 12th Street , once served as Apalachicola’s principal elementary and secondary school, the school board administration building and currently serves as private medical office space. The building, long the object of preservation efforts by local preservation advocates, is located within the city limits, but owned by Franklin County. The building was elevated to the endangered ranking due to lack of preservation funding and local development pressures.
City Administrator Betty Webb and Cindy Clark, a city planning consultant, attended the conference and were both present to hear the nomination. To Webb, the announcement represents a mixed blessing for the city.
“We are obviously concerned that any historic building in the city is labeled endangered,” Webb said. “But we are hopeful that the designation will bring about renewed enthusiasm for preservation of the building and will elevate its rank on the list for historic preservation funding.”
Franklin County Director of Administrative Services Alan Pierce echoed Webb’s sentiments upon hearing of the designation. “We’re glad to be a historic site,” Pierce said, “but we’re not so happy to be one of the most endangered. It’s a fine building that we hope to restore to its justified place in the community.”
While at the conference, Webb attended planning workshops on topics including strategies for preserving old buildings, cemetery resource protection and sea level rise impacts on historic resources. Webb even sat in on St. Augustine’s Historic Architectural Review Board meeting and met with City Planners to discuss the two town’s planning procedures and administration. Throughout the conference, Webb said she was impressed with the level of attention that Apalachicola received at the conference.
“We are going to see an increase in hands-on technical assistance in the City from the State Historic Preservation Office and Florida Public Archaeological Network,” Webb said.
Apalachicola Historical Society president Tom Daly, a longtime advocate of the Chapman restoration project, was unable to attend the St. Augustine event but was credited for his efforts in lobbying for the designation. “Tom has been a tireless supporter of the Chapman restoration effort and his efforts and communication with the Florida Trust were key in securing this nomination,” Webb said.
According to Daly, the Chapman announcement represents a big step forward towards restoration.
“As a city of ever-increasing heritage tourism, I’m happy that the Florida Trust recognizes the historical and cultural importance of the Chapman Building,” Daly said. “This, combined with the interest of University of Florida (UF) will help us focus on the notable architecture of the area and the value of preservation,” I hope all our citizens realize the value of our history and how that will provide even greater economic opportunities for the future.”
Daly and Webb also credit Tallahassee Architect and Florida Trust Board Member Mark Tarmey’s role in securing the Apalachicola nomination. Tarmey is the past president and current treasurer of the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation and his design firm, 4M Design Group is the architectural firm credited with the design of the City’s Scipio Creek Project and other past public design projects in the city.
Tarmey also served as one of three consultants to the city for review of projects coming before the Planning and Zoning Board. As such, Tarmey is familiar with Apalachicola’s historic resources.
“The Chapman School is the finest example of art deco architecture in North Florida and has been recognized as such by UF and the Florida Trust,” Tarmey said. “Hopefully this designation will lead to higher involvement from both UF and the Trust. The nomination is intended to draw attention to the most significant strictures in the state that require preservation funding and rehabilitation. Apalachicola has recently garnered the attention of the Secretary of State and the State Division of Historic Resources and this will aid in future preservation funding initiatives.”
Some of that Trust involvement, will begin later this summer. Apalachicola will host the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation during its annual Board Retreat Aug. 2.. The Apalachicola Area Historical Society, along with the city and other community groups will introduce the Trust to the city’s historic sites, activities and amenities.
“To have the trust for historic preservation here in Apalachicola is a real opportunity to show off our unique and iconic structures. This is our time to shine for the Trust and show them how many positive historic restoration projects have occurred in the town,” said Daly.
The Chapman School designation falls on the heels of a May 10 presentation by UF researchers that released the findings of a three month study of the building. Two University of Florida Preservation experts are currently probing the condition of Chapman School and its vital role in the community. The UF study is a collaborative effort involving many community partners and individuals including Helen Tudor, owner of the Chapman House Museum, Leon Bloodworth, the Apalachicola Bay Charter School, Apalachicola Historical Society, Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce and local city and county government representatives. An ongoing community survey seeking public input about the building is available at the Apalachicola Bay Chamber.
The Florida Trust for Historic Preservation is a non-profit organization with more than 1600 members, and is the statewide partner to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The mission of the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation is to promote the preservation of Florida’s unique cultural, historical and architectural resources This is the 12th year of the Most Endangered Program. Other Florida endangered sites added to the 2013 list include the Munroe House and Lewis Spring House in Tallahassee, William Camp House in Ocala and the Miami Women’s Club. Entire city blocks even made the list this year, including downtown Palatka, the Orange City Historic District and Milton Historic District.
Work on the Chapman Auditorium Building was commenced in 1931. The cast stone structure was designed by E. R. James to contain eight classrooms and an auditorium. A. D. Lawson from Port St. Joe was the contractor for the new building and also for the renovation of the existing building at Chapman High School.
The initial contract called for the completion of the building within 250 days, but construction did not progress as rapidly as anticipated. The school board took over direct supervision of the work in 1932 with George Marshall placed in charge of construction.
Eventually the Depression-era Civil Works Administration took over construction of the building. When the Civil Works Administration was phased out, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration took over the project and finally completed it in 1934. The Chapman High School class of 1934 was the first to graduate from the Chapman Auditorium.
This building housed the high school classes at the Chapman School. When the Apalachicola High School was constructed on 14th Street in the 1970s the classrooms were renovated into offices for the Franklin County School Board. The school board deeded the property to Franklin County in 2009.
The building is the finest example of Art Deco architecture in Franklin County. It is adorned with cast stone details of crabs, owls and pelicans. Above the auditorium stage is an intricate scene in cast stone which includes a depiction of the Chapman Auditorium.