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Contemplating Clay County's monuments

Bhide & Hall Architects built, preserved historic buildings

Posted 6/13/24

GREEN COVE SPRINGS  — Bhide and Hall Architects was founded in Orange Park a half-century ago. The architectural firm has designed buildings worldwide, but some of its beloved projects are close to home …

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Contemplating Clay County's monuments

Bhide & Hall Architects built, preserved historic buildings


Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS — Bhide and Hall Architects was founded in Orange Park a half-century ago. The architectural firm has designed buildings worldwide, but some of its beloved projects are close to home. 

Bhide and Hall's portfolio includes the Green Cove Springs City Hall, the Clay County Administration Building, and renovations to the 1890 Clay County Courthouse and the 1894 Clay County Jail.

E. Wendell Hall, the original co-founder, looked wistfully at the historic courthouse his firm was responsible for renovating decades ago. He pointed at a "star" on the side of the building where he ran a supporting horizontal cable line through. 

"We did our best," Hall said. "The problem was, with all the period photographs we looked at, none showed the front door. It was always open with people standing (in front)," he said, pointing to the courthouse entrance. 

"I selected those doors to go with the 1930s aesthetic. And nobody has ever said anything." 

Hall – no relation to the long-serving Sheriff J.P. Hall – is as percipient as he is witty. He's simultaneously genuine and sarcastic. In the shadow of such a historic building, he reflected on his own life.

He arrived in Orange Park to work at an architecture firm owned by Alan Frye, but the business went bankrupt soon after. His fellow co-founder, Vasant P. Bhide, was struck with the same misfortune. Bhide's architecture firm also coincidentally went belly up. 

“We found ourselves wandering the streets together,” Hall said metaphorically.

Their business was founded on Carnes Street on July 1, 1974. "And it should be put up on the National Register of Historic Places," Hall joked. 

The first two projects were designing portables at Charles E. Bennett Elementary. 

“We came together and made a firm together,” he said. 

Bhide retired in 2008. Hall retired in 2019. 

Hall and other members of Bhide and Hall met with Clay Today in the Clay County Historic Triangle courtyard. Hall was joined by Brian Sawyer and David Shively, the new president and senior vice president of Bhide and Hall. 

“Now David and I are steering the crazy train," Sawyer said.

Vishi Garig, the Archives Supervisor of Clay County, unlocked the door and welcomed the architects in for a tour of the courthouse they renovated from 2003 to 2005. The building received a facelift and some quality-of-life improvements. Air conditioning was added behind unobtrusive decorative metal grates on the second floor. 

Hall believes in designing human-scaled buildings. "Too many buildings forget they are designed for people," he said. Ergonomics and accessibility are tenets. The historic courthouse is two stories, and Hall was determined that there should be an elevator to reach the second floor. There was an idea of making the elevator external, but he shook his head at the jutting, unsightly plan. The elevator was to be indoors, seamless and safe. 

Hall noticed the two bathrooms in the building were stacked on each other, parallel from the first floor to the second. That was the space Hall carved out for the elevator. 

The stairs, too, were treated with care. He said a woman who worked at an antique store on Walnut Street was interested in the building's renovation and was brought on to help with the wooden double staircase. "She did a beautiful job," Hall said. 

While the courthouse suffered "no interior deterioration," the same could not be said about the historic jail, which was in "far worse shape." 

Clay County's historic jail is the second oldest in Florida to St. Augustine.

"The building was beginning to come apart. The second floor had already collapsed," Hall said. 

Hall said he had to sacrifice some historical accuracy for safety. He did not want to burden Clay County with exorbitant maintenance costs or safety liabilities. The goal of architectural preservation is to be lasting. 

Hall said his most significant architectural influence is Antoni Gaudi, the Catalonian architect inspired by nature and the pioneer of the "sui generis" style. 

The Gaudi influence is seen in the Green Cove Springs City Hall, demonstrated by its curved staircase climbing to the second floor and the backlit stained-glass dome. The city hall was built where the Qui-Si-Sana Hotel once stood, and the Qui-Si-Sana was what replaced the Clarendon Hotel after it burned in a fire.  

When you step into the city hall, look up and over your shoulder, and you'll see an iron lizard. That's the architectural signature Hall left. 

"I like that building very much," Hall said.

Today, the courthouse and jail stand proudly in the Clay County Historic Triangle. The monuments commemorate the past.

Hall and his co-founder Bhide have left a monumental legacy. While the courthouse is one of the most treasured in the company's portfolio, Hall is most thankful for the relationships he made along the way. Projects have led him to Egypt, Monaco, Russia and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

Brick and mortar build buildings, while relationships and memories build people. Hall considers himself a humanist as much, if not more, than an architect. He says people are the most important part of any building.

After all, what's a building without the people who walk in through the door?