The Ambassador Hotel originally opened in 1924 as the 310 West Church Street Apartments, the first upscale apartment building in downtown Jacksonville, Florida. The six-story building was constructed of brick and limestone in a Georgian Revival architectural style, with Beaux-Arts elements. It was designed by Hentz, Reid, and Adler, one of Atlanta’s most prominent architectural firms. The apartment building was designed in an H-shape to provide windows in all of the fifty units.
In 1943, the property was converted into a hotel by Charles Griner and renamed the Three-Ten Hotel. This was the beginning of a series of name changes and new identities for the building. A few years later, in 1947, it was changed to Hotel Southland and again in 1949 to the Griner Hotel. On May 2, 1950, Senator George Smathers occupied a room at the Griner. This was the night Smathers defeated Senator Claude Pepper for nomination to the United States Senate. From then on, the room was marketed as the George Smathers Suite. After Griner’s death, his widow was advised to demolish the hotel. She objected because she felt they had already torn down every other old hotel in downtown. In 1955, the Griner was renamed to the Ambassador Hotel.
Over the years, the hotel fell into a state of disrepair as Jacksonville’s downtown went into decline. In 1970, a local real estate developer named Sam Easton purchased the Ambassador Hotel. In 1983, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places, but this did not remedy or slow down the hotel’s deterioration.
During the late 1980s, the hotel was converted into low-income apartments, with rooms available to rent by the week. The Ambassador Hotel became the site of multiple drug busts and prostitution raids. In 1992, fifty blocks of the adjacent LaVilla neighborhood were condemned and demolished as a revitalization project. Many of the displaced residents from the LaVilla neighborhood moved into the Ambassador Hotel.
In 1997, the building was cited for numerous code violations during a crack cocaine raid. Police discovered a hidden closed-circuit surveillance system on the fifth floor to warn residents of incoming police or drug sales.
Code enforcement officials found cracked walls, faulty wiring, and locked fire escape doors among hundreds of other violations. The owner was given 15 days to make thousands of dollars worth of repairs in order to bring the building into compliance or face fines and possible condemnation. Some code violations dated as far back as 1991.
The Ambassador Hotel was officially condemned in 1998. Plans to renovate the hotel in 2005 never materialized. In 2009, a Jacksonville businessman had an $8 million plan to turn the abandoned apartments into the Ambassador Lofts which included 50 apartments and retail space. However, the historic property was acquired by Axis Hotels LLC, which announced plans in 2018 to turn the building into a 4 or 5-star boutique hotel with 100 rooms and a rooftop bar. The building has been undergoing interior demolition as recent as January 2019.