The Claude Nolan Cadillac building on Main Street overlooks Hogan’s Creek and Confederate Park in the Springfield neighborhood of Jacksonville. The automobile dealership was originally designed by locally famed architect Henry J. Klutho. He was considered northeast Florida’s best architect, designing dozens of buildings in the city of Jacksonville after the Great Fire of 1901.
Nolan moved to his newly built, three-story building on Main Street in 1910. Klutho designed the dealership as a jewel box to display Nolan’s luxurious American automobiles. The Prairie-style building featured an all glass and concrete showroom with Welsh tile floors.
Claude Nolan was a man of many firsts. He opened the Cadillac Motor Car dealership in 1907, creating the first automobile dealership in Jacksonville. It was also the first Cadillac dealership in the South. In 1910, he organized a race against a biplane and a Cadillac at the Jacksonville Fairgrounds. The Cadillac actually won the race.
In the 1920s, Claude Nolan was the first person to drive to Key West. He drove on the Florida East Coast railroad trestle before the overseas highway was built from Miami with a friend. The duo was followed by a train car of news reporters. Also, Nolan was the first native Floridian to fly an airplane across the state. Claude Nolan even created the idea of selling an automobile on an installment plan, a practice which spread throughout the automobile industry and is still in use today.
A drastic remodel by architect W.A. Moore Jr. in 1948 completely changed the look of the Cadillac dealership. The cornice and canopy were removed along with the Klutho glass windows. The original façade was covered in concrete. The delicate bricks were covered with Art Deco marble paneling making it unrecognizable.
Claude Nolan passed away in 1943 after a brief illness at age 57. His family continued to operate the Cadillac dealership on Main Street. Downtown Jacksonville was on a decline by the 1980s and sales were slow. Claude Nolan Cadillac moved their dealership to Southside Boulevard in 1985, where they remain in business today.
The three buildings considered the Claude Nolan complex were designated landmarks by Jacksonville’s Historic Preservation Commission in 2014. Pollutants from an 1880s gas plant have poisoned the soil around Confederate Park as well as part of the former Claude Nolan dealership.
In order to clean up the contamination, the city of Jacksonville must add a protective underground wall and demolish the building constructed on the polluted area. Since the city declared the two larger buildings historic landmarks, the only building torn down will be the one-story maintenance building. The underground wall would extend down 40 feet and the soil inside would be carted away or mixed with a cement-like material to keep the pollutants where they are. The full cost of the cleanup is expected to cost $17 million. A local developer is currently looking at a plan to convert the abandoned building to loft apartment/condominiums.