JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- If you search Annie Lytle Elementary, or Public School Number Four, the word haunted pops up before you finish typing. There are rumors of murders and an explosion in the boiler room that killed students. And they are just that, rumors.
The school has been closed since the late 60s early 70s and remained empty since then. But, this building has changed the landscape of the city we know today.
Public School Number Four was built 16 years after the fire of 1901 that destroyed the early beginnings of Jacksonville. That fire played a huge role into how the school was built. Historian Paul Bremer says this school, along with a few others built around the same time, is fireproof.
"To build a fireproof school, in those days, how do you do it? You do it by making it 100% masonry. The roof is poured concrete. The floors are poured concrete, the floors you're standing on are poured concrete. There's a whole basement underneath here. This is 44,000 square feet. Even the interior walls are masonry," said Bremer.
That's an acres worth of classrooms. There are 22 of them, plus a cafeteria, library, and restrooms. They are all in the shape of an "E" laid down.
"There's no air conditioning, bad electric lighting, so you have huge windows. The windows open on both sides into the hall and on to a courtyard. So, now you've got good airflow, so there's no dead spaces in the building," said Bremer.
It was renamed Annie Lytle Elementary School for one of its principals, Annie Lytle, who lived just down the street. And for decades, it was a place for young kids to begin their education. But what happened? How did it become abandoned?
"In the 1950s early 1950s, the Fuller Warren Bridge was built. And, the original approach to that bridge, which is now I-10, was on the ground. So, it cut the school off. It cut North Riverside off from Riverside. and that was a deliberate thing that they wanted to do. North Riverside was becoming more and more African American and they wanted to cut white Riverside off from black North Riverside," said Bremer.
The school, that once had so much life, now sits empty. Until the school was locked up a few years ago, it attracted teens, and vandals, wanting to get a glimpse of the reportedly haunted building.
"There were people coming in and living in here. We had a lot of that originally. And it took a long time to get people to know that they weren't coming in anymore," said Patsy Bryant with Annie Lytle Preservation Group.
The ceiling started falling apart and there was garbage everywhere.
"We used to drive by all the time and I would moan and groan about how it looked. And one day my granddaughter and I came with her friend and took pictures from the sidewalk, and I said "Daggum it, we're going to do something about the yard'," said Bryant.
Bryant joined the Annie Lytle Preservation Group. She's been a part for the past 6 years and has seen tremendous change in the building. So what's next for this school. Over the years there have been many ideas thrown around. There were plans for a condo building that were drawn, but that fell through.
"The easiest thing to do would be to turn it back into a school. So, we floated a proposal to the private schools, to make it associated with other schools. We're trying to get into the charter school community for them to look at because that would be the least expensive thing to do," said Bremer.
Bryant and Bremer say they just hope that the building will at least be used for a public place for people to enjoy in the future.
Bremer says the only thing that's haunted the building are the vandals who have destroyed it. Teens used to break in at graffiti the walls as a right of passage. He also says the "noises" people heard are barn owls.
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