JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Michael Rutledge said when he was much younger, Firehouse 5 in Jacksonville's Brooklyn neighborhood reminded him of a little person with a hat.
"It just has so much character to it," he told First Coast News on Monday.
Knowing the city received no response to a recent request for a bid from anyone who might save and move the 110-year-old fire station, Rutledge began an online petition just days ago. By Monday afternoon the petition had garnered nearly 2,600 signatures.
"It gives me chills thinking about it, that many people care about the preservation of this city," he said.
But what chills him in a different way is the realization that the city has a contractor in place and plans to begin demolition of the historic structure.
As local author and historian Dr. Wayne Wood explained, Brooklyn Firehouse 5 was built on the site of a previous similar facility, one that burned in the Great Fire of 1901. Wealthy downtown residents, Wood said, began migrating outward to Brooklyn and Riverside.
"We just don’t have that many buildings left from this period of time," Wood observed. "It’s sad because this building is in good condition, it’s a historic building, it’s been on the Jacksonville Historical Society’s list of endangered buildings for almost 10 years."
Indeed, the firehouse, decommissioned in 2008, appears somehow sweetly out of place, featuring an art deco awning above the gaping doors - now boarded up - where its trucks entered and exited. It is dwarfed by gleaming office buildings and even high-rise residences nearby.
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Now, it stands where future construction is planned. Apparently the only way to save it includes moving it, something Wood speculates would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. He emphasizes that such an endeavor could be beneficial financially as well as sentimentally.
"It would cost way, way more than [the cost to move] to build a building of that size," Wood asserted, adding that Firehouse 5 is in good condition. "It’s a historic building that not only can be saved -- it’s worth saving."
In a neighborhood experiencing a modern makeover that's attracting population and businesses, the assertion could be attractive to the right entrepreneur.
"It is such a developing neighborhood right now, with condos being built right here, a distillery behind here," Rutledge said, gesturing to locations just footsteps away. "It’s a thriving neighborhood, but we also want to see where it came from."
"It could serve a perfect use as a restaurant, a store, a business -- whatever," said Wood, who has published 13 books and is working on a 14th.
He conceded that the cost of moving the building would be largely determined by the distance and that there are literal obstacles to consider, such as power lines and trees.
With the demolition set to begin before the end of January, Wood was pragmatic about the likelihood of salvaging the venerated old fire station.
"It definitely is the last bell for the fire station to ring," he said metaphorically.
But he also insisted that it can be done, citing the relocations of 18 houses -- some larger than Firehouse 5 -- in the last 40 years, by Riverside Avondale Preservation. He was also happy to recall with a wry smile that another structure had been rescued during demolition.
"One of the historic buildings that we saved back in the 70s was the old Martha Washington Hotel," Wood remembered, "and the wrecking ball was literally hitting the building as we got investors who came out of the woodwork and purchased that building. "We pulled the check and handed it to the people who were demolishing it."
Rutledge shared a similarly measured optimism.
"There could be a slight chance if they knew that many people cared about this building," he said. "We’re definitely against odds"
Maybe long odds, but Rutledge said he refuses to give up.
"I wouldn’t be able to sleep well without trying," he said.