When most people think of architecture photography they usually think of pictures of skyscrapers, iconic bridges, and museums, but abandoned places can also make hauntingly beautiful photographs. Empty hotels, churches, and schools show what the world could look like if humans were no longer living on the planet. They also show us places from our past and hint at memories that were lost in time.
Finding The Best Abandoned Places in Jacksonville FL for Photos
There are many abandoned places in Jacksonville, FL making it a great spot for photographers to capture these long-lost ruins. This article will cover our pick for the top 8 abandoned places in Jacksonville, Florida for photographers.
Jacksonville’s Unique History
Jacksonville, Florida is truly a hidden gem for abandoned architecture photographers in the southeast United States. Located along the St. Johns River and the Atlantic Ocean Jacksonville has unique waterfront property. It’s rich and varied history dates back hundreds of years. The city began a growth spurt in the 18th century when it was called Cow Ford. It has been a bustling hub of commerce boasting several ports, railroads, and a handful of military sites located throughout the metro area.
All of this makes the city of Jacksonville an ideal location to shoot abandoned places and buildings. Over the years Jacksonville has experienced booms and busts. As a result, it has the perfect mix of industrial growth followed by abandonment and decay that makes for interesting photo spots. Abandoned schools, factories, hotels, towers, and infrastructure are just waiting to be discovered. The city is known by many urban explorers and history buffs alike who seek out these locations and document them.
Our Picks For The Top 8 Abandoned Places In Jacksonville FL
Below is a list of the best abandoned places in Jacksonville FL for photographers. This list is only scratching the surface of all the great locations available in Duval. Jacksonville is home to haunted mansions, rusted-out treasure hunting ships to meatpacking plants, and more. You’ll be hardpressed to find a city with more different types of abandoned areas to shoot and explore.
Continue reading to see which 8 abandoned locations made our list for photographers and learn more facts about these places in Jacksonville, FL, Florida’s largest city.
The Ambassador Hotel
As downtown Jacksonville struggled to find it’s footing during the last half-century mush of the city’s commercial and residential activity has moved toward the suburbs. When the commercial activity relocated so too did the economic investment. Many of Jacksonville’s once regal and proud buildings now stand empty including the Ambassador Hotel.
This building was constructed in 1924 as luxury apartments made from brick and limestone. Eventually, the structure was converted into the Three-Ten Hotel and after a name change, it became The Ambassador Hotel in 1955.
In the early 1980s, the hotel’s reputation began to decline even though it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. In the 90s drug raids by the local police were a common sight and the building was finally condemned in 1998 for a litany of code violations including poor sanitation, bad wiring, inoperable fire escapes, and inoperable lighting to name a few. It has sat vacant ever since.
There have been a few plans over the years to revive the old Georgian revival-style building and restore it to its former glory but nothing has come to pass. This building is perfect for an adventurous photographer. Be sure to take a wide-angle lens (with a 35mm equivalent focal range of 14-28mm) with you when you shoot at The Ambassador Hotel.
This makes your subject look much more commanding and it also helps put your viewer into the scene. The wide-angle lens adds drama and elicits feelings of emptiness and isolation. Wide shots can be helpful here in the confined spaces where you would like to project vastness. This building’s status could change at any time so be sure to shoot here before it does.
Annie Lytle Elementary School
In 1917 construction of this historic school began on the site of a former wooden schoolhouse known as Riverside Park School. The Annie Lytle Elementary school cost $250,000 and was designed by architecture firm Rutledge Homes. It opened in 1918 after a year of construction.
The building was unique in its design with stately columns, a cafeteria with a fireplace, large windows, and a large auditorium. During the 1950s Jacksonville constructed two major highways, I-95 and I-10, and the school was cut off from the rest of the city. The school closed in 1960 and was used for storage and offices until 1971 when the building was condemned.
Photographs who plan to shoot the Annie Lytle Elementary School should consider bringing light. Bring a flashlight and manually set your camera’s sensitivity, or ISO, above 800. You can use the flashlight to illuminate the whole scene or just a certain area that you want to highlight. Make areas pop by adjusting the movement and placement of your light. If you shoot with a longer shutter speed to keep the lighting even you’ll be able to pick up many beautiful textures of the school building.
If you are shooting with a handheld camera be sure to use your camera’s built-in image stabilizer so no movement can cause your images to blur unless that is the look you are trying to create. Annie Lytle Elementary school is one of the holy grail sites for photographers shooting abandoned buildings in Jacksonville, Florida so be sure to shoot it before it’s gone.
PotashCorp Phosphate Terminal
This $3 million terminal was builtin 1966 to support the phosphate mining and processing operation of the Occidental Agricultural Chemicals Corporation, which also operated a massive mine and processing plant in nearby White Springs.
This terminal had a production capacity of more than 3,000 tons per hour. The facility has six massive concrete storage containers, a mooring facility, six steel storage tanks, and a car unloading facility with a 48-inch conveyer belt. In 1995 the facility was acquired by the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan, Inc and the facility closed it’s doors four years later.
This site has laid dormant for the past two decades and is a gem for architectural photographers. Play around with the composition of your shot at the terminal and you will get some pretty great photographs. Look for different angles and perspectives as you challenge the rules. Heighten the character of your building as you play with leading lines or get your camera down low to the ground and take a shot from a corner. There is so much you can do at the PotashCorp Phosphate Terminals.
Don’t be surprised if you see other photographers on the grounds. This is one of the more popular places for out of town urban explorers and photographers to visit in Jacksonville, FL. It has also been featured on numerous YouTube channels.
The Neff House
The Neff House is a private residence located in the forests along Fort George Island. The home was constructed in the early 20th century to be a summer residence for a wealthy Chicago businessman Nettleton Neff. The Neff Home was constructed in the Tudor Revival-style and boasts a striking circular entry tower and a wrought-iron balcony above the front door.
After several personal tragedies, Neff committed suicide in 1931. He never had a chance to occupy the summer home that he had built. The Neff Home was purchased by a local shipbuilding businessman named Kenneth Merrill. Merrill used the home as a place for his family to retreats until 1967 when it was sold to the Betz family. The Betz family resided in the home year-round. The Betz family expanded the home adding a kitchen, garage, and a swimming pool.
The Betz family lived in it until 1985 when Fairfield Communities purchased the home to support archeological efforts in the region. In 1989 the Florida Park Service took over the property and used it as a residence for park rangers. Structural issues led to abandonment in 2002.
It’s a good hike before you get to the home so make sure you pack an amount of equipment you feel comfortable hiking with. Once you’ve reached the home it would be easy to take a few larger imposing shots that show the entirety of the home and its condition, but you can tell another story if you focus on the small details.
Crumbling walls, peeling paint, and small items that have been left behind can be the stars of your photographs. These shots can also highlight how the Neff Home has been used in its “afterlife”, picking up on graffiti, old beer bottles, or bits left by scrappers. Either way, you choose to shoot the home, you’re sure to wind up with some truly interesting photographs.
Public School No. 8
Public School No. 8 was originally named Graded Springfield School. In 1909 it opened its doors to the Phoenix Avenue neighborhood, mostly a working-class neighborhood. The school was expanded in 1926 by local architect Roy Benjamin known for the Florida Theater and San Marco Theater.
The Haines Street Expressway was built in 1966 and isolated the neighborhood. The population of the school started to decline as more people moved from the neighborhood.
The building was repurposed as a Montessori school in 1991, but by the end of the decade, the Duval County School Board determined the $10 million in renovations it desperately needed weren’t a good investment. Instead, they opted to vacate the school and move to a new building which opened in 2005.
While this site is located in a rougher neighborhood in town it is one that should not be missed by photographers and urban explorers alike. Photographing the exterior of the building is daily simple. The lens you shoes to use will depend on how close you are to the building. A long focal length lens is ideal if you are taking photos from a distance but also bring a wide-angle lens to capture the building at a wider stance.
Abandoned structures like this school are perfect subjects for HDR photography. HDR cameras capture the rust, brick, peeling paint, and exposed wood beautifully. Set up a tripod outside the building and take a series of photos with the different light settings.
Yellow Water Nuclear Weapons Storage Area
This top-secret site was used to store nuclear weapons during the Cold War in Duval Country near Cecil Field. It features 89 ammunition bunkers in various sizes and configurations. There are even some underground spaces with concrete doors. Visitors will also find some smaller sites used to store explosives.
The site was kept hidden from the public until 1985 when a book was published that let the cat out of the bag on several nuclear storage facilities around the country. Military leaders declined to comment on the details of the Yellow Water Nuclear Weapons Storage Area.
In 1990, President Bush began dismantling nuclear weapons sites across the country and the weapons stored here were moved to Amarillo Texas to be decommissioned at a Department of Energy Plant. The Cecil Feild was redeveloped as Cecil Commerce Center but the buildings and bunkers remain behind a barbed-wire fence.
Photographers are drawn to this location to shoot because of the juxtaposition between nature and the manmade world. This heavily overgrown location allows the photographer to capture nature is a particularly eerie way next to the nuclear bunkers.
Moulton & Kyle Funeral Home
Jacksonville’s first funeral home was founded in the mid-1800s by Calvin Oak. Oak was a Vermont businessman who was stricken with tuberculosis and moved his family to Florida for the sunshine in hopes that he would regain his health. The change of scenery worked and over the next three decades, he built the city’s first ammunition factory, operated a jewelry store, and founded a marble and mortuary company with his son.
This building has changed many hands over the years until it was purchased by Peeples Family Funeral Homes in 1992. The firm eventually moved to a new location in 2013 and the oldest funeral home sat abandoned. The building has seen a partial roof collapse, water damage, and a fire in 2019, however, it is still standing.
When you shoot the old funeral home look for patterns and symmetry. Our eyes are naturally drawn to patterns and likeness in images. Be sure to think outside of the box, don’t just shoot the same wider picture that every photographer shoots going into the Moulton & Kyle Funeral Home.
Mt. Calvary Baptist Church
Our last building is the Mt. Calvary Baptist Church located in the Brooklyn neighborhood. The land was sold to a Confederate soldier after the civil war who developed the area into the Riverside and Brooklyn neighborhoods. The Brooklyn neighborhood attracted many African-American war veterans and Mt. Calvary Baptist Church was built in 1955 to serve the population.
Designed and constructed by James Edward Hutchins, one of the region’s most prominent African American contractors. At its peak in the mid-20th century, Brooklyn was home to 6,000 people but the area soon shifted to commercial after the construction of the Fuller Warren Bridge and nearby railroad infrastructure.
Over the next decade, the residential population declines and so went the population of the church. The church was abandoned in 1999 and has sat vacant.
This is an interesting building for photographers to capture what happens to a building over time when people move out. Obvious signs of neglect are present as the roof tiles litter the floor and pews. There are plenty of instances when the manual mode will work just fine. This is not one of them.
Because of the extreme lighting conditions inside the church, you will need to control all aspects of the lighting. Control the aperture and shutter speed to ensure proper lighting. Use the light coming in from the church’s windows to highlight the pews of other objects of interest. There is a lot a photographer can do here with a little control and a bit of patience.
Jacksonville Florida’s Abandoned Places Make Great Photo Spots
Architectural photography is so much more than pictures of sleek ultra-modern skyscrapers and palatial residences. It is also capturing these moments of history and historical sites left untouched by time. This type of photography can give us a sense of where we have come from and where we are going.
Many abandoned places in Jacksonville FL are worth taking a look and a few photographs of. Use this guide as your resource to the best places for photographers and some tips for shooting these sites.