Clock is ticking to save historic College Town homes

Homes were owned by one of Tallahassee's first black entrepreneurs
One of two homes still standing on W. Saint Augustine St. that were previously owned by Willis Jiles, one of Tallahassee's first black entrepreneurs.
Posted at 9:55 PM, Sep 10, 2023
  • The relocation of two homes on West Saint Augustine Street got delayed due to Hurricane Idalia.
  • Now whether or not they can be relocated before redevelopment takes place is up in the air.
  • Preservationists are trying to put together a new plan, and funding.

UPDATE: LANDMARK PROPERTIES RESPONDSABC 27 reached out to Landmark Properties Monday for comment. The company responded with a statement:

“In everything we do, Landmark Properties strives to be a good community partner. We follow a rigorous public approval process to ensure due diligence in the purchase of land for any development. For the Mark at Tallahassee, we sent public notices to neighbors and the Tallahassee Democrat, as well as held open meetings for public comment on the project.

During our public meetings in March 2023, attention was called to the property on 672 W. St. Augustine Street. Landmark immediately conducted a thorough historic designation evaluation of the property that was accepted by the city. Our third-party evaluation of the property for The Mark at Tallahassee uncovered no historic distinction by the state, city, or any other jurisdiction, and Landmark secured all appropriate paperwork and permits from the city to move forward with development.

Landmark received a request to move the building in question immediately before the start of our construction, and we continue to work closely with the interested parties to reach an agreement if the move can fit within our construction schedule. We are committed to the community of Tallahassee and to seeing The Mark deliver on time for 856 students in Fall 2025.”

One red. One Green. Both unassuming houses sitting next to each other on West Saint Augustine Street in Talahassee's Collegetown neighborhood.

But it's what they stand for that has preservationists trying to save them.

"For anyone that has an interest in saving history, specifically black history but overall the history of Tallahassee, these two houses really help tell a story," says Priscilla Hawkins. She's the founder of the Black History Alliance, and one of those working together to try to relocate the homes.

The houses were two of three built side by side for Willis Jiles. He was an early black entrepreneur who ran The Jiles Shoe Factory in Tallahssee the early 1900's. Jiles lived in one house, which is no longer standing. The other two he rented out, notably to both black and white tenants.

"These two homes qualify to be on both the National and local historic registers," says Max Epstein, "but unfortunately it's a voluntary process." Epstein hepls run the Save Historic Structures, Heritage Trees facebook group. He has been a vocal advocate for preserving Tallahassee structures.

"It's important for people like me who have privilege to undertand where we came from," Epstein says, "and we're losing all these sites. And the concept to turn this into a museum and tell the story of Mr. Jiles and the last 100-plus years; without that I don't see how we can have a shared, common understanding here in Tallahassee anymore, and this is one of the last important structures we have left."

Epstein says Landmark, the developer that owns the land has been agreeable to relocating the houses, "but we've encountered delays, permitting delays. We expected to have those two weeks ago. And this is affecting their work schedule as well as ours."

Epstein says the original deadline agreed upon was September 6th, but Hurricane Idalia swept through one week before that, blowing those plans apart. "We had the funding lined up, we had the contractors lined up and then Idlaia happened; so right now we've been unable to come to a conclusion with the developers and create a timeline and a final contract to actually be able to move them," he said. He says there are a couple of different locations under consideration for the relocation.

Hawkins says she would like to see the buildings become something accessible to the public, whether that's a museum or even housing. She says the group hopes to have a new timeline for relocating the houses in place this week, and encourages anyone who wishes to help their efforts to reach out.