This bank-turned-restaurant, located in downtown Jacksonville, Florida, stands as a testament to the transformative impact of adaptive reuse in an urban neighborhood.
In 1901, a raging fire swept through Jacksonville, Florida, and reduced blocks of downtown buildings to ash. What is now the Cowford Chophouse building opened as the rebuilt First National Bank of Florida in 1902, making it one of the earliest symbols of Jacksonville’s rebirth. Today, the building stands as a testament to the transformative impact of adaptive reuse in an urban neighborhood. Through an extensive two-year renovation, Jacksonville-based Design Cooperative worked with restaurateur Jacques Klempf and Danis Construction to design a modern steakhouse with classic style.
By the time Klempf purchased it at auction in 2014, the building had suffered significant structural damage from years of neglect. Yet he saw potential, not just for the historic landmark but for its surrounding area. Many details of this Renaissance Revival landmark have been restored to their original glory with support from the Downtown Investment Authority and the City of Jacksonville’s Historic Preservation Trust Fund. Restored elements include the historic arched windows, exterior bricks, metal cornice, and 300-year-old heart of pine lumber that is seen throughout the building.
Interior finishes were selected to complement the existing architecture while reflecting the vision of the owner, the city of Jacksonville, and the St. Johns River in a classic style to stand the test of time. The two prominent patterns used are Herringbone and a rectilinear pattern, which was found on the original safe deposit boxes discovered in the vault. Upon entering the first floor lobby, guests are immediately greeted by burnt wood detailing on the host stand, inspired by the Shou Sugi Ban technique—a nod to the building’s rebirth after the Great Fire of 1901.
In addition to the First National Bank of Florida, the Cowford Chophouse building also housed the Guaranty Trust and Savings Bank, the Brotherhood State Bank for Savings, and several professional offices, including the office of architect Henry John Klutho. Interior details inspired by the building’s unique history include a wine locker display in front of the host stand, close to the location of the original bank vault; the ceiling design at the first and second floor levels, similar to the original tin coffers found in ruins; and original paintings by Jacksonville artist Jim Draper, whose jaguar mural once spanned across the building’s boarded-up windows.
While the first floor features a casual environment—highlighted by large community tables bearing an artistic nod to the St. Johns River—the second floor features more intimate tones and a seven-seat “river bar” with a dramatic gold-leafed glass face and Silver Egeo marble top. Framed photographs line the ornamental stairway—depicting the original building and various phases of its extensive transformation—from the foundation to the rooftop terrace, where guests can enjoy unimpeded views of the city that inspired this one-of-a-kind dining destination.