Our great city is home to dozens of iconic buildings Downtown that have their own unique, cultural history to tell. The Bryan Building on Hogan Street at Hemming Park is one such superstructure that is layered with decades of creative owners and establishments that only add to its rich authenticity. With the upcoming grand opening of The Lark, these urban walls are on the verge of starting a bright and brand-new contemporary chapter that will revitalize a cherished pocket of our beloved Downtown. Above the store fronts of Hemming Plaza Jewelers and Vagabond Coffee is a vibrant, pulsing innovative space that is about to become a magnet landmark where art, culture, and community collide. Whether you’re a newbie to town, or a weathered veteran of the urban core, The Lark is guaranteed to show you a panoply of raw arts entertainment of all shapes and colors that only an inner-city setting can provide.
Now I don’t want to call it an urban legend, but those of a certain age say that Underwood Jewelers once accommodated brides-to-be on the third floor of the Bryan Building. In the 1950’s and 60’s, it was the place to be where fancy city dwellers made those important aesthetic decisions about something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. A panel of floral-and-bird-patterned wallpaper was recently uncovered during third floor renovations bringing these nuptial reflections back to the surface and the light.
“There aren’t many places like this. The building’s got art in its bones. It’s a studio space, a gallery space, an event space, a hang-out space, a performance space, an everything space; The Lark is going to be all these things and more! And it’s going to happen by being different.” – Rob Middleton
So, what is The Lark? In the words of co-founder and artist Rob Middleton, “We don’t want to commit to being any one thing. I picture this space as multi-use, and there is great potential in the community aspect of that. As a creative co-working space, The Lark’s flexibility gives artists a space to teach, hold workshops, and rehearse. We anticipate hosting concerts and live theater. The sky really is the limit at The Lark.” The project’s name was chosen by building owner and developer George Saoud, who consulted Middleton and long-time resident artist Meleese. Together they realized that a lark would serve as a perfect emblem for the collective “to convey the happiness, creativity, and freedom offered in this revitalized downtown treasure of a space”. Having manifested this vision for the past two years, Saoud is thrilled about finally being able to provide an eclectic space for artists and art enthusiasts to come together; and the location couldn’t be more ideal.
“We want to give the building new use as an event space; to have a cultural epicenter at Hemming Park for local artists to house and display their work. The Lark will open opportunities to draw in younger crowds and provide people with a reason to stay downtown after 5 pm.” Saoud has even struck up a conversation with Downtown Vision to create a dining deck with tables on the sidewalk, and lights strung from the building to pergolas, resembling an old-world European feel that utilizes the space after dark. This is exactly what Jacksonville’s city center has been craving, and The Lark is prepared to pull out all the stops to provide it for us all!
Long-time resident artist Meleese says “The Lark will be a combination of artists’ space and venue. Artists need to create and a place to do so, but most artists also want to show their work, and artists who want to show their work need other people to experience it. That is where The Lark is more than a simple art studio. There is a greater focus now on engaging with the community. Working in a space where I know others will come through regularly, see what I have done, and experience from it really changes my creative thinking. It is no longer creating for myself, at home or in an isolated space, or behind a curtain, or even just to hang on a wall. It is now creating for a much wider audience.”
The Lark: Before Opening by David Grant
So, on an average day, there will be artists working in their studio spaces on the third floor. If they put a sign on the glass street-level door that says ‘welcome’, any one of us is invited in to witness the magic. On a more weekly, case-to-case basis, The Lark plans to host happy hours, live performances, gallery exhibition openings, and whatever other creative ideas someone might propose. Rob Middleton says, “We hope to partner with a multitude of local businesses and creative organizations because our goal for this space is a mutually beneficial one for everybody. There will be some fixed operating hours- likely during lunch and after work- with the added flexibility of being used for morning meetings, yoga classes, happy hours, parties. I want it to be prosperous for all involved, that’s the advantage of not being tied to any one thing. I’m really grateful to George that he is open to a free, artistic vision for this space, and that he sees the advantage of that potential. Each event will evolve and improve upon the one before it, and it’s only going to get better and better. What we put out will be a feeling and everything here is good vibes.”
Middleton gave me a tour of The Lark while it was under renovation. Amongst the alluring debris of a construction site revival, he explained that the massive windows which now invite so much light and exposure had been entirely covered by bricks since the 1950s until now. What a shame for any light-loving patron in that interim! Facing the Jacksonville Skyway to the west and overlooking Hemming Park to the north, these freshly unveiled portholes give a respectful nod to the past while unequivocally opening a new window to the future of Jacksonville’s arts and culture scene.
I was charmingly drawn to the panel with the previously mentioned exposed wall paper from the bridal suite. Layered atop the original plastered paper design are brightly drawn outlines of a time-period car, cookie-cutter homes, what appears to be cats at play, and birds. Not just any birds though; but a cardinal and a lark. The cardinal is drawn somewhat smaller, and intentionally facing to the left; while the lark, larger and a bit more commanding, faces confidently in the opposite direction. Artist Tony Rodriguez was invited to blend his exquisite stylized craftsmanship atop the post-war era wall paper as a conglomerate inauguration piece to usher in the bold ideas.
The Lark hopes to have its doors open for the October Art Walk. Follow them on social media for up-to-date opening information. For the present moment, it will likely take time. Middleton says, “The Lark is destined to be an experience like nowhere else. It’s an arts community, and we don’t truly know what it’s going to be until it happens. It’s going to be that place where people say, ‘They’ve always got something cool happening, let’s go see what it is tonight’. Whatever it takes to make that work is what we will be.”
The Lark is located at 229 N. Hogan Street, 32202