In the heart of downtown, on the corner of Pine Street and Magnolia Avenue, is a building that seems out of place with its viridian façade, wine accents, and narrow windows. While many of our readers have wandered in to check out the latest Gallery at Avalon Island exhibit, most don’t realize that this antiquated wonder was built in 1886, making it the oldest operational building in the City Beautiful. It was added to US National Register of Historic Places on July 7, 1983.
A daily sight for many in the central business district, the the Rogers Building is named after Britain-native Gordon Rogers who immigrated in the late 19th century. While other British immigrants managed citrus groves and cattle farms, Rogers embraced the American drive for entrepreneurship, establishing an English Club designed by William H. Mullins. The result was a beautiful cyprus building in the Queen Anne revival style, a neutral shade of beige.
Since its conception, the building’s popularity has always fluctuated. In the 1880s just as much as today, though, it was loved. As the English Club, gentlemen danced in the second-floor hall and grabbed a drink from the Cosmopolitan Club downstairs. In the mid-1890s, however, a harsh winter killed orange trees, sending many patrons back to England. Before leaving, Rogers renovated his building in 1910, covering the stucco walls with imported pressed zinc plates.
From the freeze onward, there were many tenants. In the early 1900s the South Florida Sentinel printing press (a precursor to the Orlando Sentinel) settled in. The 1920s welcomed Lucius Duncan’s furniture business. In the 1930s the upstairs hall oversaw the First Spiritualist Church, Puritan Sisterhood of the Dames, Workers Alliance, Brick Masons & Plasterers International Union, Royal Neighbors of America, Modern Woodmen of the World, Southern School of Commerce, and Jennie Mills’ Beauty Shoppe. The 1950s saw the rise and fall of Arthur Murray’s Studio of Dancing and four restaurants owned by Clarence Badore, Alma Sheeley, Harry Hoffman, and Morton Taylor. Hoffman’s was the most successful, selling full meals for 65 cents.
While many of our readers have wandered in to check out the latest Gallery at Avalon Island exhibit, most don’t realize that this antiquated wonder was built in 1886, making it the oldest operational building in the City Beautiful.
In the 1970s Taylor’s Korner Kitchen was bought by W. D. Driggers and renamed J & J Restaurant after Driggers’ daughters. Driggers renovated the space before selling to Frank Suriano, who once again changed the name. Suriano’s was popular with jurors from the courthouse—notably during the Ted Bundy trial—until 1983 when Suriano passed away of cancer, the lease expired, rent doubled, and widow Mamie Suriano decided to close shop. After the building’s restaurant-reign ended, Bob Cuellar’s Locksmith Service was the only tenant until the 90s.
The summer of 1999 changed everything with two words: green and art. Ford Kiene bought the structure; with architect Chalmers Yielding, he restored the heart-of-pine flooring and gave the building its now-iconic forest green and rust red Victorian paint job. In October 2000 the Gallery at Avalon Island and Guinevere’s coffeehouse opened, both referencing Camelot and honoring the building’s English origins. In November 2001 the Mad Cow Theatre found its first permanent home there; its opening show was the children’s play Mole’s Homecoming: A Holiday Tail. In 2003 the Downtown Media Arts Center monopolized the building but was short-lived, closing in 2006.
Now, Gallery at Avalon Island still stands proudly, welcoming Orlandoans inside the Rogers Building to soak in the city’s grassroots artistic culture while bearing witness to over a century of history in one ornate green building on the corner of Pine and Magnolia.