A man named King Solomon Ratel and his wife Marvel bought several acres of land along the Trout River. They built over a dozen concrete houses between the 1930s and 1970s.
JACKSONVILLE, Florida. In a modest area on the north side of Jacksonville, surrounded by the usual ranches and bungalows, you will find an architectural curiosity.
About 15 houses along Trout River Boulevard and beyond are adorned with colorful Art Deco-styled drainpipes unlike anything else you’ll find on the First Coast.
“A lot of people call it a diner because it looks like a diner,” said homeowner Earl Futch.
The house in the 9000 block of Water Street stands right on the banks of the Trout River. It was built in 1951. The flat-roofed house is wrapped in vinyl, but its structure is filled with concrete. Homeowner Earl Futch bought his house 30 years ago.
“I just love the style. The house is unique,” Futch said. All corners of the house are round.
The kitchen still retains the original cast concrete countertops and aluminum shelves, but its most distinctive feature from the outside is the flat roof.
“The downside is that their flat roofs leak,” Futch said.
Downspouts protruding along the roofline serve as both drainage and decoration. The Futches House is one of more than a dozen similar homes on Jacksonville’s north side, either side by side or just a few miles apart.
“I call them maritime modern houses because they were unique to this man who came from Georgia in the 1920s,” said historian Dr. Wayne Wood. “These are houses made of concrete blocks with smooth plaster. They have rounded corners, many of them have rounded windows and doorways. On flat roofs, there are downspouts through which water flows off the roof.”
Historian Dr. Wayne Wood says that a man named King Solomon Ratel and his wife, Marvel Funderbank, bought several acres along the Trout River during the Great Depression and began construction. But they were not builders or architects.
“He was just a merchant who learned how to build houses by watching others build and maybe helping them before coming to Jacksonville,” Wood said.
Former Jacksonville art director Glenn Weiss says that all of the houses built between the 1930s and 1970s were physically demanding.
“He had ramps that went up and down the scaffolding to pick up the concrete himself after mixing it on the ground and then roll it around on a wheelbarrow to build the building, including pouring the concrete ribs, which went on. So the amount of muscle energy this guy must have had must have been huge,” said Glenn Weiss.
Despite the similarities, Wood says each home is unique.
“He intentionally didn’t make two houses the same,” Wood said.
It was the first house built by Ratel in 1938.
“Every two years he built another one. And the last house he built was actually 1971,” Wood said.
Ratel died in 1976. He and his wife are buried in Evergreen Cemetery.
Kevin Kenneth Young lives in a house built by Ratel on Turton Avenue. He says that his house is strong, but because it is made of concrete, it is not easy to repair it.
“You want to bring in an architect before doing anything with one of these houses because they are old. They are strong, they are durable. I wouldn’t trade this property for any property in the world. It’s a headache, but I love it,” said homeowner Kevin Kenneth Young.
But Futch says his home has changed over the years.
“This inner bathroom led to a window overlooking the veranda, which was at the back of the house. And it’s all closed now. I believe this guy has built these houses so solid and rebuilt that they just aren’t going anywhere,” Futch said.