by Jeremy Morrison
The John Sunday house has been torn down. All that remains is a pile of bricks and wood, shingles and cement — a heap of history on the corner of Romana and Reus.
The house was built by Sunday, a prominent local African-America businessman who had served under Ulysses S. Grant in the Civil War and went on to hold state and local offices, as well as contribute to the building up of Pensacola. The demolition — clearing the way for townhomes — comes after a lengthy community debate and recent legal ruling.
The Saturday demolition of the Sunday house occurred just two days after the Pensacola City Council took up an initiative to explore ways to protect historically and culturally significant structures. Councilman Brian Spencer, who initiated the effort, said he considered the Sunday house experience the be a “springboard” for a community discussion on what constitutes culturally significant and how such structures could be afforded some protection, and his fellow council members seemed to agree.
“If nothing else good comes out of the John Sunday tragedy, there is a greater awareness that we have to do something and do it soon,” said Councilwoman Sherri Myers, who referred to the clearing of such structures as “gentrification without justice.”
The council decided to dig into the city’s planning process, its development code and permitting process, to determine if there are adequate safeguards in place to protect historic structures, and discussed the possibility of creating an application process for the demolition of such structures. The council also intends to conduct a citywide inventory of historic structures, as well as structures that might be otherwise historically significant.
Theresa Hill, a Belmont Devillers resident, thanked the city council for taking on such an effort.
“We need this additional layer of protection from the tactics we’ve seen,” Hill told them during the meeting.
Prior to the council meeting, Hill had described the Sunday house as “the straw” or “cornerstone” — “whichever way you want to see it” — that had sparked wider consciousness about an ongoing issue. She lamented the clearing of structures in her own neighborhood, where she’s currently involved in opposing the demolition of an old house to make way for a stormwater pond.
“It’s just heartbreaking to see what’s happening in the Belmont,” Hill said.
Hill was instrumental in delivering an online petition to Councilman Spencer, as well as Mayor Ashton Hayward. The petition urged the city to embark on the journey they appeared to embrace Thursday — establishing a more safeguarded process for the city’s historically and culturally significant structures.
Hill said she was encouraged by such an action.
“It’s just time to stop,” she said. “To take a step back, [and ask] ‘who are we as a city?’”