History is coming full circle for two of Jacksonville and Orange Park’s most prominent families with ties to grand estates on the banks of the St. Johns River.
Karrie Massee, a descendant of the B.J. Johnson Soap Co. and Palmolive Co. family, operates The Club Continental in Orange Park and soon will open a luxury boutique hotel a block north on Astor Street.
Known as Azaleana Manor, it’s the former home of Raymond K. Mason at 12 Kingsley Ave.
Mason was the founder of The Charter Co., once a Jacksonville-based Fortune 500 company. He owned and lived at the Jacksonville estate that now is Epping Forest Yacht & Country Club.
Massee’s 2018 purchase of his 4-acre Orange Park parcel brings the land back into the Johnson-Massee family.
With its ancient oaks and natural bluff facing the river, it was part of a multiacre parcel of riverfront land that Massee’s great-grandparents bought more than a century ago.
Azaleana Manor is scheduled to open by Aug. 15, Massee said. With its seven professionally decorated bedrooms, each with its own bathroom and refrigerator, a cedar wood library and other large sitting areas, it’s designed for weddings, corporate meetings and other special occasions.
“This is ideal for corporate retreats,” Massee said. “They can have the entire place. They can have complete privacy.”
The hotel already is booked for a wedding and a 100th birthday celebration with a family stay-over.
Azaleana Manor joins two other Massee-owned hotels in Orange Park: The Club Continental, a Mediterranean Revival luxury resort with a private club and special events venue; and the Winterbourne, a circa 1870 estate-turned-hotel that Massee’s namesake, her great-grandmother Karrie Johnson Ferguson, bought with her husband in 1906.
Massee said she spent more than $1 million to renovate the more than 10,000-square-foot Mason home and meet commercial codes and ADA requirements.
The house has tile floors, 12-to-14-foot ceilings, bay windows, fireplaces and a view of the river from every room.
Raymond Mason and his wife, Minerva, bought the house in 1985.
That was the year after his company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization and sold the Epping estate to Herb Peyton, the founder of Gate Petroleum Co. Peyton turned the property into a private club.
The Epping estate originally was built by industrialist Alfred I. duPont and his wife, Jessie Ball duPont.
Mason, whose mentor was Ed Ball, Jessie Ball duPont’s brother, acquired the estate after the duPonts died.
He made history there.
In November 1975, Mason hosted a meeting at Epping between President Gerald Ford and Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat about the worsening civil strife in Lebanon.
Mason’s Charter Oil Co. had extensive holdings in the Middle East.
While his company focused primarily on oil, The Charter Co. owned more than 180 subsidiaries, including interests in insurance and communications, such as Redbook and Ladies’ Home Journal magazines.
Charter was on the Fortune 500 for more than a decade through the 1970s and ‘80s. In 1983, it posted revenue of $5.6 billion.
A drop in oil prices and insurance market problems sent Charter’s finances spiraling. The company filed for Chapter 11 in 1984 and eventually sold its businesses.
After Raymond and Minerva Mason bought the Orange Park house, they quadrupled its size, adding a wing that included a cedar library that still contains 800 of Mason’s books.
The private home’s transition began about two years ago with a call from Mason’s daughter, Marcie Mason Moody, who has known Massee since kindergarten.
“I walked across the street to tell her that dad was moving out and he wanted to offer it to her first,” Mason Moody said.
Massee didn’t take long to make up her mind.
“I came over and looked and the wheels started turning,” Massee said. “I envisioned exactly what I’m doing now.”
She loved the home’s beauty and glamour.
“It’s just spectacular,” Massee said. “You can’t beat this view.”
Mason, 92, and his wife moved to Jacksonville. Minerva Mason died May 11 at the age of 93.
About once a month, he stops by Azaleana Manor with his daughter to see its progress.
“That’s been great fun for him to watch,” Mason Moody said. “Daddy loved the library and he’s thrilled that she’s keeping it and the exterior of the house as is. Mother entertained a lot at the house. They loved it and always enjoyed using the whole property.”
The hotel’s name, Azaleana Manor, also has family roots. It’s what Massee’s grandmother called the World War II-era bed-and-breakfast she ran at what is now The Club Continental.
Caleb Johnson, the brother of Massee’s great-aunt, built the structure in 1923 as a winter home. Massee’s father, Caleb “Jon” Massee, turned it into The Club Continental in 1966.
Now, with a strong economy and a strong occupancy rate at the family’s hotels, Massee not only is regrouping but expanding.
“It’s either the smartest thing, or the dumbest thing, I’ve ever done,” she said.
Orange Park Town Manager Sarah Campbell said Massee’s establishments have been “a tremendous asset to our town. I think everybody is looking forward to her new offering.”
Jacksonville lodging leader Fred Pozin said Massee is tapping into a niche market for private accommodations where a family can stay under one roof.
That is a market that Airbnb has capitalized on, said Pozin, general manager of the Ramada by Wyndham Jacksonville Hotel & Conference Center in Mandarin and a former member of the Duval County Tourist Development Council.
“There’s a market for folks who want to get off the beaten path, out of the commercial district and into a residential neighborhood,” Pozin said.