It was no mistake when the society’s founders selected May 3, 1929, as the organization’s initial meeting date. May 3, 2017, marks 88 years for the Jacksonville Historical Society. The society shares the important May 3, date with the anniversary of the Great Fire of 1901.
Looking back to the society’s 1929 founding year, the Empire State Building went up and the stock market came crashing down. Babe Ruth hit his 500th home run. The average income was $2,063, and gasoline was 12 cents a gallon. Herbert Hoover was president, and life expectancy had climbed to an unimaginable 54 years, and that’s with bathtub gin as one of the most consumed beverages of the time!
For 15 cents, you could cross the first bridge for vehicular traffic spanning the St. Johns River at Jacksonville, the St. Johns River Bridge, later known as the Acosta. The bridge was advertised as Jacksonville’s gift to Florida.
During the decade of the jazz age, the roaring 20’s many called it, the eyes of the nation were on Florida. And, Jacksonville, the gateway to the state boomed with growth. New buildings dotted the city’s skyline, the tallest the city had ever seen, including the Lynch Building, the Barnett Bank Building, the Levy Building and Greenleaf and Crosby.
Growth was also exploding in the city’s neighborhoods and suburbs. San Jose, Panama Park, North Shore, Venetia, Timuquana and Ortega were among the developing suburbs. The Woman’s Club was dedicated, and society matrons swooned as the nude statue “Life” was unveiled in Memorial Park. Soon, the fabulous new Park Lane Apartments would rise next door. The Riverside and Capitol movie theaters opened. By 1927, three new high schools replaced Duval High—Landon, Lee and Jackson high schools. And there was much more, including the zoo’s new elephant, Miss Chic!
The other high grossing business in the state? That business included rum-running, along with its resulting backroom bars and speakeasies. The nation went dry in January 1920, but our city had actually banned the sale of alcohol 18 months earlier to keep the military happy. Soldiers filled the city and boosted the area economy when Jacksonville was selected as a World War I training site, but use of liquor among the troops had created a new city nickname, “booze oasis.”
Prohibition was in effect the entire decade and beyond. In fact, the ill-fated experiment lasted a lengthy 12 years, 11 months and five days.
One of the two biggest events of the decade preceding the Jacksonville Historical Society’s founding was Lindbergh’s visit in 1927, only months after he crossed the Atlantic. Lindbergh flew into Jacksonville in his Spirit of St. Louis by invitation of Robert Kloppel, owner of the George Washington Hotel. The celebration, according to newspapers of the day, surpassed any event in the state’s history, as more people lined the streets than citizens in the city.
The other big event was the opening of the Florida Theatre. Even though the city already boasted a dozen movie theatres, the Florida Theatre was no ordinary theatre. The citizens were dazzled by its extravagance.
Also leading up to the society’s founding was the city’s first “all-talking” movie, “Lights of New York.” That first “talkie” was ushered in by a visit from President Calvin Coolidge, the initiation of air mail service, and a new world endurance flying record set at the beaches.
Along with two rather new grand hotels, what more could the city hope for? The George Washington Hotel and the Carling Hotel had opened a few years prior to
the society’s founding. So, the Carling, still standing today as apartments, was selected as the founding site. What was the total bill for that first meeting of to approximately 300 who turned out? It was $15. But it should be remembered, prohibition was still in effect, no alcohol was included!
Happy Birthday, Jacksonville Historical Society. You’re looking good at 88!