ROOM & BOARD — Deputy Fife lived at Mrs. Mendelbright’s in “The Andy Griffith Show,” and the ill-fated Professor Humbert resided at Charlotte Haze’s in the movie “Lolita”: Nowadays, boarding houses are more likely to pop up in film than in real life. A century ago, though, Jacksonville was full of them. Many townsfolk dwelled in domiciles in which paying guests are provided with meals and lodging. The accommodations usually consisted of one room per renter or family, while the food was often eaten with other guests at a common table served by the owner. (In contrast, a rooming house typically provides only lodging.)
Around the dawn of the 20th century, the majority of American city residents rented their quarters. These included both families and single people, according to James B. Crooks in his book Jacksonville After The Fire, 1901 – 1919. A number of renters chose boarding houses, for apartments were not yet widespread. In 1887, the Jax city directory listed 57 boarding houses in an urban area far smaller than it is today. The 2002-2003 phone book now shows only seven boarding houses in the River City, with the majority in Springfield.
August Wendt ran a boarding house during yesteryear. He placed an ad in the 1887 Jax directory: “August Wendt will accommodate either transient or permanent guests with good room and table at reasonable rates.” His business operated at 120 East Bay Street, a block in back of the present-day Florida Theater. Interestingly, the 1925 Jax city directory listed a boarding house called “Babies’ Boarding House.” Owned by Mrs. Maude Beondy, this West Jax residence stood at 1511 Lackawanna Avenue.
Especially after World War II, boarding houses began to drop from sight. During the flush times of the Fifties, more people could afford apartments, along with appliances in which to store and cook their own food. Consequently, not too many baby boomers have called boarding houses home.
~written by Glenn Emery