ON THE RIVER’S SHORES — “A working son in the Florida family of playboys”: This description of Jax came from a federal government guidebook during the 1930s. Such cities as Miami and Palm Beach received the lion’s share of attention from most people. They had drawn tourists and property speculators like magnets. Nevertheless, Jacksonville chugged away, focusing more on trade and manufacturing. “The Gateway to Florida” steadily increased in population and industry over the years.
Unfortunately, though, the city’s growth resulted in awful eyesore of a waterfront. Wharves and warehouses crowded the Northbank, and railroad tracks added to the mess, especially west of the Main Street Bridge. To make matters worse, many of the rat-infested structures were dilapidated and run down.
AN EMBARRASSMENT — It seemed as if Jax hung its tattered underwear in public to dry. Train passengers going to South Florida usually crossed the railroad bridge that still lies next to the Acosta span. What an eyeful they got! And it could only grow worse with the building of the first Fuller Warren Bridge in 1954. The bridge was to eventually serve as a link in the new interstate highway system, jumping the St. Johns near downtown’s southern edge. Motorists on the span could look over at the city’s waterfront, receiving a dark first impression of the Sunshine State.
Something had to be done — And it was. Led by Mayor Haydon Burns, the municipal government began to take action during the mid Fifties. Over time, new waterfront buildings and parking lots replaced many of yesteryear’s dreary structures. Erected near the river were the County Courthouse, the 13-floor City Hall (today’s City Hall Annex), the 12-story pretrial detention center, and the Civic Auditorium (now the Times-Union Performing Arts Center).
Private businesses occasionally jumped into the act. They added structures like the CSX Building, Jacksonville Landing, and Adam’s Mark Hotel. It’s interesting to note, however, that many private enterprises initially shunned a waterfront spot in downtown Jax. To some extent, this was due to a negative reputation the area had received from the previous, unsightly facilities. No wonder the City of Jacksonville erected government buildings on what is now prime real estate. The vista from the 13th floor of the old City Hall used to be spectacular before being blocked by the Adam’s Mark Hotel.
The transformation of the waterfront still continues.
TRADE & THE RIVER CITY — Jacksonville has done away with the unsightly wharves and warehouses that used to bedevil its downtown. These improvements began during the mid 1950s. But where did the trade facilities disappear to? By the Fifties, most of the shipping had moved to newer docks in the Talleyrand Road area, which lays east of the current Alltel Stadium. More recently, the facilities have become even more dispersed, situated along the St. Johns River between downtown Jax and the Atlantic Ocean. Consequently, the downtown riverfront appears more attractive and less cluttered. Ride over the Fuller Warren Bridge by day and you’ll see a most impressive skyline & waterfront. At night, the view is simply awesome.
~written by Glenn Emery