HIGH SOCIETY– To receive a dinner invitation to “The Row” used to be quite an honor. This was the nickname for the northern portion of Riverside Avenue, when more than 50 spectacular mansions lined its sides. During its glory days of the early 1900s, Riverside Avenue ran through the residential showplace of the Gateway to Florida. The Row extended about seven blocks, from Margaret to Edison streets, a stretch that today includes Memorial Park, the Cummer Museum, and the Garden Club.
Entertaining proved such a way of life along The Row that its houses were sometimes designed with this in mind. According to George Hallam’s wonderful memoir Riverside Remembered, a well laid-out residence would boast a dining room that opened into a wide colonial hall that ran through the structure’s center, giving partiers easy access to first floor rooms. A reception could prove a feast of flora, with chambers decked with palms, ferns, autumn leaves, magnolia wreaths, bridesmaid roses, and yellow and crimson chrysanthemums. Even more eye-catching were the ladies, showing off Paris gowns of satin, Brussels lace, and crepe de chine. A butler might greet the guests, and the hosts would bid them welcome in a receiving line. While an orchestra provided mood music, visitors could partake of ice cream in the dining room, coffee and chocolates in the den, and a punch bowl in the library. These were the grand days of formal dinners, dances, teas, holiday celebrations, and debuts for Riverside’s debutantes.
Perhaps the centerpiece of ritzy Riverside Avenue was a five-story gingerbread house situated not far too north of The Row. This popular hang-out for weekend visitors, located in the neighborhood of Brooklyn, belonged to Jax Mayor J. C. Greeley, father of prominent local architect Mellen C. Greeley. The dwelling’s tower gave a terrific view of the downtown harbor. Many photos were taken from this vantage point, and a number of these images ended up on postcards and in books and brochures.
PICTURE ABOVE — A pink parasoled lady strolls down Riverside Avenue in about 1910. This old postcard indicates that the scene is “at the bend,” which today would be next to the entrance to Memorial Park. This is where the street makes a sharp turn southwest
BOVINE INVADERS — The Row may not have been as exclusive as some of its residents wished. During the early 1900s, the Florida cowboys may’ve been as welcomed as the Clampetts would be in Beverly Hills: These wranglers on horseback often herded their cattle down Riverside Avenue. They were headed to a slaughterhouse on Lackawanna (now Edison) Avenue. Someone would cry out “Cattle comin’!” Then, according to Riverside Remembered, the bullwhips would crack and the hooves would kick the dirt into swirling clouds of dust.
The Row is gone with the wind. Almost every mansion fell victim to the bulldozer and wrecking ball. Modern office buildings and other commercial structures stand where many of the stately homes once did. Only two remain, a couple of wonderfully eclectic dwellings at 1521 and 1541 Riverside Avenue. Both lie in the immediate vicinity of Memorial Park. The neighborhood’s demise was partly caused by commercial zoning, which also impacted Main Street in Springfield in about 1930. Furthermore, The Row was cut up and transformed by the construction of the Fuller Warren Bridge and Interstate 95 during the Fifties. The building of highways and bridges also greatly affected, for example, the neighborhood of East Jacksonville, which is in the vicinity of Everbank Field.