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JaxInvestor

Memories of a boy's Super City

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Sunday, February 06, 2005

It is something, to have outlived a bridge. I was just a child in Jacksonville, the scene of today's Super Bowl, when the Fuller Warren Bridge opened across the St. Johns River. We were among the first to drive over it and pay the 15-cent toll. It was named after the golden-tongued governor of Florida who is buried in Blountstown today.

Buried like his bridge. Truck traffic gradually shuddered the whole thing to pieces. The Fuller Warren Bridge was the water-borne arm of I-10 and the semis gradually pulverized it. It's gone, replaced by a new bridge. Yet I can remember how bright and pretty and new it looked, with its lime-green toll booths and its polite old toll takers.

Jacksonville is such a kaleidoscope for anyone who grew up there. The St. Johns River, broad and blue, splits the town in two, north and south. A gigantic cantilevered railroad trestle had to be lowered into place whenever a train wanted to cross the river, next to the Acosta Bridge.

A terrific array of Cold War sea power was massed at the Mayport navy base and jet fighter aircraft buzzed at low altitude over our high school, Bishop Kenny, during the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

"Bend over and kiss your behinds goodbye, boys!" yelled Coach Joe Pareti during phys ed as the planes screamed above us. "It's World War III!"

Jacksonville had a thriving downtown in those days, all masonry, big sturdy fireproof buildings put up after the disastrous 1901 fire that carbonized the town. Everything centered on Hemming Park with its Confederate soldier monument christened in 1898 and eternally facing south. Hemming Park was the economic heart of the city, with big stores like Cohen Brothers, Furchgott's, J.C. Penney and Woolworth's.

Old men used to play checkers in Hemming Park, hiding the boards and pieces inside lamp bases. I played an old gentleman there once when I was 8 or 9. He tore me to pieces, all the while giving me advice: "Don't move there. I'll jump you two, see."

John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon both spoke in the old circular bandstand at Hemming Park in 1960, during their campaigns for president. My grandfather attended both speeches and shook hands with both of them. My father skipped Nixon, but shook hands with Kennedy.

Drunk boss, mean nuns

It was a two-newspaper town, The Florida Times-Union in the morning, the Jacksonville Journal in the afternoon. I was a paperboy for the Journal. They took advantage of me, forcing me to buy six "extras" every day, which effectively destroyed my profits.

I pedaled my behind off for the Jacksonville Journal. It's amazing I'm still in journalism, considering the fact that my circulation boss was a drunk whom we traced to a bar in St. Nicholas shopping center one afternoon, going inside to "ask him a question." The bartender turned purple and threw us out, but not before we'd spotted our boss, getting snockered at 3 p.m. Ah, the innocent pleasures of youth!

While I'm confessing, I may as well lay it all on the table. We also put sandspurs in the bras of the nuns who beat us at the School of the Assumption (tuition: $5 a month for the first student; $2.50 for each additional student from the same family).

It was pure justice. The nuns had whacked us with their missals, slapped us for irreverence, pinched our ears and used their big Dominican rosaries as beaded whips to quash rebellion. At recess we discovered their laundry lines were open to invasion, so we gathered up sandspurs (scientifically known as Cenchrus echinatus), a very prickly burr-bearing weed common to the sands of Florida, and placed them in their bras.

That was dear old Jacksonville in the 1950s, more than half a century ago. The first Super Bowl was held far away in 1967, the year after I left the place to go to Columbia University in New York, and I've been back only sporadically since.

The little blue-collar town I remember

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Wow, what an interesting point of view. I love Jacksonville's vivid history, the good and the bad. I didn't even know about that integration incedent at Woolworth's and MLK Jr. You learn something new everyday.

It's amazing to see the changes this city has been through, and the cultural growth it's experienced(ing). I love going downtown and seeing those historic buildings, and imagining what it used to be like. My grandma worked in the old Western Union building, which is now JMOMA, so we've both seen that place in two totally different environments. Think about how Hemming Plaza has changed through the years. It's fascinating, IMO.

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MLK was actually arrested in St. Augustine for attempting to integrate the hotels there and was transferred to the Duval County Jail because it was larger, more secure and had air conditioning.

My great-grandmother worked for Mr. Cohen at Cohen Brothers (now City Hall) in the early 1900s. She was married to my great-grandfather at the old First Baptist Church sanctuary just behind the building on Hogan St. My grandmother worked at one of the old theaters downtown as a teenager selling tickets. She was married to my grandfather at the Snyder Memorial Methodist Church on Hemming Park. All my relatives lived in either Springfield or Riverside. I loved that article.

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So Gator,what is the original use of the old building across Liberty St from the crappy Winn-Dixie on Union and across Beaver St from the Fire Station.It has J.P.D. on the facade so I assummed it was the original Jax PD & Jail.

The Jax jail with river views,how cool is that :rofl:

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The old police building still stands on Liberty Street and Union (I believe, I cant see it from here), and I think is currently being used by the Florida Department Of Law Enforcement. It is a large brick building with large columns in front. The columns have horizontal bands in them which I think is an interesting detail. It is a vastly more attractive design than the current Police Memorial Building, which reminds me of the old concrete German gun emplacements at Pointe Du Hoc in Normandy.

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Well, I'm sure they'll need the 'fort' on Bay Street, to fend off the "rowdy crowds" that will one day populate the clubs and eateries of the Bay Street Town Center, lol!

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Popeye's Pals with Skipper Ed - wow, what a flashback. I was on Popeye's Pals in the early seventies...my first and only television appearance. My parents scolded me for having my hand in my mouth.

I remember getting my first Boy Scout uniform at the old Sears downtown...that was probably 1972 or 73.

Living in Orange Park back in the late sixties and early seventies, we had to go all the way up to Cedar Hills to go shopping. My mom says that she bought all our Christmas toys at old Pic N' Save on Blanding and 103rd Street. Today it's a Jaguarmania, and unfortunately, the area looks more run down then I remembered it.

I went to the Calhoun Center, a tiny private school I'm not sure even exists anymore - it was on Park Street, in the Five Points Area. We used to play in Willow Branch and Boone Park. I liked Willow Branch best. Twice a week we'd take swimming lessons at the....I hope I've got this right....Church of the Good Shephard on Park Street.

I had my braces put on by Doctor Geiger, off of Roosevelt Ave, near the Roosevelt Mall.

All gone now...I think.

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The stuff from Riverside is still there - As well as the old Roosevent Mall (Sort of). It's now Roosevelt Square, and it more resembles a suburban shopping center, but laid out better than the typical suburban shopping center

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I've only been around 18 years and i've seen the city undergo great changes. I remember going out to the Skinners farm and having picnics. The drive out used to be on a much smaller JTB and surrounded by trees and and cow pastures. Now there is development all the way from I-95 to the Beach.

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