Finding Old Florida in Jax Historic Neighborhoods

I have this thing with Old Florida. Before amusement parks and country clubs lined the spine of our state, Florida was still considered to be paradise. I am constantly driving down US-1, the original East Coast Highway, seeking out vintage neon signs and abandoned attractions. In my quest of capturing Old Florida, I developed an Old Florida Bucket List of landmarks of Florida Heritage.

The First Coast spanning from St. Augustine to Jacksonville, is brimmed with treasures stuck in time. I am a frequent visitor of The Oldest City, going at least three times per year. In my next trip up the coast this December, my mission to cruise north on I-95 to Jacksonville. Jacksonville is loaded with historic neighborhoods dating back to the late 1800s.

Riverside and Avondale are historic neighborhoods underwent heavy development during the Florida Land boom of the 1920s. In the early 1920s, economic prosperity had brought many real estate developers down to Florida to quickly buy and sell acres of the sunshine. The Florida Real Estate bubble burst in 1925, after an embargo by the Florida East Coast railway to stop the transport building supplies. The First Coast fared better in development that the rest of the state. Its port was more accessible to the north, allowing them to receive building supplies more readily than South Florida. Although Florida got slammed with 17 hurricanes during the 1920s that crumbled the new developments, Jacksonville was spared.

Florida underwent another mid-century phase of development. The construction of I-95 and Fuller Warren Bridge in Jacksonville resulted in the demolition of many historic buildings along the St. John’s River. The Riverside Avondale Preservation (RAP) was formed in 1974 by citizens that treasured the beauty of the 1920s structures. From the efforts of RAP, these neighborhoods have maintained their historical character while attracting hip restaurants, bars and shops that remain loyal to local businesses. Many of Jacksonville’s neighborhoods have landed on the National Register of Historic Districts, and serve an incremental role in protecting Florida’s Heritage.

You can even own your own time capsule to the 1920s, Jax Historic Realty specializes in the sale of historic homes. Real estate agent Erin King makes it his mission fit his clients’ 21st century lifestyle into quaint and authentic historic homes.

Riverside, the modest beauty of the two neighborhoods, was first platted in 1868, a few years after the Civil War creating a neighborhood out of plantation land. In 1887, Jacksonville annexed the neighborhood and it underwent a quick transformation of development during the 1920s. Riverside built up rapidly, attracting a variety of designers creating one of the most architecturally diverse neighborhoods in the 27th state. Riverside was a viable location for working people to live, with proximity to Downtown Jacksonville, the Florida East Coast Railway and the port lining the St. John’s River. Although a variety of styles of homes exist, the plantation bungalow home lies in the majority and the neighborhood holds the largest number of bungalows in the state.

The sophisticated sister neighborhood of Riverside was Avondale. This neighborhood was intended for upper class white citizens to build sprawling Mediterranean Revival mansions along the river. This style is heavily influenced by Addison Mizner, the Palm Beach architect that stamped his way along South Florida made his mark on the First Coast. The iconic Riverside Baptist Church completed in 1925 is an architectural gem and cornerstone of the King Street District. Other architectural styles have joined the neighborhood, including both brick and plantation homes, making this neighborhood a Southern Living dream. Local businesses with historic charm have moved onto King Street spots like The Garage, a pub that proudly touts “Est. 1929.”

In the RAP District a shopping district known as 5 Points, is at the top of my Old Florida Bucket List. It is the core of the modern bohemian movement in Jacksonville. In 2005, a streetscaping project took over the declining neighborhood with a focus on the arts. The hipsters saved 5 Points with sprawling street murals and making it a bonafide destination in the Florida craft beer scene. The Riverside Arts Market takes place every Saturday just under the Fuller Warren Bridge, hosting artisans and farmers to sell their goods over the sparkling St. John’s River. 5 points is also home to Florida’s first movie theatre, now called Sun Ray Cinema.

As you drive East out of Riverside, you enter historic Murray Hill. VisitJax proudly calls this neighborhood as the “Carb Capital of Jacksonville,” on the rise as a foodie paradise. It is the ultimate location for young couples, the homes for sale in Murray Hills are 1200 square feet on average, a perfect fit for two who crave an authentic community. As I visit the First Coast for Christmas, I will surely be paying a visit to this neighborhood as I work on my winter body.

I am looking forward to my Jacksonville visit and seeing the parts of town untouched by time. I cannot wait to share my pictures and stories of the favorite local spots I try.

Much Credit Due:

This post was sponsored in part by Jax Historic Realty and in collaboration with The Berger Bungalow.

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