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Exploring Ortega

Ortega is a historic neighborhood known for its giant oak trees, waterfront mansions, and parks located just south of Riverside/Avondale.

Published February 14, 2008 in Neighborhoods      27 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article


At one point in the past, the neighborhood was an inland island.  Today, it is a peninsula connected by a land bridge section of Roosevelt Blvd. (US 17).   The East side of the island is known as "Old Ortega", while the most recently developed west side is known as "Ortega Forrest."  Old Ortega was designated as a U.S. historic district on July 14, 2004.


In 1908, the Ortega Company constructed a wooden bridge carrying a streetcar line, across the Ortega River to connect the new Ortega development with the rest of Jacksonville.  As an incentive, developers promised no taxes until 1912 and free water until 1911.   That structure was replaced with the current Ortega River Bridge (shown above) in 1927.


Most of Ortega's housing stock reflect the Mediterranean and Tudor Revival styles.

 The Gangster House: This residence at 2815 Grand Avenue is believed to have been inhabited by George "Machine Gun" Kelly in 1933.  Legend has it that before his apprehension, Kelly eluded police by traveling around the country.  In 1933 a reclusive couple that fit the Kelly's description rented this house and abruptly departed two hours before a middle-of-the-night police raid.


Oretga's Circles and Public Spaces

Oretga's street grid is unique to Jacksonville in that it was designed with a series of four circles, similar to what well known places like Washington, DC, are known for.  Although two have been altered, these areas still survive as public squares of open space.

 Bettes Circle is located near the tip of the Ortega peninsula, just north of Grand Avenue, the street that first linked Ortega with the rest of Jacksonville.


 Stockton Park was originally named Ortega Park.  It is named after John N. C. Stockton, the president of the Ortega Company, the community's developer.  Stockton Park was redesigned and reopened in July 2005.


Looking south over the Ortega River


The Ortega Elementary School was constructed as an anchor on Desoto Circle in 1923.  Since then, the school has expanded and now takes up half of the original circle.


Ortega's Business District

Oretga's business district is located in the heart of Ortega adjacent to Baltic Circle and centered around the intersection of Baltic and Corinthian Avenues.  This small commercial area features quaint restaurants, specialty boutiques and service oriented businesses.


Well preserved neighborhoods like Ortega add to the flair and flavor of things that make Jacksonville a unique city.  To visit and explore this district, it can be reached from I-295 or I-10, by taking Roosevelt Blvd and traveling north on Ortega Blvd. or east on San Juan Avenue.



February 14, 2008, 09:26:29 AM
that Machine Gun Kelley house is really cool and the people who live there.... damn fine folk! If I must say so myself... ;D


February 14, 2008, 10:08:45 AM
Wow what cool photos of a beautiful neighborhood. I sure wish we could locate that streetcar route from the Baltic Shopping area to Camp Johnston (NAS JAX). Later paperwork suggests it made it to Blacks Point on the base, Of course by that time, the whole of Jacksonville Traction/Ortega Traction was on the brink. In the scene of the bridge being in the up position, one can still make out the under grating supports for the running rails. Every now and then when a small piece of the asphalt lets loose, the rails dare show themselves to our bus crazed city.

By the way, the first dirt I ever touched was in the yard of our little family craftsman style home, right around the corner on Baltic from the shopping center.  Although Ortega is a "long time ago" story, it remains "Home" to me. In fact everything about Ortega is just a few hundred years ago. Not unlike Mandarin, or San Marco, I often question if Jacksonville has Ortega or if indeed, Ortega just happens to own a pet Jacksonville?



February 14, 2008, 10:31:51 AM
Florida Yacht Club, baby!


February 14, 2008, 11:00:13 AM
Ock, have you tried the Sanborn maps?


February 14, 2008, 11:38:29 AM
Yes, at least the ones the library said they use. They only had the street detail but no car lines. Interesting, since every other city I have ever seen has their car lines and railroad tracks, switches and spurs in high detail. Makes me wonder if there is another set or another series that I haven't seen??? If any of you come across any with car lines on them, let me know.



February 14, 2008, 11:48:23 AM
I just went back and looked. It shows industrial rail, but not street cars.


February 14, 2008, 12:03:03 PM
Try the Jax Historical Society.  When the Jacksonville Story website was up a few years ago, it had streetcar maps on it.


February 14, 2008, 02:38:05 PM
Joel McKeachen from the city planning office has two maps. I am looking to see if he can send me a digital copy, or if I have to go down there.


February 14, 2008, 05:45:11 PM
This is such a beautiful area. My church (St. Mark's Episcopal) is pictured on there. There are still a lot of old money families that live in Ortega. The only complaint I would have about the area is that it is not pedestrian friendly.


February 14, 2008, 10:26:15 PM
Like Petersons 5 and 10 store at 5-Points, there was once a treasure at Baltic and the old Ortega Village Shops. Just off Baltic past the front of the shops and to the right was once the coolest "toy store" in the State of Florida. I wasn't old enough to know who owned this mini-wonderland but they were decades ahead of their time! When everyone else was moving toward plastic sacks of cars or soldiers, Barbie and Ken, this place specialized in those seldom seen European gadget toys. They had stamped tin roller-coasters over two feet tall. Little metal cars would climb a long ladder then fly through a course that one could only dream was real. They also had all of the other items so rare even in the 1950/60's Florida. Steam toy's, little tractors, and road graders, and kitchens that made even the little boys want to open their own restaurant! Wonder what ever happened to some of these wonderful places, and if though has ever been given to recreating a few of them? It was great fun while it lasted. Then there was the bigger shopping that took place in Fairfax Village. Big drug stores and grocerys and such. For burgers it was Milligan's. Our own home grown "Krystal" or "White Castle" the remains of which still stand North of Fishweir Creek, and elsewhere in town, They look like closed dairy stores. NOT! Tiny little Milligan Burgers 5 Cents Each.



February 14, 2008, 10:33:29 PM
I miss Milligans! I used to work at a shoe store in Gateway and there was a Milligans on Golfair. There was also one on Lem Turner at the Soutel intersection.


February 15, 2008, 12:34:05 AM
Here is a nice photograph of the southern entrance to Ortega. This is the corner of Roosevelt Blvd. and Timuquana Road from September 7, 1954:

This is looking north. Ortega Blvd. is in the upper right corner.


February 15, 2008, 08:09:23 AM
Florida Yacht Club, baby!
One of the best neighborhoods in Jax, I always make sure to take visitors for a drive through Ortega.  Don't forget about the Timuquana Country Club!


February 15, 2008, 10:16:45 AM
Knocks cobwebs out of head: the Riverside line ended at Aberdeen Street (the brick street in Riverside that is all wobbly lol) The Ortega line opened in 1908 and from Aberdeen it went out down Plaza/Herschel and across Fishweir Creek where it then ran along the east side of Herschel (where all that parking is now) to San Juan Avenue.  It turned and ran along the north side of San Juan to the bridge (btw, the draw bridge was renovated about 10 or so years ago and the lift spans and bridge tender cabins were replaced so I don't think those are street car track supports there) and then it ran down the median of Grand Street and turned down Baltic and terminated around Ortega Village where the pharmacy is now.  It was extended during World War I to Camp Johnston along Ortega Blvd and Orange Park Road and ended in a loop in the camp.  The Camp Johnston extension saw little traffic after the war and eventually the traction company ran only two round trips a day, one in the morning and one in the evening, until it was abandoned around 1926.  The Riverside lines were among the first abandoned after 1932 so the rails were pulled up almost immediately but with a lot of street renovations people are still finding ties under the roads.


You could see the rails in the old Acosta Bridge when the paving wore away.  This was part of the South Jacksonville line that ran over the bridge.  It started in St. Nicholas around Bishop Kenny High School which at the time was the Merrill Stevens Shipyards (yes, the Merrill of Merrill Lynch, another story another time).  It  went along Atlantic to Hendricks and turned on Miami Road (now Prudential Drive) and zipped over the river to the Riverside Viaduct and then downtown where it looped at Bay and Main.   Back in the heyday (1923~1926) the lines ran from the Cummer Lumber Mill (yes, that Cummer) on the north to Camp Johnson on the south.  To the west they ran to the Seaboard Air Line shops on McDuff and Warrington as well as to the Florida Military Academy on Edgewood near Corby, and to a race track at 21st and Myrtle.  To the east they ran all the way to Talleyrand Avenue, crisscrossing the city.  They even had their own power station where the T-U now sits.


June 02, 2008, 08:20:09 PM
Great neighborhood...I've lived here over 5 years now and I will admit that I do feel out of my demographic (I'm 30, not married, not wealthy), but I do love it here!


February 28, 2009, 06:57:57 PM
I ran the Ortega River Run today and this was my first time down in this neighborhood. It's absolutely beautiful!!!

Ernest Street

February 28, 2009, 07:48:38 PM
I also enjoy Ortega, and had a chance today to see one of those "Craftsman style" houses Ock mentioned..AYE CARUMBA! It was literally made from scraps! It was a Tree House made by 13 year olds on the ground! Possibly stolen building supplies.It was 2 blocks from Roosevelt. I never knew they were hiding amongst the mansions. I love the lay-out of the Ortega Village and Stockton Park and frequently visit.


April 07, 2009, 01:45:35 AM
Question about the Ortega Elementary School:

When it was built in 1923, was it originally intended to be a school?


April 07, 2009, 01:52:21 AM
Ortega is a historic neighborhood known for its giant oak trees, waterfront mansions, and parks located just south of Riverside/Avondale.
Yet, this picture shows neighther Giant Oak Trees, a waterfront mansion or a park. Did I miss something here?


April 07, 2009, 01:55:24 AM
Here is a nice photograph of the southern entrance to Ortega. This is the corner of Roosevelt Blvd. and Timuquana Road from September 7, 1954:

Actually, the service station up on the right of US 17 still stands there today. This photo is taken JUST NORTH of the US 17/Timaquana intersection. Ortega BLVD is off to the right vearing past the service station.

And, oh yeah, FYC rules baby!


April 07, 2009, 12:12:31 PM
Ortega is a historic neighborhood known for its giant oak trees, waterfront mansions, and parks located just south of Riverside/Avondale.
Yet, this picture shows neighther Giant Oak Trees, a waterfront mansion or a park. Did I miss something here?

yeah, i think youre missing the whole article there, buddy. :)
bump for my question to all the historians (stjr? ock?)

Question about the Ortega Elementary School:

When it was built in 1923, was it originally intended to be a school?


April 07, 2009, 12:34:08 PM
It sounds like it was a school from day one.  Whether that was the builder's original intent, however, I have no idea.

Desoto Park resides in the Ortega neighborhood (platted in 1909) of southwest Jacksonville. It was one of four circular parks created along Park Avenue (now Baltic Street) and named after New World explorers. The Ortega Elementary School opened across the street in 1923, and the park served as a school playground and neighborhood park.


April 07, 2009, 02:18:50 PM
It was built as a school back in the early days of the community. The reason for the confusion is the many, makeovers it has gone through since it first opened. It is just one of many little treasures hidden in Ortega.
Fact is my childhood home is within a block of the school! Someone has just bought and restored this little craftsman bungalow - and I'd give my left nut to be able to talk them out of it. Guess it never matters how old one is, when a wonder mom and dad pass away, you find youself always looking for that connection again, and sometimes feeling quite alone. Don't know if buying that house would help or hurt, but it would be a direct connection... Besides the streetcar line ran through the front yard!



September 07, 2009, 11:06:51 AM
New thread...

Can anyone tell me when the CSX double-track bridge was built? It probably goes back to Atlantic Coast Line days.




October 16, 2009, 01:06:14 PM
Say, Ock (Feb re: Milligan's) - I wish somebody would resurrect Milligan's.  Last time I had one it cost a whole quarter and was from the stand next to the Pic n' Save on Normandy in the early 1970s.  Those were the best lil' burgers, they were much thicker (like 6x thicker) than Krystals, and they were seasoned beef patties you could sink your teeth into.  Man...if I had a left nut (I'm female) I'd give it for a Milligan's Beefy Burger!


November 13, 2009, 10:46:07 PM
If you like the Ortega Neighborhood , check out the 2 Story Stucco at the Corner of Angelo Place and Arapahoe  (1 block south of Yacht Club Rd. )  This home was my grandparents, purchased  in 1940 and I believe they were the second owners of the home.  My grandfather passed on in 1961, and my Grandmother in 1999.  At that time the house was in such deteriorated condition, it needed a bulldozer.  I located a prospective buyer for the house/property who got it for basicly the land value. He did an amazing job of not only saving the house ,but enhancing it.  It is one of the Ortega Neighborhood's OLDEST... looking around the neighborhood at everything around it now, that is obvious.


November 14, 2009, 12:25:22 PM
Be sure and take a ride over there at night, about a month from now, to see their Christmas decorations and luminaria - I think they do theirs the same night RAP does theirs, so you could just ride out a little further. 
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