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Houston Street: Jacksonville's Red Light District

Today, there's not much left, but 100 years ago Houston Street was the epicenter of the city's bustling Red Light District.

Published January 22, 2008 in Neighborhoods      12 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Houston's Street interesting history can be traced back as far as 1863, when a gun emplacement named Fort Hatch was set up near the present day location of the Houston and Lee Street intersection. This location also served as a tent camp for the 54th Massachusetts Infantry (see the movie "Glory").

Twenty years later, sitting between the train station railroad tracks and the heart of Downtown, this area grew to become an urban center with bars, industries, small hotels, and bordellos catering to transient visitors and railroad employees.

During the early 20th century, this section of downtown looked and felt much different than it does today.

Cora Taylor Crane & The Court

Known then as Ward Street and located two blocks from Union Terminal, Houston street took the crown as Jacksonville's undisputed Red Light District.

Cora Taylor Crane and Stephen Crane

Cora Taylor was this era's most famous brothel owner. During the 1890's she operated Jacksonville's finest bordello, the "Hotel de Dream", on the corner of Ashley and Hawk (Jefferson) Streets. Soon she headed to Europe with her lover, writer Stephen Crane. After his death in 1900, she returned to Jacksonville as Cora Crane and opened a five-star bordello on the corner of Houston and Ward (Davis) Streets called "The Court".

The court was a two story brick building featuring 14 bedrooms, ballroom, kitchens, a dining room and an annex with eight bedrooms. Today, the site that once was the home of The Court lives on as a vacant lot on the southwest corner of Houston and Davis Streets. Houston's downfall came with the decline in rail traffic during the 1960's. The River City Renaissance of the 1990's was the final nail in the coffin as most of the remaining building fabric from this era was leveled in a failed effort to revitalize LaVilla.

Houston Street Today

Today there's not much left that relates to Houston Street's colorful past. The area is now dominated by poorly maintained surface parking lots on demolished building foundations, the Salvation Army, and a few warehouses.

Looking towards Forysth: During Houston Street's heyday, theInterline Brands site served as the home of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad's offices and freight terminal.

The corner of Forysth & Jefferson in 1950. If it could have survived, the old terminal warehouses would have made a nice centralized location for a farmer's market.

This warehouse, on the corner of Houston and Davis Streets, occupies the site ofa bordello thatwas once known as "The House of Spanish Marie". Constructed in 1885 as the Shiloh Baptist Church, the religious structure was converted into a bordello after the congregation fled its unsavory surroundings. Spanish Marie is also known as one of the last prostitution houses to remain open before being shut down in the 1950s.

The foundation and a few worn bricks are all that remain of this block of buildings that served as the Spanish-American War Provost Headquarters & Jail in 1898. This historic site came down in the 1990s as a part of a failed plan to revitalize LaVilla.

Despite the widespread swath of destruction, there are a few brick structures that still stand, despite being vacant and boarded up.

At one time railroad tracks ran along Houston Street providing service to several industrial buildings in the area. Today, this building is the home of Sally Industries.

These buildings are located on Forsyth Street in the same vicinity as many of the Houston Street bordellos. One can only imagine about the events that took place in these buildings during that era.



January 22, 2008, 08:49:23 AM
OMG! I remember now! Only you left off the coolest of the railroad terminals and the most Easterly? It was the Atlantic and East Coast Railroad station, AKA: Florida East Coast freight Terminal. I could have been many things including a modern Amtrak or Commuter Rail station. Oh, I know the Union Terminal is WAY better but since they insist on once a month home show crowds there, we could have USED the old FEC FREIGHT STATION. The railroad entrance to those tracks or the A&EC was just west of the prime Osbourne parking lot, one can still see the bridge abutment along Bay street, when they tore out the bridge, they also filled in the street, it used to go down under the railroad. Before they came and "REDEVELOPED" the area, I had a friend that runs his train down at the outdoor railroad club track in Bostwick. He was shopping all the cool little stores along there and saw a "backyard" locomotive sitting in the window of one...

He bought it for something like $100 dollars and it worked fine. To buy a used one then or now, would cost a cool $3,0000-$100,000 dollars! He was SO HAPPY, and I was sick for a week... Oh how I wanted to get into that hobby.  I miss the tracks in the street (which would have converted to Trolley real easy) and the cool little stores that opened in some of those old buildings before the City bulldozers came along. 

I spent many happy hours around Houston Street looking for my "Daddy"... Mom never knew his name but she got his train number! Hee hee!

Just Kidding... Mom and Dad were SAINTS!



January 22, 2008, 09:20:43 AM
Cool story, but so sad!  I remember seeing the implosions and things on the news in the 90's (I'd just moved here then), but I was young and didn't really pay much attention to those things.  What a shame that the buildings aren't there anymore to house groups of new entrepeneurs or urban living spaces. ~sighs~


January 22, 2008, 09:49:22 AM
OMG! I remember now! Only you left off the coolest of the railroad terminals and the most Easterly? It was the Atlantic and East Coast Railroad station, AKA: Florida East Coast freight Terminal. I could have been many things including a modern Amtrak or Commuter Rail station.

You can see the terminal in the upper middle section of this image.  You can also see the commercial building density of Broad, Davis and Adams Streets in LaVilla.  The block of residential structures between the demolished railroad terminal and Adams was the epicenter of the bordello district.

Here's an aerial of this same area today.

Some images I scanned for an article on LaVilla in 2006.

we park on this building's foundation today.

link to full article on LaVilla's destruction:


January 22, 2008, 10:11:01 AM
WE had a second-empire style structure in JAX????  I think I'm going to cry!  I can't believe those were Nationally reconized and registered historic structures and we destroyed them!  :'(


January 26, 2008, 05:26:02 PM
Indeed sad!   Which is why im like a broken record about the few historic pieces that remain.


February 01, 2008, 09:14:31 AM
Shouldn't someone go to jail over this!


March 10, 2010, 11:19:45 PM
Regarding the picture of the gravel parking lot: (

Just a couple of paces west of the sidewalk on Broad St., halfway between Forsyth and Houston, there is what looks like a tiled terrazzo floor with the large initials (2ft x 2ft) of what looks like "PW". It looks like it might have been the entry / foyer of a building.

Does anyone know what that "PW" stands for?  What building was there?


March 10, 2010, 11:44:02 PM
PW?  A submissive husband or boyfriend, perhaps? ;D


March 11, 2010, 12:04:31 AM
PW? telling what that could be. I am sure someone will figure it out on here.

Miss Fixit

March 11, 2010, 09:18:58 AM
Great (albeit terribly sad) story, Ennis.  The photo of the Hotel Flagler was interesting to  me - I collect vintage postcards, and just last night found one for this hotel.  I wondered where it was and now I know!  Based on my postcard searches alone, it looks like there were at one time dozens of large hotels (many architecturally significant) in downtown Jacksonville.  Have you done any stories on downtown's many hotels?


March 11, 2010, 09:29:44 AM
Isn't the Flagler Hotel now the Ambassador Hotel?


January 09, 2011, 06:25:17 AM
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