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A Different Waterfront

Today, the majority of Jacksonville's water based industry is located north of the Hart Bridge. During the mid 20th century, the downtown riverfront resembled cities like San Francisco, Seattle, San Diego and New York City. A bustling district filled with wharfs, seafood markets, shipyards, and wholesale water-based industry.

Published May 14, 2008 in History      32 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article


 Downtown Waterfront Aerials

During Downtown's heyday, the city turned its back to the St. Johns River.  Springfield Parks served as the central public and recreation space for urban Jacksonville, while the river was the city's economic lifeblood.




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May 14, 2008, 08:18:34 AM
Lake, what is your source for these great photos?  Can you link to them?


May 14, 2008, 08:48:14 AM
The site is down right now, but here's the link.

When up and running, you can find images of just about every city in Florida.


May 14, 2008, 09:04:31 AM
Those pictures are awesome, I especially like the one of the Atlantic Coast building lit up @ night with the American flag. It' funny how a city's landscape can change so dramatically, in such little time, but maybe that means there is still hope for Jacksonville to be like this again.


May 14, 2008, 09:15:39 AM
It took 50 years of a city being centered around urban pedestrian oriented growth to get to the downtown scene these images illustrate.  This means, IF our attitude towards development changes right now, it could take another 50 years to get back to this point.

Tony Bowlasoupa

May 14, 2008, 09:17:14 AM
I miss downtown being the true center of everything as pictured in these photos, but not so much the warehouses, docks and shipyards. I dont think that would've been a good back drop for the superbowl!

Eitherway, awesome pictures. I'm trying to figure out what's going on in that first one, with the traffic lights over water. Hurricane? Flood? Traffic signals for boats? *shrug*


May 14, 2008, 09:18:24 AM
It was a flood from a hurricane in the 1960s.


May 14, 2008, 09:25:39 AM
Possibly Hurricane Dora?


May 14, 2008, 09:36:00 AM
I miss downtown being the true center of everything as pictured in these photos, but not so much the warehouses, docks and shipyards. I dont think that would've been a good back drop for the superbowl!

I would have loved to see a wharf/warehouse or two still be around today.  They could have been a popular place for a public market or a destination for local goods (ex. seafood, produce, dining, etc.) in the heart of downtown.  Just another little element of urbanism that could have made Jacksonville a little more unique from the rest of the cities in the SE United States.  

San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf


May 14, 2008, 09:47:42 AM
Outstanding work Lake!!  That was one of your best yet.

Having the world's largest Sears Store downtown is a testament to how much Jax was flourishing at the time.

Tony Bowlasoupa

May 14, 2008, 09:52:26 AM

I would have loved to see a wharf/warehouse or two still be around today.  They could have been a popular place for a public market or a destination for local goods (ex. seafood, produce, dining, etc.) in the heart of downtown.  Just another little element of urbanism that could have made Jacksonville a little more unique from the rest of the cities in the SE United States.  

San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf

True, for the good of the city it's history it would've been better to save a piece of it.  But let's not get too nostalgic over rusty docks and warehouses filled with the stench of fish. (Sorry, just personal preference) When I was in Seattle last week I wasn't too impressed with the fish market on the Puget sound, it reeked!

But hey, at least we still have Talleyrand...


May 14, 2008, 10:11:47 AM
Lol, I can't help it.  I've seen too many successul adaptive reuse projects (especially compared to having a passive riverwalk, surface lots and poorly integrated buildings).  I'm one of those guys who believes its always best to take advantage of what you already have and that view extends to rusty docks and warehouses, as well as parks, skyscrapers and streetscapes. 

Smelly fish and all, there's a bit of nostalgia and grit involved in all vibrant urban districts.  Its one of the elements that helps tells a visual history of a city's past and helps create an atmosphere that is hard to recreate.  This is one of the reasons I love the farmers market's atmosphere so much and believe it would grow to become a strong cultural assest, if we can find a better way to connect, market and take advantage of it.

The docks are gone, but we do have a few piers left at the Shipyards site.  I'm looking forward to the day that the public pier opens (if Landmar is still moving forward with it).


May 14, 2008, 11:24:44 AM
I'm not overly upset that the shipyards are gone.  They were replaced with functional uses and one of the country's most beautiful skylines.  Embracing the river was a wonderful step forward.  The travesty is the demolition of LaVilla, Eastside, Brooklyn, and Main Street areas.


May 14, 2008, 11:50:51 AM
One thing we haven't discussed is these images do show improvement along the riverfront, even in what we do have today.  We went from industry to MASSIVE SURFACE PARKING LOTS to a Hyatt Hotel, Landing, Berkman, TU Center, etc. 

One of the things that the recent Downtown implementation plan doesn't properly address is to doing a better job of working with what we already have in place.   For example, are there things we can do with the Landing, Omni, TU Center, MODIS Tower, etc. that can help make their existing ground level uses and activities more visual from the street.  People attract people and taking advantage of the number of "hidden" people already downtown can be an easy inexpensive way to make downtown seem more lively.


May 14, 2008, 06:46:49 PM
I cringed when I read that Jacksonville was rated higher than Seattle in the "best cities for the outdoors" article.  I stayed silent after reading the rating system and realized why this was so.
But now someone is saying they don't like the Seattle fish market because it smells!  I'm assuming, Bowlasoupa, you mean Pike's Place Market.  I can't stay silent any longer!  Thousands upon thousands of people, both locals and tourists, visit that smelly place every day.  Where is that place in Jax, smelly or not?  From these pictures it looks like Jax, at one time, was well on its way to having a vibrant waterfront until a few bad planning decisions put it on the path to what we see today.

From somewhere in these posts will come the ideas and inspiration for positive change to downtown.  I personally think that a smelly fish and farmers market would be a step in the right direction.

Thank you for the pictures.  They are awesome.


May 15, 2008, 02:07:30 AM
Good pics lake!! I have seen many old school flicks of the city. I have never seen these before though. That pic where the 1st Fuller Warren is gone is crazy!!!

There is one pic where it shows new development on the north bank, but I can't tell if it is Bay Street or the street behind the courthouse that runs to the Landing parking lot going west. I don't know the name of that street. International Coast Road?? I may be wrong but it looks as if it was once a continues street under the Main Street bridge. Why in the hell would they close that off??

Those old docks are actually the second set built. And they became invested with rats. They had a major rat problem down in that area. Getting rid of the those docks was a good thing. I used to work at Jax Port where they bring the new Toyotas in over there in Talleyrand. Man the rats over there were tough!! They were super strong!! Scary.

Is it true that the Modis Building is halfway on the river??

Charles Hunter

May 15, 2008, 06:22:15 AM
I think you are talking about Coast Line Drive (named for the RR company - we like to name streets after prominent businesses that locate on them), that ran along the river (actually over the river on pilings) from the (then) Atlantic Coast Line building, under the Main Street Bridge, to behind the Court House.  With exception of the old Civic Auditorium (now the Times-Union Center), it was river on one side, parking lots on the other.  It was taken out to create the Jacksonville Landing - only the part upriver from the Main Street Bridge was removed, the rest is still there in front of the Hyatt and Court House parking.

I don't think the river extends under Modis, but is under much of the court house parking, and possibly some of the Hyatt and Landing.


September 05, 2008, 02:27:59 AM
I am amazed at the location where The Landing sits today, what was once there before. The parking lot made me cringe, and I couldn't imagine the coastline today with a huge parking lot like that.


September 05, 2008, 02:46:52 AM
These pics are still great!

Lake, I do see what you're saying now about how preserving it would've kept some of the vibrancy in downtown.

I'm in Seattle again and I've spent some time down by the fish market and it's truly impressive how they've held onto this part of their history for so long. The underground tour rocks! I'm glad that the Jacksonville chamber of commerce is taking a field trip here. Seattle seems like they're doing alright, even if there's too many smelly hippies!

recycle your recyclables, mannnnnnnnnnn

heights unknown

September 05, 2008, 06:53:57 AM
When looking at many of those pics, it brings to mind the fact that in the 50's and 60's, Arlington, a large part of the westside, Roosevelt Boulevard area, and most of Southside didn't exist, yet Jacksonville's population within the city proper was over 200,000; this attests that Jax was indeed an "urban city" back in the day.

Heights Unknown


September 05, 2008, 08:04:47 AM
I worked every summmer at Weisenfeld Warehouses doing paper work on sugar shipments. It really was a different waterfront. It was so busy with warehouses stuffed with cargo going in or off ships. The warehouses formed narrow lanes packed with trucks and hand carts moving goods. Down on the waterfront wooden piers extended into the river. The smell of tar was everywhere. The river was polluted as heck but it didn't stop pods of dolphins from traveling downstream under the bridges. Manatees were always swimming around the docks. The working waterfront provided lots of people with jobs- muscle power work, buyers, clerks, transport men. I'm not sure those jobs were ever replaced when the warehouse districts were destroyed because the new shipping moved to containers and instead of food cargoes it became shiploads of cars and oil.  The scale of working waterfronts became more mechanized industrial. What we had before was dirty, gritty and more human scaled.
I don't think our city will ever go back to that way of doing business.


September 05, 2008, 08:14:16 AM
We were a dense blue collar city, similar to the older coastal cities back in those days.  Like those cities, the original 30 mile city has declined in population big time.  That's something consolidation has hidden.


September 05, 2008, 09:02:25 AM
Very true and worthy of much more attention.


September 05, 2008, 10:04:35 AM
Certainly it was a mistake to remove all of the history from downtown. The scene by tne Maxwell House Plant shows a rail terminal that "MIGHT" be a rare shot of the old F&J depot. One I thought would have been long gone and missed seeing. Lots of hidden treasures were dumped, dozied and filled when we did this...

BUT, cutting some slack where due, when this was going on, freeways were the new idea in transportation, "our saviors".

Every Waterfront from Bangor to Boca looked just like ours.

Our City WAS BOLD to break with the pack and do something different (even it it turned out wrong).

Coast Line Drive, and Southbank were all improvements to enhance and attract big business bucks. At the time the Auto-centric society would go cruise the drive and marvel at the pretty river.

Downtown was still the center of retail, wholesale, restaurants and entertainment in the early 1960's. BUT it was dying due to strip malls with easy parking. The City attempted to save the  retail core (what a novel thought) by providing lots and lots of parking. Eventually the malls opened and downtown fell apart, abandoned. I'm just happy I remember some of those days.

Let's see where being bold takes us next...



September 07, 2008, 05:07:16 PM
Have we dug ourselves so far into down into a deep stink hole, that any direction from any future Mayors will ever take us back to a Jacksonville like in all these pictures from the past? Makes me sick to my stomach to see how it once was, and where we are today in some places. I feel like School Number Four is one the last buildings that, if ever tore down, we'll look back on and go "damn, remember when? coulda, shoulda, woulda..."


September 09, 2008, 12:30:53 AM
PS4 shouldn't get torn down. people like how downtown used to be vs how it is today? Thats interesting. Id rather have The Landing, Hyatt, Berkman than the wharfs.


September 09, 2008, 01:53:17 AM
Though it can and hopefully will one day be better,I do like downtown now vs the old somewhat,but its interesting seeng the old pics. :)


November 11, 2008, 06:41:17 PM
Do you have any photos of the riverfront from the 1970s?


November 13, 2008, 02:06:49 AM
I think the Riverfront in the 70's looked similar, just pre-skyscrapers look, so not much difference I believe.


November 13, 2008, 02:34:37 AM
Would be nice to see CSX do that flag again for the 4th, and something else for other holidays.


November 13, 2008, 03:09:50 AM
I think the Riverfront in the 70's looked similar, just pre-skyscrapers look, so not much difference I believe.
To be honest with you, there actually was a slight difference on the northbank riverfront in the 70's. The 1971 downtown master plan had actually introduced us to a then-new Atlantic Bank building (now BB&T Tower) and Independent Square (now MODIS). Both were built in 1975 (not in 1974 as most of us thought). BB&T Tower - early 1975, MODIS - later that summer. By the end of '75, both the northbank riverfront and the southbank had a giant that ruled the city's skyline. How 'bout that! :D  8)


September 18, 2013, 04:17:09 AM
And to think that right now there is an opportunity to bring the USS Adams back to Downtown right now. Time sensitive.

Will it happen?

Mayor Brown, the city council, and with new leadership Aundra Wallace with the DIA, Paul Astleford with Visit Jacksonville will have the world recognizing that Downtown is a Destination and not a pass through.


November 10, 2013, 09:27:59 PM
In the nineties, we had the chance to bring the Saratoga downtown to southbank . The Independent Life building has a basement, it was not built over the river though part of the landing and parking was. Instead of a plan that allowed for the courthouse to be somewhere close to the jail, as they were before , because of a judge's order, we had to very quickly build a new jail without consideration of the building of a new courthouse at that time, so we are stuck with transporting prisoners back and forth at least for the next fifty or so years. So many good plans have been turned down over the years or not adopted. But there is hope, there seems to be a large cadre of people who want to do something about downtown development and tie it to the rest of the close in neighborhoods. A plan is never static, the plan gives us a chance to see where we are and where we might want to go.
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