A Day in The Southbank

February 23, 2009 32 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Originally developed as a part of the City of South Jacksonville, the Southbank is a mix of suburban and urban oriented development within a compact setting.

Dixieland Park (01/01/1907 - 01/01/1916)

Billing itself as "The Coney Island of the South," Dixieland Park drew hordes of tourists & locals.  The ostrich farm sprawled over 30 acres of riverfront property on the Southbank, in the vicinity of today's Crowne Plaza Hotel. 

The attraction featured a 160-foot roller coaster, a Figure Eight ride, a toboggan, a "laughing gallery," a "House of Troubles," and a large merry-go-round called "The Flying Jenny," which boasted 56 wooden animals.  Babe Ruth once played baseball at Dixieland, and the famous bandleader John Phillips Sousa gave a concert.  Many movie companies filmed their silent flicks there.  These included jungle pictures, which brought elephants, tigers, camels, and horses to the ostrich park.

Indeed, more than just big birds entertained guests at Dixieland & other local attractions.  Do any of these appeal to you? -- Alligators, dog & pony shows, lion wrestling, hot air balloons, parachute jumps, comedy acrobats, high-wire performers, & vaudeville acts.  On muggy days at Jax ostrich parks, visitors could refresh themselves at a swimming pool and bathing beaches.  Dixieland also featured an electric water fountain.

For all of this, the ostrich farms initially charged an admission of 10 cents, or about $1.90 in today's money -- Still a bargain!  Some attractions later raised their prices to a quarter, but at about $4.50 in current values, this couldn't have made too huge a difference.

Speaking of money, what would an amusement park be without its souvenir shops?  The ostrich farms offered hundreds of trinkets & whatnots to help their patrons relive their action-packed visits.  The curios from the big-plumed, big-rumped ostriches included eggs, feathers, & boas (a long fluffy scarf made from feathers).

Dixieland & other ostrich parks faded around the time of World War I.  Their exuberant spirit still lives on, though, in such places as Disney World, Sea World, and Busch Gardens.



South Jacksonville

The Southbank was once a part of the City of South Jacksonville.  Up until Henry Flagler constructed a railroad bridge across the St. Johns River in 1890, South Jacksonville was only accessible to Jacksonville (The Northbank) by ferry.  South Jacksonville was incorporated as a city in 1907, with a population of 600.  Growth in the area did not take off until the completion of the St. Johns River Bridge (Acosta) in 1921 and the completion of a streetcar line in 1923.  During the streetcar's first month of operation, building permit activity in South Jacksonville jumped 100 percent over the previous month.  In 1932, South Jacksonville was annexed into Jacksonville.  The addition of South Jacksonville's 5,600 residents boosted the population of Jacksonville to 135,150 and increased the city's land area to 37.76 square miles.

Gibbs Corporation Shipyard

While the Northbank served as the central business district for the city, for many years the Southbank's economic engine centered around ship building.  The area occupied by Charthouse and Wyndham Hotel was originally the home of the Gibbs Corporation Shipyard.

Gibbs Gas Engine Works was founded in the early 20th century and was a major builder of WWI and WWII vessels.  In the 1960s, the shipyard was purchased and merged with the Northbank's Merrill-Stevens yard by Jacksonville resident William "Bill" Lovett.  The merged company was renamed the Jacksonville Shipyards Inc.  In 1969, the business was sold to Fruehauf Corporation.  Fruehauf operated the Northbank shipyards site in 1989.  Mr. Lovett was also the founder of a 73-store grocery chain known as the Winn-Lovett Grocery Company.  In 1939, Lovett sold this business to a company that would eventually became Winn-Dixie.  Lovett would later become the president of Piggly Wiggly. 

sources: http://shipbuildinghistory.com/history/shipyards/5small/inactive/gibbs.htm and www.jaxhistory.com

Treaty Oak Park

Located in the heart of the Southbank, Treaty Oak park is a 2.76 acre refuge of historic greenery in a landscape filled with concrete, steel and asphalt.

Jessie Ball duPont Park, home of the Treaty Oak, is located in the Southbank area. An amusement complex known as Dixieland Park, which included most of the site, opened in 1907.

In the 1930’s, the Garden Club, Mrs. Jessie duPont, and a Times Union reporter, Pat Moran, began efforts to preserve the tree. Moran coined the name Treaty Oak while writing a fictitious story about how white settlers and Indians met under the tree to sign peace treaties.

Mrs. duPont and the Alfred I. duPont Foundation purchased the land containing the tree around 1934 and donated it to the City in 1964. The City acquired the remainder of the property between 1964 and 1971, the year the park was named in honor of Jessie duPont (1884-1970), an ardent philanthropist and part-time Jacksonville resident. Through the efforts of the City and private groups and individuals, a major project was completed in 1995 to preserve the tree and enhance the park. Currently there are plans to enhance the park and protect the tree.

source: http://www.metrojacksonville.com/content/view/860/117/ and http://apps2.coj.net/parksinternet/parkdetails.asp?parkid=70

Southbank Riverwalk

The 1.2 mile walk was designed by Perkins & Perkins Architects to be a festive waterfront public space linking Friendship Fountain and Harbormasters Restaurant (now River City Brewing Co.) with hotels and office buildings east of the Main Street Bridge. The riverwalk was constructed, but never lived up to the expectations created by the project blueprints.


 Standing at a height of 437 feet, the Peninsula is the tallest building on the Southbank.



Dallas Thomas Park & Friendship Fountain

Friendship Fountain was originally called the “Fountain of Friendship in Dallas Thomas Park" when it opened in 1965. Its original name coming from the city's parks and finance commissioner. The park was renamed in 1968 after Thomas became involved in a civic scandal. During its heyday, the 200-foot-wide fountain was billed as the world’s largest and tallest, shooting as high as 120 feet, through 63 nozzles, at a rate of 17,000 gallons of water per minute while 252 multi-colored lights created different patterns into the streams.  Today, With the JEDC's strong desire to demolish the fountain, the landmark's future is uncertain at best.



Museum of Science & History (MOSH)

Originating as the Children's Museum in Riverside in 1941, MOSH has grown to become the largest museum in Jacksonville.  The Southbank location opened in 1969.


MOSH strives to increase the knowledge and understanding of the natural environment and history of Jacksonville as well as Northeast Florida. The museum provides great fun and an educational experience for the whole family.

The Currents of Time exhibit traces Jacksonville's history back 12,000 years with vignettes that recreate an ancient Timucua Indian village, the Great Fire of 1901, a U.S. Navy hangar in World War II, and a 1950s-era home. The Veterans Remember the War is an exhibition that tells the stories of local World War II veterans.[/quote]



Riverplace Tower

Designed by KBJ Architects, Riverplace Tower was known as the Gulf Life Tower and served as the headquarters for the Gulf Life Insurance Company.  When completed in 1967, it was the tallest precase, post-tension concrete structure in the world.  It held that distinction until 2002, when it was surpassed by the 425-foot tall Paramount Apartment Tower in San Francisco.

In 1991, Gulf Life Insurance Company was merged into American General Life of Houston.  American General Life sold the tower to Gate Petroleum in 1993, who renamed the structure Riverplace Tower.

source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riverplace_Tower


Aetna Tower

When completed in 1955, the 22 story Aetna Tower, originally Prudential, was the tallest building in Florida.


Baptist Medical Center

Baptist Medical Center is a Magnet™ hospital, the highest honor a health care organization can receive for excellence in patient care. Baptist Health's flagship health care facility, Baptist Medical Center is a full-service tertiary hospital in downtown Jacksonville located on the south bank of the St. Johns River. It provides a wide range of services in cardiology; oncology (including gynecological); women's health, including obstetrics, gynecology and a Women's Resource Center; orthopaedics; and pediatrics - the campus is home to Wolfson Children's Hospital, the area's only children's hospital.



Skyway Express

Fixed mass transit access is available to the Northbank by three Skyway Express stations.  The Skyway's elevated Southbank line was completed in 1999.


Hendricks / Kings Avenue

Although there has been over a century of built development in the Southbank, not much remains from the area's earliest days.  However, several older structures along Hendricks and King Avenues pre-date the Jacksonville annexation of 1932.  Many of these structures have been renovated into a diverse mix of uses including lofts, restaurants, bars and offices.



Riverplace Boulevard & Vicinity

Most of the Southbank's highrises are located along Riverplace Blvd.  Major businesses along this corridor include Wachovia, Stein Mart, Crown Plaza Hotel, Wyndham Hotel, Prudential and AdMev.







Photo tour by Ennis Davis