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Ashley Street: The Harlem of the South

Ashley Street was the core of black life in Jacksonville before Integration. During its heyday, the four blocks from Broad to Davis Streets was known as the Harlem of the South. Not much is left of this once vibrant landscape today. However, by mixing historic images with present day conditions, we can put together a decent visual description of Jacksonville's Jazz Era entertainment district.

Published May 13, 2009 in History      46 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article


This aerial depicts the location of Jacksonville's "Harlem of the South" which centered around Ashley Street in the LaVilla portion of downtown.

 

A Sanborn Map illustrating building density at the corners of Ashley, Jefferson, and Broad Streets during the 1950s.  Today, only the two buildings indicated above still remain.

 

A Walk Down Ashley

 The Strand Theatre

The Strand Theatre was located on the NW corner of Ashley and Jefferson Streets.  Other theaters along this stretch of Ashley included the Frolic and the Roosevelt Theatre.  The Strand offered vaudeville movies and shows during its fifty plus year run on Ashley. There was also a popular cafe nearby called Brad's.  According to a 1986 Times-Union article, Brad's was famous for its apple and potato pies. 

Today, this area of Ashley Street no longer exists.  It is a part of the LaVilla School of the Arts' massive parking lot.

 

The Knights of Pythias Building

Located a few doors west of the Strand, the Knights of Pythias Building was the tallest structure on the strip.  It contained a hotel, meeting rooms, and street level retail.  It was demolished in 1957.  In a scenario that plays out time and again, the project planned to replace it never made it off the drawing board. 

 

Dining on Ashley

Ashley Street was well known for its restaurants and cafes.  Here is a 1938 image inside of Hayes Luncheonette at 634 Ashley Street.  

 

This Stretch of Ashley Street Today





 

Hollywood Music Store

The Hollywood Music Store was one of Ashley Street's most popular businesses.  Today, this site remains and is occupied by the Clara White Mission.

 

The Clara White Mission / Globe Theater 

This building was constructed in 1912.  It was the home of the Globe Theatre, a Mercantile Company, and a hotel.  Since 1932, it has been the home of the Clara White Mission.

 

Genovar's Hall

Now in ruins, this building was built by Sebastian Genovar as a grocery store in 1895.  The same year Cora Taylor would open her famed bordello, the Hotel de Dreme, across the street (present day LaVilla School of Art parking lot). 

In the 1920's, this building became the Wynn Hotel.  When in town, Louis Armstrong preferred to stay at the Wynn, because it was "on the street" where the action was.  The first floor of this building was occupied by the Lenape Tavern, one of Ashley Street's most popular nightspots. 

In front of the Lenape were two metal horse hitching rails, which still remain.  In the early 1940's this spot was known as "the rail of hope," where waiters and musicians would hang out, waiting for a job.  One of the frequent occupants of the rail was R.C. Robinson, a blind piano player who had attended the Deaf and Blind School in St. Augustine before coming to live with a relative at 633 Church Street, one block away.  He developed his talents playing as side-man for some of the well known performers and later rose to stardom himself under the name of Ray Charles.

"Genovar's Hall" - Jacksonville's Architectural Heritage by Wayne Wood

Genovar's Hall Today

 

LaVilla Shotguns

Just south of Genovar's Hall, these three decaying shotgun homes were saved from the area's urban renewal demolition frenzy and relocated to this site.  Constructed in 1914, they were originally located on the 600 block of Lee Street.

 

Manuel's Tap Room

Manuel's Tap Room was located at 626 W. Ashley Street.  Manuel's was described in the January 1942 issue of The Crisis, the magazine of the NAACP, as "the Finest of its kind in the South."  Like most of Ashley Street, Manuel's is now nothing more than the remains of old building foundations covered with weeds. 













 

Old Stanton High School

This site was the original location of the Stanton Normal School, which opened in April 10, 1869.  The school was named in honor of General Edwin M. Stanton, an outspoken abolitionist and Secretary of War under President Lincoln. 

While serving as the principal of Stanton during the late 1800s, James Weldon Johnson wrote "Lift Every Voice and Sing."  This song would later become known as the Negro National Anthem.

The building standing on this site today was constructed in 1917 as a permanent replacement to older frame structures destroyed by fire.


 

Richmond Hotel

Now known as Deloach Furniture, this building was the finest hotel in Jacksonville for blacks when it opened in 1909.  It featured 48 rooms along with a Tea Room at street level and balconies that famed guests would come out on and greet crowds below. 

Famed guest included Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald and Billy Holiday while in town performing in the Ashley Street strip.

 


Masonic Temple

Although not designed by H.J. Klutho, the Masonic Temple at 410 Broad Street is one of the most elaborate Prairie School structures still remaining in Jacksonville.  This building was constructed in 1912 to house office space, retail stores, and to serve as a meeting center for the black community. The 1926 Negro Blue Book described it as "one of the finest buildings owned by Negroes in the world."





Jacksonville's Harlem of the South is now forever gone.  With the county courthouse now moving forward and as new development comes online, every effort should be made to preserve what's left of Jacksonville's Jazz Era entertainment district.

Article by Ennis Davis

*Historical Images from Jacksonville Public Library Special Collections Department. 








46 Comments

mtraininjax

May 13, 2009, 07:27:45 AM
Nice information, thanks for showing us a little slice of history in Jax.

billy

May 13, 2009, 08:25:26 AM
I've been through the Masonic Temple.
Great building.

Doctor_K

May 13, 2009, 08:31:38 AM
Great tour, as always. 

Yet another illuminating demonstration of what 'progress' has meant for Jacksonville from its visionary leadership over the decades.

Just imagine all the infill that could take place on all those vacant and empty lots, filling the coffers of the City through property taxes.  Not to mention gaining some semblance of a skyline.  Man.  Just think...

Deuce

May 13, 2009, 08:59:27 AM
Excellent article!!

Quote
1926 Negro Blue Book described it as "one of the finest buildings owned by Negroes in the world."

I learn something new about JAX every day!

What's the usage of the Masonic Temple today? That's a great looking building.

billy

May 13, 2009, 12:00:54 PM
The ballroom/assembly hall is at the top floor, if I remember correctly.
The storefront spaces included the law office of a prominent African American attorney,
who I think , later became a judge.
 

Lunican

May 13, 2009, 12:01:51 PM
Great article.

copperfiend

May 13, 2009, 12:33:57 PM
 :'(

heights unknown

May 13, 2009, 04:19:42 PM
I was born in Jacksonville, returned to Jasper Florida to be raised by my Grandma up to age 8, and would return to Jacksonville with my Mom in 1965.  My Mom lived three houses from Davis and Duval at 626 West Duval Street.  I played in that whole area during the time we lived in Jacksonville in the 60's, that is, up and down Davis Street, Duval Street, Church Street, Monroe Street, and Ashley Street.

Ashley Street was a buzz of activity back then.  I used to regularly, on Friday's and Saturday's, frequent the Roosevelt Theater, Strand Theater, and of course the Ritz Theater that you all left out.  All three of these theaters were "top of the line" back in the day, costing 50 cents to get in and a quarter for matinees. They would let you in free for a certain number of RC bottle tops, and if you had more bottle tops, you could win a free prize at the prize show. I remember such movies like the godzilla movies, attack of the 50 foot woman, guess who's coming to dinner, the blob, and don't forget the cartoons that came on before each feature movie started.  And yes there were previews but they were kept to a minimum.

Ashley Street had oodles of restaurants, bars, taverns, and each movie theater had a restaurant attached to it.  My best restaurant with the theaters was the one attached to the Roosevelt Theater (in the 600 block of Ashley) because it was two blocks directly north of our house.  You could always hear about 10 to 12 or more different juke boxes going at once on Davis and Ashley streets from the bars, taverns and at night nightclubs.  It was off the chain and that whole district, around Ashley, Davis, Duval, etc. was a buzz of activity with wall to wall people, a whole different and totally busier world than it is today.  If people weren't in the bars, restaurants and taverns, they were just walking around trying to see who they could meet or talk with or trying to find out what was going on.

I share this because I lived LaVilla when we lived in that District; I was there though I was a kid. I attended A. L. Lewis Elementary School which was next to the main post office on beaver street.  It's a shame that area was allowed to deteriorate like it now is, a shame towards blacks and whites of Jacksonville for letting their history (and yes that area was a part of Jax whites history as well) go down the tubes and the drain.  Hopefully someone will come up with a super idea for that area, relative to its importance and place in Jacksonville's history.

I remember all of those clubs, bars, restaurants, and taverns though some were already torn down when my Mom and I moved to Jax in 1965.

Cheers everyone!

Heights Unknown

thelakelander

May 13, 2009, 04:52:09 PM
^Thanks for the insight.  Jax definitely lost a jewel when the decision was made to wipe LaVilla off the face of the earth.

Southbanker

May 13, 2009, 07:35:32 PM
Articles like this are why I am addicted to this site...even though it also makes me a little sick to see how this city has destroyed so much of our history.   >:(

brainstormer

May 13, 2009, 08:49:51 PM
Heights, thank you for sharing a bit of your childhood with us.  You are the second person I've heard tell stories about growing up in this part of town.

I've only lived in Jacksonville a few years, but does anyone have any insight into why so much of Jacksonville history has been demolished and forgotten.  I've never lived in a city where "history" is just a news story on paper and in pictures.  When did people move out of downtown and neglect these buildings?  Was it the city government?  Were they forced out?  Racially motivated?  I'm just an inquiring mind trying to understand the evolution of society.  How does a city like Jacksonville end up like this?

urbanlibertarian

May 13, 2009, 10:49:35 PM
White flight to the suburbs started after WWII and by the '80s downtown had few residents and little retail business left.

samiam

May 13, 2009, 11:48:52 PM
I have stated several times that the city of Jacksonville is completely backwards when it comes to its history. I guess the powers that be do not want to remember a glorious past, instead they want to look forward to an uncertain future.

deathstar

May 14, 2009, 01:08:04 AM
This site is like going into Frank's Barbershop in 5 Points as a kid, and listening to all the old timers sit around talk about Jacksonville back in the day. Ella Fitzgerald performed here?! My jaw dropped!

I live in the most boring era of this cities history!

brainstormer

May 14, 2009, 06:20:41 AM
White flight to the suburbs started after WWII and by the '80s downtown had few residents and little retail business left.
I realize this occurred in pretty much every city in the US, however the Lavilla area was a predominantly black neighborhood and from what I hear, very robust and healthy.  So why the decline of this neighborhood? 

And deathstar, I couldn't agree more!!!  Your statement about this being the most boring era is dead on!

JaxNative68

May 14, 2009, 03:16:52 PM
I blame the city for annexing to the county in 1968 to avoid integration and the first baptist church.

thelakelander

May 14, 2009, 03:24:01 PM
White flight to the suburbs started after WWII and by the '80s downtown had few residents and little retail business left.
I realize this occurred in pretty much every city in the US, however the Lavilla area was a predominantly black neighborhood and from what I hear, very robust and healthy.  So why the decline of this neighborhood?

Black flight.  After the 60s, blacks were free to live and spend money in areas that had been previously off limits.  Those with the means, left their old stomping grounds for greener pastures.  This evacuation killed off a ton of businesses in districts like Ashley Street nationwide.  Unfortunately, its rich history and building stock never had the chance to become catalyst for redevelopment like structures in nearby neighborhoods like Springfield and Riverside and cities like Savannah and Charleston.  We were too demo happy and wiped out most of the community right before the trend of moving back to the core became popular again.

brainstormer

May 14, 2009, 04:59:56 PM
Thanks Lake, you're so smart.  ;)

heights unknown

May 14, 2009, 05:14:00 PM
White flight to the suburbs started after WWII and by the '80s downtown had few residents and little retail business left.
I realize this occurred in pretty much every city in the US, however the Lavilla area was a predominantly black neighborhood and from what I hear, very robust and healthy.  So why the decline of this neighborhood?

Black flight.  After the 60s, blacks were free to live and spend money in areas that had been previously off limits.  Those with the means, left their old stomping grounds for greener pastures.  This evacuation killed off a ton of businesses in districts like Ashley Street nationwide.  Unfortunately, its rich history and building stock never had the chance to become catalyst for redevelopment like structures in nearby neighborhoods like Springfield and Riverside and cities like Savannah and Charleston.  We were too demo happy and wiped out most of the community right before the trend of moving back to the core became popular again.

I agree with Lakelander on the point of "black flight."  Yeah, whites flighted away from the urban core to escape whatever, but as time went on, and segregation began to weaken in certain neighborhoods, blacks saw that they could live pretty much where they wanted; it took a couple of decades or more, but it happened, and one of the results was the little black downtown on Ashley Street started to die, along with its surrounding neighborhoods and eventually died.

Getting back to Jacksonville and what happened, I don't think consolidation had that much to do with the downfall of Jacksonville; with the white flight, and later black flight, that pretty much emptied out, and led to serious deterioriation of the urban core in which downtown happens to be the central axis, and the surrounding neighborhoods of downtown.  I am sure City Leaders saw it happening, knew it was happening, saw more of it coming, but just simply failed to plan properly (just gave up?) to make up for the deterioriation and bombshelling of downtown and the black downtown (Ashley Street/Lavilla).  No planning, poor planning, and absolute failure to redevelop or plan a successful, longterm redevelopment for those areas resulted in parking lots, razing of historical buildings and other structures, and no new buildings, skyscrapers or developments taking their place.

Having lived in Jax during my childhood in the 60's, and living in Jax throughout my Naval Career, this is how I saw Jax from the 60's until now:

1960's - Though the city was on the downslide, downtown was still the place to be.  Ashley Street was still thriving, and there were still department stores, businesses, hotels, restaurants and other things to attract people downtown.  The 60's would be the decade where the whites who lived near or in the urban core would continue their migration, which really began in the 1950's, heavily to the Southside, Arlington, San Marco, and other areas. A bright spot and jewel, and at the time considered a spark for downtown was the construction of the Gulf Life Tower (Now Riverplace Tower) which when completed was Florida's tallest building.

1970's - The start of serious decline for Jacksonville's urban core.  The 70's is the decade that would see numerous businesses close down or relocate to other areas of the city.  This was the decade when numerous buildings downtown, which incidentally in the past housed vital businesses, were closed down, razed, destroyed, or suffered the wrecking ball, with no new businesses or buildings to replace them.  However, on the up side, the 70's would see the tallest skyscraper ever constructed in Jacksonville and the State of Florida, the "Independent Life" Building (now MODIS), soar over 500 feet into the sky.  White flight had just about completed it's exodus and black flight would also "up the ante." By the end of the 70's, many of the old skyscrapers, businesses, and buildings that used to grace Jacksonville's skyline existed no more, and the majority of the buildings and businesses on Ashley Street in LaVilla had also been razed.

1980's - To me, this was Jacksonville's gloomiest decade.  Downtown sat with more parking lots than skyscrapers and/or buildings as a whole.  While Miami and Tampa began a building boom in their downtowns, Jacksonville became stagnant, still if you will. Ashley Street which had been the heart of the black corridor was nearly devoid of any activity, and most all of the buildings in the Ashley Street Corridor were now razed and gone, and plans were afoot to destroy most of the shotgun houses in LaVilla and the two story historic houses which were built shortly after the great fire.  Downtown was bascially dead after 5:00 PM with no life.  The only bright spot during this decade was the construction of the "Jacksonville Landing" by the Rouse Company.  Other bright spots would be the construction of the Southern Bell Building (Now AT&T), AHL Building (now Jacksonville Center), 2 Prudential Plaza, and the One Enterprise Center.

1990's - I view this decade as an effort by City Officials to revive downtown once and for all; but their efforts failed.  Several plans, as I remember them, were put on the drawing board but never surfaced from the dirt. One bright spot was the construction of the Barnett tower in 1990, in which many viewed this as the start of change for downtown and the City of Jacksonville.  There was hope for the City in building a skyscraper that was over 600 feet tall, and at the time the third tallest building in the State.  However, in lieu of the hope for change, parking lots remained, and nothing really new happened for downtown Jacksonville.  Not only did the black corridor continue to suffer setbacks and serious deterioration of its infrastructure and existence, but all of the two story historic houses and shotgun houses and buildings in LaVilla were by now destroyed.  Only empty grass lots would remain, for almost a decade or more, in their place.  There were numerous efforts and plans to build new skyscrapers and developments, but to no avail; however, the Adams Mark Hotel was also built during this decade.  Another extremely bright light did shine for Jacksonville in 1994 as the City was given it's first professional sports team, the Jacksonville Jaguars. Hopefully this would give downtown and the entire City a shot in the arm.

2000's - If any decade showed hope and promise, in my mind and opinion more than any other decade since the 50's, it is the first decade of the new mellinium.  Though downtown and even the City of Jacksonville is not what we would like it to be, there have been more plans on the drawing board in terms of new construction, new skyscrapers, new developments, new attractions, and new business than any other decade since the 60's.  Of particular note, the City hosted Superbowl XXXV in the year 2005 in which the nationwide media predicted catastrophe for Jacksonville, but the City proved them wrong by again proving that Jacksonville "can do" anything and do it proud! Notable construction downtown since the year 2000 are: 1) Berkman Plaza I; 2) Berkman Plaza II (under construction); 3) The Peninsula at St. Johns Place; 4) The Strand at St. John's Center; 5) United States Courthouse; 6) San Marco Place; 7) The Courthouse Project (under construction).  Several renovation of some historic buildings and skyscrapers took place renovating them into Hotels and Residential Housing.  This decade would also see a return of Jax locals/actual people, or residents back to downtown Jacksonville.  Lastly, had it not been for a severe economic downturn in the State of Florida and nationwide, more skyscrapers and developments would have graced downtown, LaVilla, and other areas throughout the City.  Who knows what downtown, LaVilla, Brooklyn, or even Springfield would look like had the severe economic downturn had not choked off much needed funds.

I know a lot was left out or I might have been off point or incorrect on some items, but maybe most of you can add those things I left out, correct them or expound on them and what I have already posted in subsequent posts.  All in all, it has been rough for Jacksonville the last 50 years, in particular downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods; but our present decade and the next is one of great promise, but only if we get the right leaders in City Government to focus on the right and correct vision for our City. Several empty parking lots still remain, and numerous beautiful and promising skyscrapers still sit dark and empty, but the potential and definitive foundation is there for downtown Jacksonville to be who she should be.

Heights Unknown

urbanlibertarian

May 14, 2009, 05:39:50 PM
Nicely written, HU.  The only thing I would add would be to the 2000's notable construction list The Parks at the Cathedral which is what brought me downtown.

stjr

May 16, 2009, 01:36:35 PM
Surprised you didn't rerun this item from one of your other articles with this article:

Quote


Another aerial of LaVilla.  Ashley Street, then known as the Harlem of the South, can be seen on the right side of the image.  Today, the area that held the old theaters, jazz clubs and restaurants has been replaced with the LaVilla School of the Arts.


stjr

May 16, 2009, 01:52:24 PM
Quote

Photograph of Eartha White (far right, facing camera, holding groceries) in front of the Mission. 195?


Photograph of Eartha White presiding over a meeting at the Mission. 195?

Clara White Mission, Jacksonville, Florida
  The Mission was formally established in 1928 and named by Eartha White in memory of her mother, Clara White. In 1932, during the severest days of the depression, Eartha White recognized the need for a larger facility to feed, shelter, and counsel the homeless. With the help of friends, she moved the mission into its present building on Ashley Street in downtown Jacksonville.  Many notable figures, such as James Weldon Johnson, Booker T. Washington, Mary McCleod Bethune and Eleanor Roosevelt visited her at the Mission.

In 1944, a fire destroyed much of the building, but she raised the funding to rebuild and enlarge the original structure. In the ensuing years, the Mission served as a nucleus and often a starting point for many of her charitable and humanitarian services: Works Progress Administration office, orphanage, a home for unwed mothers, and a tuberculosis rest home.  Eartha White lived on the second floor of the mission until her later years.

The Mission, in addition to its many other social and civic services, is still noted for being the only non-profit organization serving daily mid-day meals to the needy in Jacksonville.

From:
 http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.unf.edu/library/sc/images/eartha67.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.unf.edu/library/sc/earsel.html&usg=__IsCvrDoxa-GP9KZqUUL48CUSKjU=&h=638&w=742&sz=63&hl=en&start=83&tbnid=ciuDJMHcww7y3M:&tbnh=121&tbnw=141&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dashley%2Bstreet%2Bjacksonville%26gbv%3D2%26ndsp%3D18%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DN%26start%3D72

From the same web page, Ashley Street?:



stjr

May 16, 2009, 02:01:52 PM
Looks like Daniel started on Ashley Street also:

Quote
daniel History
Daniel Memorial was established in 1884 as the Orphanage and Home for the Friendless with the mission to �receive into a suitable home to support and provide for all who shall come under the provisions of the constitution as far as our means and facilities will enable us.� A cottage was rented on the corner of Liberty and Ashley Street and a fund was started to open a permanent home. Three years later, a two-story frame building was built on the corner of Evergreen Avenue and Center Street.


Colonel James Jaquelin Daniel

stjr

May 16, 2009, 03:09:53 PM




Quote

Congregation Ahavath Chesed was formally chartered in 1882, with Rabbi Marx Moses officiating at the dedication of the synagogue on September 8th of that year....

In 1910 the move to Laura and Ashley Streets was made with Rabbi Pizer Jacobs delivering the dedication address.   We had several rabbis until Rabbi Israel Kaplan came in 1916.  He was responsible for the formation of the Interfaith Thanksgiving Services first held in 1917 with 3 other religious congregations participating.


Above from: http://www.thetemplejacksonville.org/aboutus/history/



Stanton, 1901:

thelakelander

May 16, 2009, 05:51:51 PM
This funeral home is one of the last remaining historic buildings on Sugar Hill's, Davis Street.



stjr

May 17, 2009, 09:17:04 PM
Nice catch, Lake.  I wonder if the brick and trolley tracks are still under the street?  They look great in the picture.  It would be neat to see some Jax streets restored to this look.  A great tourist attraction, no doubt.

While not my tastes, I love the whimsey of the architecture.  Imagine someone trying something like this today!

heights unknown

May 17, 2009, 09:30:50 PM
They probably took up those tracks.  It's called creativity, something that's sorely lacking in architechture today.  Ah Beaver Street; When I was a kid I had a friend that lived across from that funeral home in some apartments, and most of that neighborhood had sulfur water for drinking water.  Yuck!

Heights Unknown

deathstar

May 17, 2009, 11:57:08 PM
Somebody build a time machine, now please!

Ron Mexico

May 19, 2009, 01:34:31 PM
What a great thread!  HU, I love the insight from a "man on the street".  It is a shame as to what has happened to downtown.  There is such a rich cultural history to JAX that we have just lost.  Being a native Floridian, we always regarded JAX as a an older town that was more blue collar.  You would drive through it and there would be ships downtown and people working and some pretty wild smells, but like I said, it was a working class city.  now I think there is a push to make it look like Tampa or Orlando (God help us) where if they just looked to some of these photos and got more input, they would see a plan already there.

heights unknown

May 19, 2009, 01:54:26 PM
What a great thread!  HU, I love the insight from a "man on the street".  It is a shame as to what has happened to downtown.  There is such a rich cultural history to JAX that we have just lost.  Being a native Floridian, we always regarded JAX as a an older town that was more blue collar.  You would drive through it and there would be ships downtown and people working and some pretty wild smells, but like I said, it was a working class city.  now I think there is a push to make it look like Tampa or Orlando (God help us) where if they just looked to some of these photos and got more input, they would see a plan already there.



Thanks Ron.  I agree Ron, it is a shame what has happened to not only downtown, but to all of Jacksonville, whether it be the psychological standpoint, infrastructure, transportation, parks, downtown, whatever.  We shouldn't be that way (having a problem with our identity) but our leaders helped us get that way.  We will never shed the image, I believe, of Jax being the blue collar, working class, redneck, backwoods large city with a small town atmosphere; but we can move on and integrate the new stuff along with our history and our image of who we really are.  We will never be Tampa, Orlando, or Miami, so we need to create our own identity, or just come to grips with who we are and live with it.

Yeah Ron, I "was" a man on the street back in the day, still have my roots and foundation in that area, but I will never wear my pants down to my ass and embrace gangsta thug music or the scene; but I know who I am, where I am from ("Big Jax), and who I always will be in heart.

Heights Unknown

Ron Mexico

May 19, 2009, 03:19:46 PM
Unfortunately, we get the leadership we elect.  Too bad the real estate boom fueled a lot of the elections in this town IMO. 

Having some many developers on the Council doesn't speak well for the future either.

BigBlackRod

October 01, 2009, 08:44:09 AM
I came to Ashley Street in the '80's, when it was on its last legs, but it still had a certain savage charm, and folks came from miles around to party at the juke joints and nightclubs that dotted the neighborhood. I remember how we used to charter school buses to go to American Beach (another Black landmark that has gone the way of the dodo), to party and enjoy the company of friends. By the time I got to Uptown, as we called it, Lenape's was an illegal drug emporium, and the famous rail where Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington once sat and smoked cigarettes, served as a waiting area for junkies while pushers brought their purchases out to them. I remember drinking fountain sodas at Reyno's Drugs, but soon all of the legitimate businesses abandoned the area for greener pastures, leaving only bars and poolrooms. There were specialty clubs, where certain societal groups would gather: the older folks would drink at Braren's Bar, or "Wineborough", as it was nicknamed. The cool "Superfly" dudes would congregate at Pik-Up, and there was even a sizable gay contingent that frequented the Paradise Bar. I recall just going from bar to juke joint to poolroom, to diner to shine house, and on and on, all through the night. There were several joints that stayed open ALL night, something that would never happen today. I know, it all sounds really decadent, and it was. But it was never boring...PEACE.

thelakelander

October 01, 2009, 09:23:32 AM
Thanks for the insight.  Its always great to hear these types of stories from those who lived in LaVilla when it was still a neighborhood.

JeffreyS

October 01, 2009, 09:27:48 AM
It is hard to believe how under utilized Lavilla and Brooklyn have been. Maybe the courthouse will help.

Ocklawaha

October 01, 2009, 10:35:35 AM
Welcome to the family BigBlackRod! If you lived or played in Lavilla during the 1960's, we've probably crossed paths... I was the little white kid (yeah I was once little), always hanging out at Union Station. In fact myself and a younger black friend would watch trains for hours. He went on to become one of the best railroad/aviation artists of our time. The shops on Bay (between trains) were the bomb.

OCKLAWAHA

BigBlackRod

October 04, 2009, 01:06:15 PM
My grandfather was an iceman at the Terminal; I remember riding with him on his forklift. I also remember the stifling racism of the time, and being ran off from some of the more appealing areas, told that "You cain't go in theah!" I also remember nice White ladies like Miss Bell, who lived next door and was always cooking something sweet. My mother grew up on Duval street in the fifties; amazingly, the house where she lived still stands, while the neighborhood around has vanished. I think Black folks were told that our history doesn't matter so many times, that we now believe it. Lenape's should be preserved, if nothing else does...PEACE.

ow09

November 15, 2009, 10:07:29 PM
If anyone has not read the June 2008 article in FolioWeekly about LaVilla and the ubran renewal project, it's available here:

http://www.urbanjacksonville.info/2008/06/19/ghosts-of-lavilla-how-jacksonvilles-great-urban-redevelopment-experiment-betrayed-city-residents-and-black-history/

stephendare

May 28, 2010, 09:39:31 AM


Great photo and brilliant story, Lake.  Future generations are going to wonder what the hell were we thinking.

stjr

June 27, 2010, 04:56:09 PM
Adding this cross-reference to a great insight into the "Ashley Street Blues" and its role in music history from my post #32 at the MJ thread " A Brief History of Jacksonville Music" ( http://www.metrojacksonville.com/forum/index.php/topic,6732.msg160790.html#quickreply):

This is not to be confused with a good 147 page dissertation on LaVilla and Ashley Street written by Peter Smith:

"Ashley Street Blues: Racial Uplift And The Commodification Of Vernacular Performance In LaVilla, Florida, 1896-1916"

http://etd.lib.fsu.edu/theses_1/available/etd-03312006-171940/unrestricted/pds_dissertation.pdf

This report claims that the first documented professional performance of the blues on stage was at Ashley Street's Colored Airdome.

Lake, I just read through most of this dissertation and it is an absolutely fascinating take on a part of Jacksonville history nearly lost.  To think that at one time Jax was not only the "Hollywood" of motion pictures, but, also the potential "Memphis/New Orleans" of music.  And, we have done next to nothing here to celebrate this.

I hope you send this dissertation to a variety of City political, cultural, historic preservation, and African-American leaders as an inspiration for saving what little we have left of these structures and and to encourage the celebration of this culture on the stages of the Ritz and elsewhere.  Especially, African-American's should insist on bringing this period alive, to preserve their own culture, to spotlight their contributions to the evolution of Jax, and to remind all facets of the community that the arts can bring all of us together in a spiritual experience.

The author should be encouraged by our community to build upon this research and to consult with the community on how to further disseminate this history.  A Ken Burns-style  documentary based on this would be a great start.  I wonder if the talent and resources could be found to create an ongoing "reproduction" of these obviously unique and "lost" shows at the Ritz.  It could do wonders in raising the esteem of Jax,  its African American and cultural communities, local history and historic preservation, and, simultaneously, create downtown economic development through entertainment and tourism.

And, here is the latest sad chapter (pages 113-114)  for which we as a City need to atone:

Quote
Ashley Street in LaVilla is only now beginning to recover from the debilitating effects of urban decay and the crippling intrusion of Interstate 95 through the neighborhood. The Clara White Mission and the Stanton School still straddle Broad (formerly Bridge) Street. For a brief period, they were the only structures that remained standing for many blocks along the north side of Ashley Street. The Willie Smith Building, which housed Joe Higdon’s Hollywood Music Store and the Florida Cut Price Pharmacy had been built on the former site of the Colored Airdome. The city demolished it in 2003 to make way for the expansion of the Clara White Mission and now a new employment training center stands on the site. On the south side of Ashley Street, all the buildings are gone, save one. There is currently a project to restore Genovar’s Hall (also known as the Finkelstein Building), which was once the home of the Wynn Hotel and the Lenape Bar. This restoration was initiated through a cooperative agreement between Jacksonville’s Economic Development Commission and it is financed by the Nu Beta Sigma Chapter of the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity. The reconstruction has run into some challenges, though. The entire structure is now supported by jacks and the interior of the building is completely gutted. Some of the old facade remains on the second floor, but not much else. Recently, in a self-conscious attempt to create an historic tableau (currently referred to as, “the LaVilla Experience”) as part of a proposed James Weldon Johnson Memorial Park, three shotgun shacks from the 1920s have been relocated just behind the structure. Ashley Street currently terminates where it once crossed Jefferson Street and the campus of the new LaVilla School of the Arts begins here, where Ashley Street now ends.

iloveionia

June 27, 2010, 06:12:46 PM
Imagine if Jax embraced history like New Orleans.  Manhattan. 
It all makes me very sad. 

stephendare

June 28, 2010, 03:32:41 PM
http://www.news4jax.com/video/24028183/index.html

stjr

June 28, 2010, 03:43:38 PM
More...
Quote
Recognizing Jacksonville’s African American heritage


Artist Adrian Pickett and Carlton Lamar Robinson with Pickett’s new poster, the first in a series called “Harlem of the South.”

by Max Marbut

Staff Writer

In the first half of the 20th century, much of Jacksonville’s history was written by and about African Americans. The part of west Downtown called LaVilla was a center of culture, especially music. The late Teddy Washington grew up there with the late Ray Charles. Genovar’s Hall was a performance venue for the most well-known African American singers and musicians of the era.

Jacksonville’s African American community also has a rich history in business and entrepreneurship, said Carlton Lamar Robinson, president of the First Coast African American Chamber of Commerce and an instructor at Florida State College at Jacksonville. He was at the Adrian Pickett Gallery Thursday for the unveiling of the first in a series of prints titled “Harlem of the South,” a celebration of Jacksonville’s heritage.

“We want to promote Adrian as an artist and as an entrepreneur,” said Robinson. “He took something he’s passionate about and turned it into a business.”

Robinson and Pickett worked together to create the concept, then Pickett used his talent to transform those ideas into art.

Pickett, who has gained a reputation for his realistic pencil and charcoal drawings, said combining people with architecture, as he has in the first of the “Harlem of the South” series, was a challenge.”

“I do portraits of people and animals. It was definitely out of the box for me,” he added.

The original drawing is on exhibit at the Adrian Pickett Gallery at the Landing. Limited edition prints, signed by the artist, will be available beginning Saturday. For details call 962-2540.

http://www.jaxdailyrecord.com/downtowntoday.php?dt_date=2010-06-28

chas1445

March 13, 2011, 11:14:57 AM
The picture of the marching band in picture 17, and next to the last picture in the article, in front of Manuel's Tap Room is the Stanton High School (Blue Devils) Marching Band.  They are marching East towards the school about a little more than a block away on the left side.  The pictures in these articles are priceless.  It is all that are left of an area of Black History of Lavilla, and Sugar Hill in Jacksonville, Florida that future generations can view to get an idea of what it was like living in Jacksonville at that time.  I enjoy viewing those pictures and reading the articles, because I lived and grew up in the area during the 40's and 50's.  I returned to Jacksonville in 1960 after my discharge from the Army.  I drove cab there for a while, and it was pretty much the same as it was when I left.  However, I moved away in 1961.  I do go back each year because I still have a lot of family living there.  Each time I visit, I am sadden when I drive through Lavilla, and Sugar Hill.

clh222

August 07, 2011, 01:46:11 PM
Heights Unknown's description of the Ashley street area really brought back memories of my growing up in the area. I remember the theaters, the fries and chicken dinners from the Roosevelt grill next to the Roosevelt theater, the soda fountain counter at Reynos drugstore, and I went to school with many of the kids in the area.  Most of us went to A. L. Lewis Elementary and played on the little league teams for Lavilla Park. 

I had no idea that this area had such a rich history.  I remember my elementary school teachers saying many areas of Jax were settled by black union soldiers and freedmen but I had no idea that so many prominent areas like the Kingley Plantation was once owned by blacks.  Incredible.

mrland

November 22, 2011, 03:15:15 PM
My father, Arv Rothschild, managed the Roosevelt and Strand Theatres in the 40s and 50s.  He used to emcee the Saturday morning matinee shows at the Roosevelt.  I recall spending a lot of time with him on Ashley Street...hard to believe it was not preserved somehow.  If anyone remembers my father or any experiences at the theatres, I'd love to hear about them. 

Tacachale

November 22, 2011, 03:46:29 PM
^That's really cool mrland, thanks for sharing!
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