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The Park That Got Away

Ever wonder why urban Jacksonville does not have the grand public parks that help define the character of some of the largest cities in the country? Here is a story of one that got away.

Published December 21, 2011 in History      35 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article


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The Great Depression hit Jacksonville and Florida hard. By 1932, when Franklin D. Roosevelt pledged to Americans a "New Deal," things were bleak. New construction had virtually stopped and officials warned that 24,000 Jacksonville residents faced starvation.

Shortly after being elected, Roosevelt instituted the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in 1933. The WPA was the largest and most ambitious New Deal agency, employing millions of unskilled workers to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads. It also operated large arts, drama, media, and literacy projects during the Great Depression.

It fed children and redistributed food, clothing, and housing. Almost every community in the United States had a park, bridge or school constructed by the agency, which especially benefited rural and Western areas. The budget at the outset of the WPA in 1935 was $1.4 billion a year (about 6.7 percent of the 1935 GDP), and in total it spent $13.4 billion.

At its peak in 1938, it provided paid jobs for three million unemployed men (and some women), as well as youth in a separate division, the National Youth Administration. Headed by Harry Hopkins, the WPA provided jobs and income to the unemployed during the Great Depression in the United States. Between 1935 and 1943, the WPA provided almost eight million jobs. Full employment, which emerged as a national goal around 1944, was not the WPA goal. Instead, it tried to provide one paid job for all families where the breadwinner suffered long-term unemployment.

The WPA operated its own projects in cooperation with state and local governments, which provided 10%-30% of the costs. In 1934, to put Jacksonville citizens back to work, the WPA offered to develop a 14-mile, 3,500-acre metropolitan park system for the City.  The urban green space would have begun at the mouth of the Ribault River, moving west until reaching Cedar Creek.  From that point, the park would have followed Cedar Creek and the Ortega River, ending where the Ortega meets the St. Johns, forming a greenbelt around urban Jacksonville.  A major part of this plan would have been to connect the Ribault and Ortega Rivers at their headwaters, thus virtually converting urban Jacksonville into an island.  In addition to this, miles of driveways, walks, bridle paths and picnic shelters were to be constructed.


WPA's park would have formed a greenbelt around urban Jacksonville.

The WPA saw this urban park system as something that would stimulate economic development throughout Jacksonville.  It was its belief that the newly created waterway would drain vast areas of the westside while also stimulating development along the park borders, which would repay the park’s capital cost investment.  This line of thinking was supported by Jacksonville financier Ed Ball, who claimed it would generate $30 million to the city annually in economic impact.  Ninah Holden Cummer promoted the development of this space as well, telling the city council that a city without a vision would perish.  To entice the city to move forward with the park plan, the WPA offered to provide $735,000 to purchase the property needed to construct the urban greenway.

However, what could have been Jacksonville’s version of San Diego’s Balboa Park or New Orleans’ City Park would not happen.  City leaders did not see the value of spending their money on 14 miles of parkland when residents could already visit the woods anytime on their own.

Source: City Not a Pushover for Parks, Florida Times-Union 1/17/90


Article by Ennis Davis.







35 Comments

Noone

December 21, 2011, 03:57:00 AM
WOW! Wisha, Shoulda, Coulda. Now we are just one city council cycle from the Historic Promised 680' Downtown Public Pier making the FIND list.

vicupstate

December 21, 2011, 05:09:40 AM
Wow.  Unbelieveable.

The long list of missed opportunities in Jax throughout history is truly sad.  University of Florida, the loss of the movie industry  and now this.  There was opposition to the Preservation Project too, or at least sections of it. Much of that money was from outside sources too.

The inferiority complex that holds the city back is evident in these lost opportunities.

Elwood

December 21, 2011, 07:20:48 AM
The number of "missed" opportunities for this city are truely unbelievable.

Intuition Ale Works

December 21, 2011, 09:40:08 AM

C'mon Really????

There are so many awesome things going on in this City right now and we are going to harp on something that happened almost 80 years ago?

Maybe if those damn Huguenots had not let the Spanish massacre them, we'd have bistros all over downtown Jax and that certain "je ne sais quoi" that Downtown is lacking.

Damn cheese eating surrender monkeys...

We must stop beating ourselves up over the past and work toward a future the makes Jax as great as it can and should be.

fsujax

December 21, 2011, 09:48:10 AM
^^agreed. Besides if that park had been built, it would probably have ended up in the same condition as Hogans Creek.

thelakelander

December 21, 2011, 09:51:42 AM
Just for clarity, I didn't write the article to beat up on Jax.  I wrote it to expose more lost and forgotten history.  I'm all for the future but without knowing your history your community will remain lost.

Jameson

December 21, 2011, 10:22:13 AM
I am glad that this park didn't get built because the neighborhood where my Parents met would not have existed and therefore I wouldn't exist to write this post.

Ocklawaha

December 21, 2011, 10:54:35 AM
I am glad that this park didn't get built because the neighborhood where my Parents met would not have existed and therefore I wouldn't exist to write this post.

FSUJAX may be onto something. We DID let the WPA/CCC build parks and facilities in the city during that era.

May Mann Jennings Park is located in north Jacksonville, southeast of Evergreen Cemetery, which was established in 1880. The City acquired most of the property in 1921-22, and it originally comprised part of Long Branch Park. Following extensive work by the Works Progress Administration, a lovely new park opened in 1940, named for May Mann Jennings (1873-1963), the wife of former Florida governor William S. Jennings. After moving to Jacksonville in 1905, she devoted the remainder of her life to local and state activism, becoming one of Florida’s most influential women. She worked tirelessly for the conservation of public lands in the state, headed the Florida Federation of Women’s Clubs, was co-founder of the Florida League of Women Voters, and much more. In recent years, the park grounds have been returned to a natural, undeveloped state.

This is the understatement of the century, 'returned to a primitive, antediluvian, Jurassic like, hobo jungle,' would be more honest. The greatest shame of all is that the CCC didn't build 'junk', most of the National Parks from the Smokey Mountains to Yosemite had their infrastructure developed this way. With a strange lack of photographs, we can only imagine how beautiful this park might have been back when the city gave a damn!

OCKLAWAHA

 

 

finehoe

December 21, 2011, 11:17:10 AM
Quote
City leaders did not see the value

Some things never change.

I wrote it to expose more lost and forgotten history. 

And thank you for that.  I'd never heard of this before; I found it fascinating.

avonjax

December 21, 2011, 11:31:06 AM
I'm amazed that the members of the city council have lived so long. Oh that's right they haven't, it's just their long list of missed opportunities that have.

cityimrov

December 21, 2011, 12:23:14 PM
I'd say this city has one big problem.  It becomes very lazy as soon as it achieves something.  The laziness achieved by Jacksonville as soon as it achieves something big is unmatched by nearly every other big city out there.

Captain Zissou

December 21, 2011, 12:34:28 PM
^^agreed. Besides if that park had been built, it would probably have ended up in the same condition as Hogans Creek.

I hate that I am agreeing with this, but it's true.

Hogan's Creek runs right through the middle of downtown and it is still somehow ignored by the city.  This could be our city's most iconic asset, and yet it is a liability for our core instead.  I imagine our city would care about this greenway even less.

This park would have been great, but I am not sure that it would still be around today even if we let it get built.  What we can do is make sure that Hogan's Creek and all of it's surrounding parks are utilized and developed in the best ways possible.  We could have a connected park system from Memorial Park in Riverside to Klutho Park in Springfield.  Let's make that happen.

duvaldude08

December 21, 2011, 12:36:58 PM
^^agreed. Besides if that park had been built, it would probably have ended up in the same condition as Hogans Creek.

I hat that I am agreeing with this, but it's true.

Hogan's Creek runs right through the middle of downtown and it is still somehow ignored by the city.  This could be our city's most iconic asset, and yet it is a liability for our core instead. 

This park would have been great, but I am not sure that it would still be around today even if we let it get built.  What we can do is make sure that Hogan's Creek and all of it's surrounding parks are utilized and developed in the best ways possible.  We could have a connected park system from Memorial Park in Riverside to Klutho Park in Springfield.  Let's make that happen.

Another thing that a good friend of mine said was very true. Why is it that none of the church's downtown, invest in downtown? They already dont pay property taxes, so why not give back? For example, hogans creek run's right past Bethel Baptist. It amazes me that the church has never raised a concern about the condition of the creek, nor offer any financial assistance to get it cleaned up. Its time out for just going to service and going home. I feel that if you are going to reside downtown, invest in downtown. buying up property is fine, but when you are paying no property taxes its really not helping anything.

urbaknight

December 21, 2011, 12:38:36 PM
This happened (or should I say, this didn't happen) just before the city got rid of streetcars and modern transit in general. I guess it was decided as far back as the 30's to destroy the urban fabric, it just took them 40 years to do it. And now we're left with crap!

 But I believe that JAX is on it's way back up, albeit very slowly. We still have lots of dead wood in council that needs to be chopped and cleared away in order to make room for young, fresh vibrant ideas to take hold and grow.

duvaldude08

December 21, 2011, 12:44:54 PM
This happened (or should I say, this didn't happen) just before the city got rid of streetcars and modern transit in general. I guess it was decided as far back as the 30's to destroy the urban fabric, it just took them 40 years to do it. And now we're left with crap!

 But I believe that JAX is on it's way back up, albeit very slowly. We still have lots of dead wood in council that needs to be chopped and cleared away in order to make room for young, fresh vibrant ideas to take hold and grow.

Yeah I agree. Its happening a snails pace, but its happening. I have a feeling one day and everything is just going to take off at one time. Thats usually how it happens here.

fieldafm

December 21, 2011, 12:47:00 PM
Quote
What we can do is make sure that Hogan's Creek and all of it's surrounding parks are utilized and developed in the best ways possible.  We could have a connected park system from Memorial Park in Riverside to Klutho Park in Springfield.  Let's make that happen.

Yes, focusing on the here and now is the only way forward... and Hogans represents a TREMENDOUS opportunity. 

Will be doing a cleanup after the new year, if anyone is interested.  Busy bees are working behind the scenes on Hogans Creek... more than half of the funding is sitting there and now we just need a bit of luck and a bit of elbow grease to make it happen.  If anyone is willing to lend a hand, I could sure use some more squeaky wheels making noise.

While most posts on this thread have been negative, I actually find plenty to be positive about regarding future river access today. 

fieldafm

December 21, 2011, 12:52:27 PM
BTW, great find Lake.  I never knew about this proposal.  Have you found any diagrams or any other plans related to this, or any of the other proposals mentioned in the article from the archives?

Some other interesting projects mentioned from that article:

Quote
City founder Isaiah Hart set aside a blackjack hammock for a public square. Not the choicest lot, but adequate. The City Commission pondered making a parking lot in '50s. In the '70s it was bricked over and now reposes in the shade of the Skyway Express.

Proper and penurious Bostonian John Murray Forbes saved the heart of Riverside for sweethearts and swans, a great place to abbreviate with an expressway.

Spratt's Swamp was filled for a football field; on the debris of the Jacksonville fire now sport the Jacksonville Jaguars.

City fathers aspired once to make Jacksonville ''The Evergeen City,'' concurrently uprooting palm trees running down the middle of Main Street.

The city turned to Chicago at the turn of the century for the model of a park that would make Springfield and make it an abiding place of beauty.

Island retreats along the river were the stuff of dreams through the years.

Yet, so once was desired a residential island raised off Riverside; shipyards and factories for the green shore of Arlington; hanging gardens and high-rise apartments along the unlikely banks of McCoy's Creek.


http://jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/011799/nef_foley.html

vicupstate

December 21, 2011, 12:58:30 PM
The problem with a 'snail's pace' is that the other cities in the state and region and nation, are NOT at a snail's pace. 

So really, a snail's pace is just continuing to fall behind.    At some point you have to put it in a higher gear.

duvaldude08

December 21, 2011, 01:00:33 PM
The problem with a 'snail's pace' is that the other cities in the state and region and nation, are NOT at a snail's pace. 

So really, a snail's pace is just continuing to fall behind.    At some point you have to put it in a higher gear.

The problem with Jacksonville is we waited to late. Before the recession hit we were getting ready to explode. Once the economy tanked, everything crumbled and folded. So now a snails pace is what we have to deal with until we find more creative ways of getting things of the ground.

jcjohnpaint

December 21, 2011, 01:13:24 PM
I'd say this city has one big problem.  It becomes very lazy as soon as it achieves something.  The laziness achieved by Jacksonville as soon as it achieves something big is unmatched by nearly every other big city out there.

I wonder if it is laziness or exhaustion.  I think a lot of progressive cities have a great body of support.  Jacksonville does have a lot of backward thinkers in powerful places.  This makes moving forward a more exhausting fight for the progressive.  One think backwards thinkers do not have is intelligence.  MJ does such a great job of informing the public.  If we don't know of past mistakes, how could we make way for a better future.  I do think Hogans is the beginning of a great city park.  It is easy to see.

jcjohnpaint

December 21, 2011, 01:14:19 PM
one thing - not think/ sorry ;D

thelakelander

December 21, 2011, 01:19:41 PM
You don't have to do things at a snail's pace.  For example, the mobility plan is a pretty innovative way for the city to improve itself without raising taxes.  However, we put a moratorium on the fee, thus slowing down progress in the process.  On the flip end, COJ finally took advantage of an opportunity to get a major company in downtown with the Everbank deal.  Imagine if a property abatement program were developed for the entire CBD? 

BTW, great find Lake.  I never knew about this proposal.  Have you found any diagrams or any other plans related to this, or any of the other proposals mentioned in the article from the archives?

No.  I had read about it somewhere before but never knew the exact location.  I happened to be doing some research on Hogans Creek for the MJ book this past weekend and came across a copy of that article in JPL's Special Collections department.  My guess is a search of FTU archives from 1934 would pull up more detailed info.

dougskiles

December 21, 2011, 01:54:23 PM
Jacksonville does have a lot of backward thinkers in powerful places.

Yes, we do.

Complacency is the #1 issue that I see.  #2 is the desire from those who have been in power to protect the status quo.  And as long as we have #1, we'll have #2.  But there is hope.

I overheard two paddlers yesterday comment about how for 8 years they tried to get John Peyton out on the river.  Never once.  Then one of them remarked "Why would he?  He lives on the river and always has.  River access has never been an issue for him."  I am excited that we have a mayor more of us can relate to.  Spending some time with him yesterday made me like him all the more.  Very folksy and spirited.  And anxious to make some change in Jacksonville.

Ocklawaha

December 21, 2011, 02:13:04 PM
Another thing that a good friend of mine said was very true. Why is it that none of the church's downtown, invest in downtown? They already dont pay property taxes, so why not give back? For example, hogans creek run's right past Bethel Baptist. It amazes me that the church has never raised a concern about the condition of the creek, nor offer any financial assistance to get it cleaned up. Its time out for just going to service and going home. I feel that if you are going to reside downtown, invest in downtown. buying up property is fine, but when you are paying no property taxes its really not helping anything.

Um, your friend would be wrong. The incredibly well loved FBC, to my knowledge is the ONLY downtown resident that has followed through on the city's master plan.  Fountains, tree islands, and streetscape, brought to by those Bible thumping nincompoops. You can thank Bethel, FBC, the AME and a host of other churches for providing beds and meals for the homeless. Certainly we all wish this activity could be on the edge of town somewhere, but I wonder who will volunteer their neighborhood first?

Lake can probably shed more light on this subject.

OCKLAWAHA

jcjohnpaint

December 21, 2011, 02:13:20 PM
That is wonderful to hear!  I really have much faith in Mayor Brown.  He seems resilient, humble, and highly intelligent. 

urbaknight

December 21, 2011, 02:20:01 PM
Another thing that a good friend of mine said was very true. Why is it that none of the church's downtown, invest in downtown? They already dont pay property taxes, so why not give back? For example, hogans creek run's right past Bethel Baptist. It amazes me that the church has never raised a concern about the condition of the creek, nor offer any financial assistance to get it cleaned up. Its time out for just going to service and going home. I feel that if you are going to reside downtown, invest in downtown. buying up property is fine, but when you are paying no property taxes its really not helping anything.

Um, your friend would be wrong. The incredibly well loved FBC, to my knowledge is the ONLY downtown resident that has followed through on the city's master plan.  Fountains, tree islands, and streetscape, brought to by those Bible thumping nincompoops. You can thank Bethel, FBC, the AME and a host of other churches for providing beds and meals for the homeless. Certainly we all wish this activity could be on the edge of town somewhere, but I wonder who will volunteer their neighborhood first?

Lake can probably shed more light on this subject.

OCKLAWAHA

Let's put them near JTB area. There's no way you could get out of that area without using a car, it's far too dangerous to do it on foot. If we can put them there, there would be no way they could get back to DT. And it's so spread out that they wouldn't be able to interact with or panhandle other people.

Jaxson

December 21, 2011, 02:27:11 PM
I shudder to think that the city might have decided build a massive park --- but would soon turn around and decide to abandon it piecemeal to developers or other folks with myopic plans.  Besides, I am not curious to know where the city's racial lines were drawn at the time.  It appears that such common space would have provided too much opportunity for integrated public spaces.  Instead, the city leaders may have opted to focus on public spaces that were more insulated and thus segregated.  Just my guess - I could be wrong...

thelakelander

December 21, 2011, 02:32:14 PM
At that time the city had not developed that far west, so it definitely would not have been along racial lines.  It's also a huge stab in the dark to assume that the city would not have maintained it over time.  Every decision made results in several follow up decisions that over time can chart a community on two different paths.  Just imagine if Savannah or Charleston had the finances to follow Jax's mid-20th century economic development strategies?  They certainly would not be the tourism meccas they are today.

Jaxson

December 21, 2011, 02:53:44 PM
I was definitely making a wild guess, but cannot help but notice that the proposed greenbelt would have been within the vicinity of the old (pre-1968) city limits.  I would further guess that the City of Jacksonville would have been significantly more progressive in how it zoned incorporated lands that were adjacent to the parks as opposed to unincorporated lands.  For example, I noticed a significant change of character along Cassatt Avenue between Post Street and Normandy Boulevard.
Furthermore, I would also guess that as the city's population spread to the greenbelt that race would have been a factor in ensuring that the parks did not encourage integration.  The city might have even gone as far as sell valuable parkland before allowing it to integrate.  This, of course, would have depended on whether the city raised bonds to create the parks.  This kink is what prevented the city from being able to sell the Civic Auditorium, the Coliseum and the Gator Bowl to avoid desegregation -right? 

thelakelander

December 21, 2011, 03:06:37 PM
It's kind of hard for me to say how the park would have impacted integration.  Historically, Springfield Park/Hogans Creek was bordered by both black (Sugar Hill, Hansontown) and white (downtown, Springfield) neighborhoods.  It only went downhill when Springfield declined.

My guess is it would have had limited to no impact directly since the city had not fully developed that far west.  It would have spurred white flight from the core but that happened anyway.  However, it would have had a more significant impact on the development form of the Westside.  Probably more residential/cultural uses and industry further west.  Being a major attraction before WWII, its not too far of a stretch to assume that a secondary urban commercial district would have formed along its borders somewhere (similar to St. Louis' Central West End).  Also, by stimulating additional growth in an era before the car took over, development in general would have ended up at a higher density along a fairly gridded street network.  Again, I'm swinging a machete in the dark with this post.

I-10east

December 21, 2011, 06:11:42 PM
^^^Lake, I understand that you said you didn't write this article to beat up on Jax, but IMO just by looking at the thread title 'The Park That Got Away' does sound awful doom & gloomy. That's when many of the typical, predictable, and obligatory MJ quotes by posters like 'lost opportunities' and 'awful city government' always rears it's ugly head. Ale Works, and FSU hit the nail on the head concerning this whole matter. On one hand, I probably can list America's 'mega parks that REALLY MATTER' anyways. Smaller, and mid-size parks are perfectly fine.

Remember yall, 'the freedom of speech' argument is a two way street, so no need to make the typical 'if you don't like it, don't respond' post. I respect everyone's opinions, but that don't mean I hafta agree with all of them.

thelakelander

December 21, 2011, 07:03:21 PM
Hmm.  It was a park that got away.  Nothing more, nothing less.  While some get too negative with Jax, I think an equal amount get too sensitive.

north miami

December 21, 2011, 07:38:10 PM
 What if in fact there had been a desire to retain most Duval waterway shorelines reserved from development,private residence?
think about it-some of the Nation's most desirable areas,regions exhibit such feature,and the focus  of our State's Conservation Lands Purchase programs has been to reserve water body systems from 'development'.

Shucks,the Florida Wildlife Federation went to bat fighting the Southeast Landfill......'Save D DOT area lands!'..........we could have spearheaded timberland reserve,recreation,Fee simple public lands and vibrant Ag,ranch lands under conservation easement......instead we ended up with Nocatee. Across the River,the transformation of regional water recharge area; Brannon Chaffee/ Beltway/ Oakleaf......as brief,simple examples.

the most telling thing about the WPA era failure of nerve is the failings are not solely about others,but rather,our own inherent present day inclinations.

finehoe

December 22, 2011, 03:13:49 PM
^^^The sad truth of the matter is that developers own the State of Florida lock, stock and barrel, and whenever the choice is between preservation of some natural area and the chance that someone can make a few dollars off destroying "developing" the area, you will rarely lose the bet siding with the latter.

theduvalprogressive

September 12, 2013, 10:06:37 PM
I think there is still an opportunity to do something like this if the political will exists. It hilarious their reasoning was, "Just go to the woods." Where are the woods now?
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