Jacksonville by Design at MOSH

November 7, 2012 1 comment Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

The Jacksonville Chapter of American Institute of Architects has partnered with The Museum of Science and History to celebrate 100 years of architecture by highlighting the history and progressive forms of designs that the city has contributed over time.

Within the last century, Jacksonville has become a significant, yet often underrated, lender to architectural history.  In the Museum of Science and History’s newest exhibit, Jacksonville by Design, MOSH goers will be able to become acquainted with 100 years worth of the city’s great architecture.

quote from MOSH and AIA

The exhibit, celebrated by the anniversary of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Jacksonville chapter, begins its recognizance after the Great Fire of 1901, when downtown Jacksonville was completely destroyed by flame.  With the combination of blustery wind, dried moss and burning debris, the fire jumped from spot-to-spot rapidly, engulfing any building in its path for hours.  Firefighters from all over the area finally put the relentless scorcher to rest by nightfall, and by then an agonizing emptiness was all that was left of downtown.

The remains of Downtown Jacksonville's Great Fire of 1901
photocred: Florida Memory

But as with any tragedy, there’s a silver lining.  The area unintentionally became a clean slate for entrepreneurs, builders and architects to take the devastated area and make it into something great.  And so they built.

The Jacksonville by Design exhibit delves into how twentieth-century technology and design became clear elements of inspiration for downtown’s reconstruction, and how modern designs were formed as a result.  Some of the improvements noted in design were the sturdier buildings.  Before the fire, wooden construction was popular, but the new buildings were made from stone, brick, concrete and steel, as part of newly stated fireproof ordinances.  Skyscrapers were also developed aided by the invention of electric elevators.

Independent Life aerial view 1987, an example of the prominence of Jacksonville skyscrapers many decades later
photocred: Florida Memory

By the 1920s, downtown had revamped itself into an intriguing modern area, so the exhibit shifts its focus to the next architecturally thriving time in Jacksonville – when the surrounding areas became more marketable than ever before.  San Marco, Avondale, San Jose, Venetia and Granada were regarded as top neighborhoods during Florida’s real estate Boom.  The pseudo-Spanish and quasi-Italian architecture became an an innovative feature that set the districts apart from others.

Avondale Terrace built 1926, an example of Mediterranean Revival
photcred: Mike's Historic Buildings

1929 Oxford Hall Apartments, another example of Mediterranean Revival
photcred: Mike's Historic Buildings

In contrast to the Mediterranean exoticism, the exhibit explains how riverfront settings, decorative trappings and skyscrapers inspired by both Colonial/Classical and Prairie School designs led to an eclectic, highly lusted after, historic district.

In addition to these neighborhoods, others that showed signs of relevant architecture like Springfield, which popularized the transitional Queen Anne styles, are featured.

St. James Building/Cohen Brother's Department Store/May Cohens Department Store/Jacksonville City Hall, now in the National Register of Historic Places

Another time period the exhibit details that was largely influenced by Modernism is just after World War II.  Middle-class comfort became a focus for inventors with an updated reflection of modernism.  This era is also exemplified through the demand of home appliances, interstate highways and automobiles.

Jacksonville Public Library on AIA's Top 100 Building of the Past 100 Years List
photocred: RAMSA

Throughout the passing decades, downtown Jacksonville has had a large amount of buildings demolished by the 1950s and other relative Historic neighborhoods have since gone through a number of transformations, but the Jacksonville by Design exhibit allows the city’s architectural history to hit the surface and be recognized for all it did to make Jacksonville a distinct mixture of old and new, with a side of spirit and the ability to evolve.

article by Melanie Pagan