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Lost Jacksonville: Gibbs Corporation Shipyards

Formerly referred to as the epicenter of the "Billion Dollar Mile", the shipyards has become known as a place of dead urban development dreams. Before it was a vacant waterfont parcel, the site was the home of one of Jacksonville's largest companies for more than a century.

Published March 12, 2013 in History      10 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article





Aerial view of Gibbs Corporation shipyard during 1950s. Courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/142072

In 1962, the 54 year old Gibbs Corporation, located at the foot of Kings Avenue and Miami Road (eventaully renamed Prudential Drive), was sold to Jacksonville industrialist Bill Lovett. A few years later, in 1967, George Williams Gibbs passed at the age of 82 and was buried in St. Augustine's Evergreen Cemetery.

Called the "South's least known multimillionaire" by the Times-Union, in 1939, Lovett had sold his controlling interest in the Winn-Lovett Grocery Company to an entity that eventually became Winn-Dixie. He was also the president and chairman of the board of the Piggly Wiggly Corporation.

Lovett simultaneousy purchased Gibbs, Rawls Brothers Shipyards (formerly Merrill-Stevens), and Bellinger Shipyards, in Jacksonville Beach, renaming them all Jacksonville Shipyards, Inc.  At the time of Lovett's acquisition, Gibbs was considered the largest ship builder in the South.

Quote
Mr. Lovett hailed from the small Florida town of Monticello, near Tallahassee.  For many years, the publicity-shy financier lived in a handsome home overlooking the St. Johns River.  The dwelling still stands on Challen Avenue in the historic Jax neighborhood of Avondale.  Until late in life, Mr. Lovett drove himself to work in one of two 1966 Cadillacs, arriving at about 10:00 A.M. at a spartan downtown office on East Adams Street.  He toiled steadily, breaking only for a meal of peanut butter crackers and buttermilk.  The magnate would leave each evening at 6:00, taking home more work.  One family member described him as being quite devoted to his enterprises.
http://www.jaxhistory.com/Jacksonville Story/Picture of Supermarket, Lovett's and Stewarts.htm


Aerial view of Gibbs Corporation shipyard during the 1950s, looking towards the north. Courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/142071


In 1969, Lovett sold the Jacksonville Shipyards, Inc. to Fruehauf Corporation. Based out of Detroit, the company was founded by blacksmith and carriage builder named August Charles Fruehuaf. In 1914, Fruehauf invented the "semi-trailer", leading to the establishment of the Fruehauf Trailer Company in 1918.

Called the South Yard, under Fruehauf's ownership, it was their largest shipbuilding facilitiy featuring a 20,000-ton capacity floating dry dock, machine shops, main office building, new construction yards with two ship ways and eight mobile gantry cranes. Combined with the North Yard (Jacksonville Shipyards), St. Johns Yard and Mayport, Fruehauf employed 3,000 in 1971.

However, the days of shipbuilding on the Southbank were coming to an end. By the mid-1970s, Fruehauf shut down the Southbank's old Gibbs yard and focused on expanding and upgrading their shipyard on the Northbank.

When Mayor Hans Tanzler resigned to run for governor of Florida in 1978, city council president Jake Godbold was appointed to take his place for the last six months of the term. Elected in 1979 and again in 1983, Godbold's administration labeled the 1980s as "The Billion Dollar Decade" for downtown redevelopment. The old Gibbs shipyard became a major focus of those redevelopment efforts.

By 1982, the shipyards had been replaced with a riverfront mixed-use development featuring a 322-room Sheraton Hotel and waterfront retail/office complex anchored by Chart House and Crawdaddy's Restuarant.


A photograph of Crawdaddy's Restaurant by Deborah Thomas on August 24, 1984. Courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/112827




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10 Comments

simms3

March 12, 2013, 04:11:08 AM
I used to love boating by Atlantic Marine through Sisters Creek on the way to Bird Island when it still existed.  More of a vague memory, but I do remember boating by the "Shipyards" when it was still a shipyards.  The ships there always seemed quite large (600-800 ft).

I think Jacksonville missed, though maybe still has, an opportunity to be a hub of shipbuilding.  After the Gold Rush of the mid-1800s, it was shipbuilding for the military during WWII that built up the Bay Area, employing 250,000 people directly and almost 1,000,000 indirectly.  I have a Bay view now, and let me tell you I am still in daily awe of all the ship activity...huge post-panamax ships coming in and out every day.  Old retrofitted hospital ships moored at Hunter's Point.  Old shipyards with drydocks towering hundreds of feet in the air.  Norfolk is even more impressive since it's all still operational.

The currents in the St. Johns in most areas are far from extreme.  There is a lot of inland protection, calmer waters, developable land, access, a past history, etc.  For all these reasons, I think, Savannah also serves as a point of shipbuilding (and yachts) as does Charleston.  Why can't Jacksonville?

Not to mention the connection to defense within the city put to no use.  Anyone remember Armor Holdings?  BAE has holdings in the area.  A few other defense contractors, as well.  Surely there is opportunity there.

BTW George Gibbs' house practically faces Betsy Lovett's (via water) on the same technical street.  Small world in Jax, as irrelevant as I find the neighborhood today, Ortega and Avondale are still home to the former local industrialists and titans of Jacksonville, and a few current players :)

fsujax

March 12, 2013, 08:51:48 AM
I miss Crawdaddys!

PeeJayEss

March 12, 2013, 09:01:17 AM
So this guy had a ferry company, and actually championed a bridge that would eliminate the need for his business?!? Putting the interests of the city ahead of his own? That is literally the opposite of most every business-person today. Or perhaps he had some other motivation for it, but I am going to stay optimistic.

Tacachale

March 12, 2013, 09:17:38 AM
I used to love boating by Atlantic Marine through Sisters Creek on the way to Bird Island when it still existed.  More of a vague memory, but I do remember boating by the "Shipyards" when it was still a shipyards.  The ships there always seemed quite large (600-800 ft).

I think Jacksonville missed, though maybe still has, an opportunity to be a hub of shipbuilding.  After the Gold Rush of the mid-1800s, it was shipbuilding for the military during WWII that built up the Bay Area, employing 250,000 people directly and almost 1,000,000 indirectly.  I have a Bay view now, and let me tell you I am still in daily awe of all the ship activity...huge post-panamax ships coming in and out every day.  Old retrofitted hospital ships moored at Hunter's Point.  Old shipyards with drydocks towering hundreds of feet in the air.  Norfolk is even more impressive since it's all still operational.

The currents in the St. Johns in most areas are far from extreme.  There is a lot of inland protection, calmer waters, developable land, access, a past history, etc.  For all these reasons, I think, Savannah also serves as a point of shipbuilding (and yachts) as does Charleston.  Why can't Jacksonville?

Not to mention the connection to defense within the city put to no use.  Anyone remember Armor Holdings?  BAE has holdings in the area.  A few other defense contractors, as well.  Surely there is opportunity there.

BTW George Gibbs' house practically faces Betsy Lovett's (via water) on the same technical street.  Small world in Jax, as irrelevant as I find the neighborhood today, Ortega and Avondale are still home to the former local industrialists and titans of Jacksonville, and a few current players :)

True that. There are actually a few small-scale shipyards still in Jax and there's an opportunity for more. Unfortunately it appears the age of large-scale shipbuilding in this country has mostly passed.

So this guy had a ferry company, and actually championed a bridge that would eliminate the need for his business?!? Putting the interests of the city ahead of his own? That is literally the opposite of most every business-person today. Or perhaps he had some other motivation for it, but I am going to stay optimistic.

The ferry was on its way out anyway after they built the Acosta. Adding the second bridge killed it, but allowed access to the shipyards and opened up more of South Jacksonville for development. So it was bad for one of his businesses but good for the main business as well as the region. That's what you want in a project.

Overstreet

March 12, 2013, 09:56:04 AM
The ship yard is still at the intersection of Sisters Creek/ICW and the St Johns.  There is often military ships in the dry dock. There are also large yatchs that get work done there.

If_I_Loved_you

March 12, 2013, 10:10:31 AM
The ship yard is still at the intersection of Sisters Creek/ICW and the St Johns.  There is often military ships in the dry dock. There are also large yatchs that get work done there.
BAE Systems Southeast Shipyards Jacksonville, Florida, is conveniently located two miles from the Atlantic Ocean, at the intersection of the St. Johns River and the Atlantic Intracostal Waterway.

The Jacksonville shipyard has a successful history of vessel repair, maintenance, overhaul, conversion and marine fabrication for domestic, international, commercial and government customers. Open twenty four hours a day, 365 days a year, no job is too big or too small - from tugs and mega-yachts to tankers and warships.

Whatever the requirement, Southeast Shipyards Jacksonville continues to earn an unsurpassed reputation for high-quality craftsmanship – due in large measure to our commitment to maintain a highly skilled and trained workforce. http://www.thisismyshipyard.com/your-locations/southeast-shipyards-jacksonville/

thelakelander

March 12, 2013, 10:15:20 AM
Here are a few operating area shipyard facilities that we have imagery included in our photo archives.

^ The BAE Shipyard (formerly Atlantic Marine)





North Florida Shipyards near Everbank Field





Southern Drydock - Green Cove Springs

billy

March 12, 2013, 07:29:52 PM
Is there currently a small  Green Cove based shipbuilder/drydock outfit leasing the basin at Ford Assembly property?

thelakelander

March 12, 2013, 07:41:21 PM
I don't think it's a shipbuilder although I could be wrong:



Charles Hunter

March 12, 2013, 08:13:21 PM
My Father-in-law was not eligible to serve in the military during WW2 for health reasons - but worked at Gibbs Shipyards during the War.  Didn't they also build PT Boats at the Southbank yard?  I remember a tour boat operator pointing that out - before the redevelopment.
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