When traveling on the forgotten side streets of Jacksonville's older neighborhoods, one can't help but have a bit of "factory nostalgia" due to the eerily quiet ruins of industrial sites that once buzzed with activity. Here's a story of the rise and fall of a Jacksonville bottling factory that represents the early 20th century manufacturing history of Coca-Cola and Pepsi: The Springfield Warehouse District's Coca-Cola Bottling Company.
The production of Coca-Cola in Jacksonville occurred shortly after the Great Fire of 1901, with the opening of the Jacksonville Coca-Cola Bottling Company in the rear of a LaVilla saloon, located at 624 West Bay Streeet, in 1902. In 1913, the company relocated to 520 East 8th Street, adjacent to the St. Johns River Terminal Company (SJRT) railroad in Springfield. Coca-Cola's first stay in Springfield would be a short one. By 1917, the company had relocated back to LaVilla's Railroad Row at 830/840 West Bay Street.
By 1920, more than 1,000 Coca-Cola bottlers were operating in the U.S. This decade of American prosperity resulted in bottle sales of Coca-Cola exceeding fountain sales. Rapid growth in Jacksonville also resulted in expansion opportunities for Coca-Cola locally.
The Coca-Cola Bottling Company in 1934. Courtesy of the Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/51378
Just north of downtown Jacksonville, Springfield rapidly became one of the city's most popular neighborhoods during the two decades following the Great Fire. In the midst of the Florida Land Boom, the Telfair Stockton & Company began development on a new industrial park in Springfield near the junction of Main Street, the Seaboard Air Line (SAL), Southern, and St. Johns River Terminal Company (SJRT) railroads.
In 1926, in need of additional space, the Jacksonville Coca-Cola Bottling Company constructed a three-story reinforced concrete bottling works in the heart of Stockton's new industrial district, at the intersection of East 14th and North Market Streets. Here, syrup concentrate purchased from the Coca-Cola Company, was taken by the Jacksonville franchise and mixed with filtered water and sweeteners, and then carbonated before being bottled. Bottled products were then sold and distributed to local retail stores, vending machines, restaurants and food service distributors.
In the following decades, additional growth resulted in Coca-Cola acquiring adjacent buildings in the Springfield Warehouse District. Just west of Coca-Cola's bottling works, the Mehlas Warehouses became space for bottled drink storage. Also completed in 1926, the Mehlas complex initially housed companies that supported the larger manufacturing and distribution companies in the area. Some of its earliest tenants included the Loose-Wiles Biscuit Company (bakery), Michelin Tire Company, and Excelsior Mills Corporation (automobile upholstery). Michelin and Excelsior Mills were within a one block walk of the Studebaker and Chevrolet parts warehouses.
The Mehlas Warehouses in 1926. Courtesy of the Telfair Stockton & Company industrial advertisement.
The Jacksonville Coca-Cola Bottling Company also consumed the Mavis Bottling Company's bottling works across the street. Founded in 1926 by Charles G. Guth, a Baltimore candy maker, the Mavis Bottling Company of America built their factory across the street from Coca-Cola, at 14th and Market Streets in 1927. It was one of eight plants Guth built across the country to produce a new chocolate drink called "Mavis".
In 1929, Mavis was consolidated into another company Guth was involved with called Loft, Inc. Loft owned and operated 200 candy stores with soda fountains that purchased over 31,500 gallons of Coca-Cola syrup each year.
After Coca-Cola refused to give him concessions on the sale of cola in his Loft stores, Guth started selling Pepsi. When Pepsi-Cola went bankrupt in 1931, he purchased the company for $10,500, turning it into a national brand. As Pespi grew, the Mavis Bottling Company was then absorbed into Pepsi-Cola and by 1936, Pepsi had become the nation's second largest soda company.
The Mavis Bottling Company, shortly after opening. Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/51348
Loft, Inc. closed the 14th Street Mavis bottling plant in 1930. Under Coca-Cola's ownership, this site was utilized for truck storage, sign painting, and a cooler department.
Built out at the two-block Springfield bottling complex and still in need of space, the Jacksonville Coca-Cola Bottling Company began leasing support space in other areas of town in 1947 and continued to do so for two decades.
A 1950's Sanborn Map of the Coca-Cola Bottling Company.
By the late 1960s, the time had come for Coca-Cola to move on from their constrained and aging 55,400-square foot Springfield plant. In 1968, a $1.8 million, 145,000-square foot modern bottling facility was constructed in Jacksonville's westside to replace the Springfield operation. Built on a 12-acre site, the plant was one of Coca-Cola's largest bottling facilities in the Southeast and capable of producing 1/2 million bottles per 8 hour shift.
Nearly five decades have passed since Coca-Cola left Jacksonville's urban core. Out of the four bottling plants operated by Coca-Cola in LaVilla and Springfield between 1902 and 1968, two still exist. Both LaVilla buildings were demolished decades ago and their sites are now a part of the JTA Skyway's path paralleling West Bay Street between downtown and the Prime Osborn Convention Center.
Coca-Cola Bottling Company Consolidated's Huron Street plant in West Jacksonville. Photograph courtesy of http://www.bushconstructioncompany.com/uploads/1/1/0/5/11050380/5856739_orig.jpg?285
In Springfield, both former bottling plants still stand. Although the original facade has been modified, the 1913 structure appears to be in solid condition due to it being a part of the Schur & Company pump maufacturing plant at just east of Ionia Street.
Unfortunately, the abandoned Springfield Warehouse District bottling complex, which represents the early 20th century history of Coca-Cola and Pepsi, remains empty and continues to slowly deteriorate with each passing day.
Produced in 2010, the City of Jacksonville's Urban Core Vision Plan included the idea of a revitalized warehouse district and Coca-Cola complex built around a commuter rail line that would connect downtown to the airport.
Timeline: Coca-Cola Bottling Company in Jacksonville
1. 1902-1913 - 624 West Bay Street (LaVilla - demolished)
2. 1913-1916 - 520 East 8th Street (Springfield
3. 1917-1926 - 830/840 West Bay Street (LaVilla - demolished)
4. 1927-1967 - 2334 Market Street (Springfield)
5. 1968-Present - 1411 Huron Street (Woodstock)
Next Page: The Jacksonville Coca-Cola Bottling Company Then and Now