Stories Behind the Concrete Slabs of Jax: Part I

June 2, 2015 37 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

A new Metro Jacksonville series that highlights the lost stories behind downtown Jacksonville's surface parking lots.

Unfortunately, some parts of downtown Jacksonville look like a devastated war zone. Once filled with life, building demolitions over the years have left sections of the urban core littered with a weird, eerie mix of building foundations serving as surface parking lots. What was "Railroad Row" may be the largest cluster of dead building foundations still standing.

Railroad Row was Jacksonville's answer to NYC's SOHO, Atlanta's Castleberry Hill, and Dallas' West End. The Row was a four-block district along West Bay Street featuring a compact mix of warehouses, wholesale businesses, hotels and restaurants catering to the nearby Jacksonville Terminal Company railroad depot.

By the time the Jacksonville Terminal opened in 1919, West Bay Street, between Broad and Lee Streets was anchored with wholesale grocery businesses, such as the J.G. Permenter Company, C.W. Zaring & Company, C.M. Lewis Company, Baker and Holmes Company, and the C.E. Guller Company. Located along the yards of the Jacksonville Terminal Company, all received rail shipments of flour and feed from the North for distribution into the State of Florida. Several small eateries and hotels were scattered amongst the wholesale distribution hubs.

Most of Railroad Row was haphazardly demolished between the late 1970s and early 1990s, with the closing of the railroad terminal and relocation of industry from the downtown core. While Railroad Row didn't last long enough to the era when American downtowns become popular again, several building foundations still stand.

Here's a look at five interesting sites and the stories of the businesses behind them.

1. Hotel DeSoto

"We pay no graft to get business, but give you a clean place to stay" - W.E. Garrett, Hotel DeSoto manager in 1922.

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Located opposite the Jacksonville Terminal, Hotel DeSoto was one of several small hotels along Railroad Row. According to a 1922 St. Petersburg Times advertisement, rates were as low as $1.50 for a room without a bathroom and $2.00 for a room with a bathroom.

Sanborn map illustrating the location and footprint of the Hotel DeSoto and 928 West Bay Street.

On the bottom floor, facing the streetcar line at 928 West Bay Street, Delman's Cafe was a popular dining spot for guests. By 1926, the space had become the Peter Mano's Restaurant. The DeSoto Hotel operated from 1921 until 1966. It was demolished in 1977. Today, grass grows over the floors where local cuisine was once served and where tourists slept.

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