The Decline and Fall of the Jacksonville Downtown

August 30, 2006 28 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

August 6, 2006: A few hours earlier today I had the pleasure of sitting in the basement of the Park Place building on Hemming Park with Ennis Davis (the inimitable Lakelander of fame) comparing older photos of Downtown Jacksonville with largely depressing contemporary aerial shots.

Looking at the black and white historical photos, one is struck by the tragic barrenness of a mortally wounded heritage and the almost nuclear annihilation of Jacksonville's undeniably interesting history, and the raw feeling of holes and gaps left along the city blocks as though some uncontrolled giant thunderlizard had stomped all the buildings flat in a terrifying and berzerk rampage.

Suddenly it came to me that in a very real way we were pawing over the faded images of a city that has been blasted, broken, burned, and all but leveled by 6 decades of graft, corruption, incompetence, and unbelievable numbskullery.

Over the past few weeks, in the process of curiosity driven research, I have uncovered a numbing history of the hamstringing and strangulation of our once fair center metropolis by a steady welcoming line of unintentional butchers: First, the municipal busybodies. Then, hot on their heels, two generations of merchants and politicians united in greed and corruption, and then finally by a long but fatal convalescence in the care of the professional resuscitators and consultants who sucked the marrow out of its bones before cauterizing all the patients vulnerable parts.

Today, in a downtown that once boasted thousands of businesses, hundreds of shops, dozens of large stores, a laundry list of all the major department stores that ever imposed their cachet over the cityscapes of mid-century America, 8 major theatres, thousands of gracious homes and the base of government and financial power that served as a powerful draw for this entire part of the country, we are reduced sadly to a small rag tag band of shops and survivors living off the crumbs tossed to us by the junior clerks and middle management suit wearers who serve at the behest of an increasingly decentralized civil service.

How did this happen, the casual observer might ask.

The casual observer, depending on their temperament, would be either horrified or amused to find out that our immolation was self imposed.

We destroyed it ourselves.

Time lapse photography of our city center would show a strange and compelling reverse miracle. Beginning in 1979 and continuing to the present day, one would be treated to the spectacle of a city full of people systematically evacuating and then destroying all of the buildings, razing 60 percent of them down to the scraped earth with no motivation, and with no visible driving force.

Observe the following shots, taken from the same position. The first in the 1950s, and then the second photo snapped present day from the same location.

Main & Bay - 1950's

Same intersection - 08/28/06


Forysth at Laura Street - 1950's

Same intersection - 08/28/06





Devastating isn't it?

What would cause and entire culture of people to suddenly self destruct and raze their own city?

The answers (for there are several) are surprising.

The History of Urban "Revitalization" in Jacksonville Florida.
by Stephen Dare.