Urban Neighborhoods: The Eastside

October 22, 2010 14 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville explores one of the urban core's oldest neighborhoods: The Eastside

About the Eastside

Inside the Oakland Grammar School in 1957

The community of Oakland was platted in 1869 and emerged as a working class community with approximately 400 residents that were largely African-Americans employed in the sawmills and on the docks.  In 1887 Oakland, along with the neighborhing communities of East Jacksonville and Fairfield, was annexed into the City of Jacksonville.

Many prominent African-Americans resided in the neighborhood.  Eartha Mary Magdelene White, the 13th child of Clara English White, a former slave, spent some time in the community and became known as a humanitarian who started a tuberculosis center, a retirement center, and the first playground in Jacksonville for African-American children.  Eartha White served the sick during the Spanish-American War, and was the only woman member of a 60-member interracial War Camp Community Service Conference during WWII. She also served as a member of President Wilson's White House Conference, and functioned as Colonel of the Women's National Defense Program under Mary McLeod Bethune during WWII.

Mr. J. Rosamond Johnson, brother of James Weldon Johnson was an accomplished pianist by the age four.  Rosamond Johnson grew up to tour around the country with the company, Oriental American. In 1900, he wrote the music for a poem that his brother wrote "Lift Every Voice and Sing" which is now known as the Black National Anthem.  James Weldon Johnson, born in 1871, returned to Jacksonville in the 1890s to become the principal of an eight year school, which he later converted to a twelve-year school.  He was the first African-American admitted to the Florida Bar through examination in state court, and was also the founder of of a short-lived newspaper in Duval County called The Daily American.

The first African-American attorney in Jacksonville and union leader A. Philip Randolph, and the Olympic gold medalist Robert Hayes, known in his day as the "world's fastest human" also resided in the area.  Many other early African-Americans built houses, stores, and churches, including noted builders Richard Lewis Brown, John A. Rosemond, and Anthony Dennis.

Now known as the Eastside, like downtown, the community's assets include gridded streets, a mix of uses, parks and a central location.  Unlike downtown, a significant amount of historic building stock still remains.  This neighborhood is the area north of the Jacksonville Expressway and west of MLK Parkway.


The most significant era of the Eastside's development was from 1868 to 1947.  Most of the neighborhood's residences are frame vernacular or bungalow architecture.  Typical streets feature churches, commercial and mixed use buildings scattered among single family residences on lots as narrow as 25' in width within 250' wide blocks.  This combination of uses with narrow streets gives Jacksonville the ability to potentially market this neighborhood a walkable environment with diverse housing styles at an affordable price point.

A row of houses on 25' wide by 125' lots.

This 1920's era warehouse, constructed along the former Atlantic Coast Line railroad is now a church called Bethesda Faith Assembly.

The Virga Pizza Crust Co. factory was built in 1955.

Matthew Gibert School Middle School, constructed in 1926, is a major educational anchor for the Eastside.

These tracks run past the former site of American Celcure Wood Preserving Corporation.  This site operated as a wood preservative treatment facility for about 40 years until American Celcure ceased operation in July 1981.  It treated lumber with acid cupric chromate.  The pit that Celcure used for recycling the acid cupric chromate was an open storage tank without secondary contamination structures, additional freeboard, drainage control, or diversion devices.  Because of this, the site is listed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) as a Brownfield.

The Brown Eastside Branch public library opened in 1961 at the corner of East 4th and Harrison Streets. The library is named after Raiford A. Brown, a prominent neighborhood resident.

Completed in 1940, the Sweetfield Baptist Church is located at the corner of East 4th and Harrison Streets, adjacent to the Brown Eastside Public Library and Matthew Gilbert Middle School

Royal Oaks Groceries at East 3rd & Franklin Streets was constructed in 1914.

Single Family & Walkable: This strip of East 5th Street houses lie on individual 25' wide x 50' deep lots.  Although only 800 square feet, each house offers residents their own private (back)yard space in an urban setting.

The Little Rock Baptist Church on Van Buren Street was constructed in 1914.

Franklin Street's Triumph Church building was completed in 1900.

The Carolina Lumber Company's buildings have been around since 1927.

The building housing the Jesus Christ Community Baptist Church was completed in 1900.

Flossie Brunson Eastside Park

In 1974, the city acquired approximately 7 acres from The Dept. of Housing and Urban Development. After acquiring the property, the City requested that bordering sections of Van Buren Street, Roland Street, and Foster Lane be closed for park construction. Later in the spring of 1974, construction started on basketball courts and a playground. In May 1974, Ordinance 74-445-191 was signed, changing the zoning of the property from RM to GU. In August 1974, ordinance 74-860-392, dedicated the property from the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development to the City for the use as a local public park. In 1977, Resolution 77-111-85 and Ordinance 77-112-27 were signed, giving the authority to execute a lease between the City and Community Television, Inc. for the construction and operation of a community facility. Also during this time tennis courts, a baseball field and a t-ball field were constructed (City of Jacksonville Legislation). In October 1982, Resolution 82-941-330 renamed NDP Park to Eastside Community Park. Mayor Hazouri and CW Darling held the Eastside Community Center dedication 10 April 1990 (PRE Media Division Files). A fire damaged the community center in February 1996 and renovations were designed in the process (Letter dated 4/10/96 from Chief Park Maint. to Risk Management). Lease agreements between the City of Jacksonville and The 100 Black Men of Jacksonville and the Jacksonville International Longshoremen`s Association of Retirees were signed for the groups to provide a place to devise life enrichment programs for the Eastside Community (City of Jacksonville Lease Agreement). In 1999, Ordinance 1999-464-W was signed, naming the tennis courts after Flossie Brunson. She has been a resident of the lower Eastside since she was five years old, having moved from Georgia. After her retirement in 1976 from the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, she organized the Lower Eastside Neighborhood Development Corporation to improve and stabilize the neighborhood. She has been actively involved in neighborhood improvement projects ever since. Also in 1999, Ordinance 1999-462-W renamed First Street Park/Eastside Park after Ed Holt. Mr. Holt is a long time grocery proprietor and community leader, who was raised on a farm in Georgia. He has served on numerous boards of community organizations and has received numerous awards for public service (PRE Media Division Files). In August 2001, a groundbreaking ceremony was held to celebrate the upcoming renovation for the park, consisting of lighting, landscaping, a walk path, water feature, fencing, benches, and irrigation. This project was competed April 2002. In May 2003, the park was renamed by City Council Resolution to Flossie Brunson-Eastside Community Center & Playground to honor Ms. Brunson`s life and many contributions to the citizens of Jacksonville.

Pleasant Grove Primitive Baptist Church: Founded in a house on East Church Street in 1869, this church had its first sanctuary constructed on the corner of Ashley and Van Buren Streets in 1884. Under the leadership of Rev. K.D. Davis, the congregation built this new sanctuary in 1908 at the intersection of Van Buren and Oakley Streets.  This wood frame church has a square bell tower with a metal-shingled roof and shows the Gothic Revival influence via the lancet windows.  It is a good example of the small neighborhood churches built in Jacksonville in the early 1900's.
Source: Jacksonville's Architectural Heritage, page 226

The First Baptist Church of Oakland (built 1941) on Jessie Street.

This 1500 square foot home was constructed as urban infill in 2006.

The first sanctuary of Mount Olive A.M.E. Church was a small wooden building constructed on this site in 1887, facing on Pippin Street. By 1920, the congregation had outgrown the original structure. A.L. Lewis, chairman of the church's building committee, selected plans drawn by Richard L. Brown, and construction began in December 1921. Brown's design is an exuberant and eclectic composition, built largely of concrete blocks, coarse textured on the basement level, rough-cut to simulate quarry stone on the upper two stories. Brown mortar is used throughout, adding rich color tone to the exterior. A large portico marks the main entrance to the sanctuary, flanked by staircases with concrete balustrades facing on Franklin Street.  The facade is dominated by three massive tapered columns, each with a slightly different girth and contour. A soaring steeple planned for the southwest corner was omitted from the final plans. This church's unconventional style and naive charm are part of the lasting heritage left by Jacksonville's first black architect, R.L. Brown, who died in 1948 at the age of 94.
Source: Jacksonville's Architectural Heritage, page 224

A. Philip Randolph Boulevard

Formerly Florida Avenue, A. Philip Randolph Boulevard (renamed in 1995) is the Eastside's historic commercial corridor.  During the 1960s, two major events negatively impacted businesses along the roadway: Hurrican Dora, in 1964, and the Race Riot of November 1969.  Hurricane Dora was a Category 2 hurricane with 110 mile per hour winds that evenutally caused 1.5 billion dollars worth of damage to the City. A. Philip Randolph Boulevard suffered damage to buildings, as well as looting of businesses.

The Race Riot of 1969 was sparked by a shooting of an African-American man, Buck Riley by a white truck driver on A. Philip Randolph Boulevard.  Buck Riley intended to rob the delivery truck driver when the driver was handed a gun by the storeowner and began shooting.  The thief ran into a group of school children and the truck driver shot into the crowd. This angered many of the residents and began the riots that eventually led to the closing of A. Philip Randolph by Mayor Hans Tanzler and the creation of a 100-member Task Force on Civil Disorder.
Source: East Jax NAP.PDF

Everything changed Oct. 31, 1969.

Racial tension was building and something was bound to set it off. Turns out it was a white cigarette salesman who said he was told a black man was pilfering his truck.

The salesman ran outside and fired two shots, hitting the black man once in the leg, according to news accounts at the time.

The neighborhood, and people from across the city, fought back. They flipped the salesman's truck, threw rocks through windows and set buildings ablaze.

And it wasn't just white business owners that were targeted. Black owners suffered damage, too.

Johns Furniture Store burned to the ground. Looters smashed the windows of Bill's Clothing and stole from the store. Same for Jax Liquors and a handful of other businesses.

If not for heavy rains, more damage would have been done, fire officials said at the time.

"After you destroyed their business, you had nowhere to go," said Vernon McLendon, 57, who grew up visiting family off the Avenue .

Charges were eventually dropped against the salesman and the accused thief, but the damage was done.

"It broke Florida Avenue down," said James Palamore, 57, just after ordering up a fish sandwich on a recent day at the Avenue Grocery.

Eventually, businesses rebuilt - just not on the Avenue .
Source: Florida Times-Union 9/6/09 ('The Avenue ' RACE RIOTS IN 1969 BEGAN UNRAVELING A VIBRANT CORRIDOR THAT HAD IT ALL)

The A. Philip Randolph Avenue corridor offers a unique opportunity for future infill development.  Today, the corridor's environment consists of a mix of historic buildings, thriving businesses and vacant parcels.

Technically, it's A. Philip Randolph Boulevard.

That's what the green signs say on this stretch of road just north of the Sports Complex. There are a couple of convenience stores, a handful of other businesses and a sparkling government complex sprinkled in the half-mile mostly choked by vacant corners and empty storefronts.

The street used to be a jumpin' stretch of life on the old Eastside, packed with businesses owned by people everyone called by name.

But that's when it was Florida Avenue - or to those who lived on it, just "the Avenue ."

In the height of Jacksonville's segregation, the Avenue was a commerce center for the black community. Hat shops and shoe stores, restaurants and clubs, service stations and a fire station.

Neighborhood kids pitched in and stocked shelves or swept floors to earn some change.

"Everything was right there on the Avenue ," said Sinclair Newsome, 69, a retired longshoreman who lived on the Eastside.
Source: Florida Times-Union 9/6/09 ('The Avenue ' RACE RIOTS IN 1969 BEGAN UNRAVELING A VIBRANT CORRIDOR THAT HAD IT ALL)

Talk to the people who grew up here and they don't call the stores by name, but by the people who owned them.

It wasn't the Blue Ridge Inn, it was Joe Hall's tavern.

Same for Charlie Joseph's grocery store and the Chinaman's shop.

They knew the shop owners because the shop owners lived there.

It was their neighborhood, too.

Everyone looked out for one another on the Avenue .

The owners hired neighborhood teens to pitch in at the shops. It gave the kids something to do, taught them the value of a dollar and hard work, said Jametta Davis, who grew up on Franklin Street where the Police Athletic League park is now.

The Avenue was the place to see and be seen.
Source: Florida Times-Union 9/6/09 ('The Avenue ' RACE RIOTS IN 1969 BEGAN UNRAVELING A VIBRANT CORRIDOR THAT HAD IT ALL)

A. Philip Randolph Heritage Park

This park is named after A. Philip Randolph who grew up in Jacksonville and became one of the most important figures of the Civil Rights Movement during the 1950s and 1960s. Randolph’s efforts eventually led to the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which resulted in a meeting with President John F. Kennedy and the subsequent passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. A life-size bronze statue of Olympic Gold Medallist and Dallas Cowboy star, Bob Hayes, was added to the park in November 2002. Hayes grew up in Jacksonville, less than a mile from the park. Park amenities include playscapes, an amphitheater, picnic tables, benches and restrooms.

The $9.5 million Jacksonville Children's Commission building opened on the east corner of A. Philip Randolph and 1st Street in 2005.

Buster Ford Checkerboard Park

In September 1989, the initial portion of the park was purchased `on the courthouse steps for $881.58. A second portion of the park was purchased from Pearlie R. Graham in May 1995 for $9,000. A third section of the park was reallocated from the Community Development Division to PRE in August 1995. This third section of property was originally purchased by the City from Margarine Cobb in July 1995 for $4,000.

Union Street

Despite its adjacent location to downtown, the Eastside is physically separated from its neighbor by a network of expressways and former rail lines.  With this in mind, East Union Street is a major connection between downtown and the Eastside.  Like other areas of the Eastside, Union is home to a mix of uses, architecture and settings.

The former Union Terminal Company warehouse, at 648 East Union Street, was built along the former Fernandina & Jacksonville and Atlantic Coast Line Railroad in 1913.  The Union Terminal Company took advantage of a site that was sandwiched between two competing rail lines and adjacent to Hogans Creek, offering tenants access to all three.  During the building's early years, tenants included the Florida School Book Depository, AM Grocery Company, Loose-Wiles Biscuit Company, Virginia Paper Company, Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company and a restaurant called the Union Terminal Lunch Room.


Azar Sausage & Meats Company's factory at 719 East Union Street.  After eight years in Springfield, Azar relocated back to the Eastside in 2008, where the late John Azar developed his recipes for breakfast links, mild and spicy smoked and Italian sausages and Bratwurst more than 50 years ago.  Azar's original store was located at Albert Street and Florida Avenue (A. Philip Randolph Boulevard).

The original recipes for Jacksonville's Azar Sausage Company was created in 1954 by founder John P. Azar. John's family immigrated from the Old Country to America in 1924.John owned a small grocery store in Jacksonville, FL. and started making sausage in the back of the family store for his family and friends. John created mouth watering  recipes. As his sausage business grew, John's family grocery store soon became a state inspected plant and Azar Sausage Company was founded. In 1960 John's son Raymond came on board and established Azar Sausage Company national brand.

Azar Sausage Company is now operating under it's third-generation. Raymond  and his son's, Phillip and John Azar (grandsons of John P Azar).Today the Azar's are still using the same original receipes . The new generation continues to maintain a high standard of excellence.The sausage comes only from the highest quality of meats, seasoned with the finest herbs and all products are federally inspected.Today all of the processing is packaged under the watchful eyes of the Azar family to ensure the high quality of flavor that was originally developed by John P. Azar in 1954.

Florida Rock's Ready-Mix Concrete plant at East Union and Palmetto Streets.

John M. Wellbrock was the first owner of this building, using the first floor for a saloon and grocery. The second-story veranda originally featured an ornate metal balustrade. Triangular and diamond-shaped abstractions on the upper facade hint at architect Talley's interest in the Prairie School design.
Source: Jacksonville's Architectural Heritage, page 226

Oakland Park is located in the Oakland section of downtown Jacksonville, and has been City property since the 1880's. The residential community of Oakland emerged during the 1870's and was oriented toward working-class families. West of the park lies the Old City Cemetery established in 1852, and along the park's northern boundary, St. Joseph’s Cemetery, which is a part of the Old City Cemetery. The park has historical significance as the first playground established by the City of Jacksonville for African-American children. The park opened on July 4, 1918, through the efforts of noted Jacksonville humanitarian, Eartha M.M. White (1876-1974), and for ten years was under the direction of pioneer recreational leader Florida C. Dwight (1886-1977).

Old City Cemetery

Established in 1852, the Old City Cemetery on East Union Street may be one of the urban core's most overlooked historical sites.

Famed interments include:

John Freeman Young, a priest who was the translator of the song “Silent Night, Holy Night”

Francis Philip Fleming – A confederate soldier and lawyer who became the 15th governor of Florida from 1889 to 1893

Princess Laura Adorkor “Mother Kofi” – A Ghana native and founder of “The African Universal Church and Commercial League” who was assassinated on the pulpit in 1928.

John Finegan – Civil War Confederate Brigadier General in the command of the defense of Florida from Union troops at Olustee.

Morris Dzialynski - A member of the first Jewish family in Jacksonville and the city's only Jewish mayor.

The Eastside is located to the east of Springfield and north of Everbank Field.


COJ East Jacksonville Neighborhood Action Plan

Article by Ennis Davis