A Historical Stroll Down Talleyrand Avenue

May 29, 2012 5 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

While Downtown Jacksonville's wharfs boomed a century ago, this heavy maritime related industrial district also came to life during the same period of time. While our wharfs are long gone, this district remains an urban Jacksonville economic powerhouse: Talleyrand

Talleyrand Avenue was developed by New Yorker Jacob S. Parker in 1873 to connect Jacksonville to Panama Park.  Originally a toll road, it was the second major paved street in Duval County.  Parker would go on to become the first mayor of the Town of Fairfield, which was incorporated in 1882 at the southern end of what would become Talleyrand Avenue.  The name of the street comes from the family of Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, a French dipolmat who brokered the Louisiana Purchase.

After the Great Fire of 1901, this area would take on a heavy industrial flavor due to a combination of miles of riverfront, rail lines, and open undeveloped space. By the Great Depression, with no EPA to hold them back, Talleyrand had grown to become the home of many of Jacksonville's largest and dirtiest industries, employing thousands of residents in the process.

National Containerboard Corporation

If they're going much further along the waterfront in their exhibit, they should follow the river all the way to Talleyrand, where the fertilizer plants poured a choking fog of sulfur and phosphate fumes into the air to make your eyes water and set you to coughing uncontrollably.

There was real pollution in our cities in those days.  You have to think back to realize how bad it was, and how much we have done to clean it up.
Quote from a 1969 Tallahassee Democrat editorial by Malcolm Johnson.  Johnson grew up in Jacksonville before moving to Tallahassee in 1937.

Hotel Talleyrand was located at 720 Talleyrand Avenue, before being demolished during the 1980s.  Located at the terminus of the Fairfield streetcar line, it opened in 1927 exclusively for men after the Ford Motor Company announced plans to double its production capacity at its nearby assembly plant.  Today, the site is occupied by Hal Jones Contracting (below).

Located in the vicinity of the old Fairfield streetcar line, these commercial buildings along Talleyrand date back to 1926.

In 1923, Ford bought ten acres of the former Bentley Shipyards property from the City of Jacksonville for $50,000.  Dredging opened the channel, allowing Ford's fleet of oceangoing freighters to dock.  Overall construction and equipment cost approximately $2 million.  The assembly plant initially contained 115,200 square feet of enclosed space.  The adjacent powerhouse contained a 500-horsepower boiler to provide steam to the electric turbo generators.  The facility also provided fire protection through an adjacent water generation building that brought river water into a 75,000-gallon tank.  The front of the building housed a parts department along with a showroom for finished automobiles.  A 1926 addition added some 50,000 additional square feet to the east side of the structure.

The assembly plant is constructed on approximately 8,000 wooden piles.  The floor, a reinforced concrete slab, rests on raised concrete piers.  The ground plan of the plant is rectangular, and its massing is regular.  The exterior walls are curtain wall construction consisting of face brick in a running bond pattern, backed by structural brick.  The structural system is steel frame, consisting of H-beams and trusses.  Trusses are flat or angled in a butterfly pattern, a signature feature of factories designed by Albert Kahn.  The building's central roof monitors (popped-up extensions) are massive and rise noticeably above the roof plane.  They are covered with an interlocking ceramic roof tile.  The four flanking monitors have a lower profile and area sheathed with metal.

The plant remained operational until 1932 and subsequently was used as a parts warehouse until 1968.  With only eight years in operation as an assembly plant, the building was not subject to significant alterations necessary for different processes and different products.  The building is a remarkable and durable artifact of Jacksonville's industrial history, and it meets five of seven criteria for designation as a Jacksonville Landmark. The City of Jacksonville's Landmark Designation report for the plant argues it is one of the most significant industrial buildings in Florida, fulfilling five of the city's seven criteria for landmark designation.  The report notes, "Its construction between 1924 and 1926 was a major event in the history not only of Jacksonville but the state as well.  The arrival of the world's largest autombile manufacturer was a sign of the city and state's growing economic importance."

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