Exposing Jacksonville's "Phoenix"

October 3, 2012 35 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Outside of downtown Jacksonville, when one mentions urban neighborhoods, the names of Riverside/Avondale, San Marco, and Springfield come to mind. However, Jacksonville is a city blessed to have several historical communities just as impressive and walkable in their own right. Just east of Springfield and straddling Phoenix Avenue, what began as the Dyal Upchurch subdivision is a relatively unknown urban core treat.

About the Neighborhood

Dating back to 1904, what is now known as the Phoenix Avenue neighborhood was originally platted as the Dyal-Upchurch subdivision by Frank Upchurch and Benjamin Dyal's Dyal-Upchurch Investment Company. Dyal-Upchurch was a Georgia investment company that moved to Jacksonville after the Great Fire of 1901. Frank Upchurch had interests in turpentine and lumber, while Benjamin Dyal owned a sawmill.

The company's main office building was the first multi-story structure built in the barren downtown area and the first design by Klutho in Jacksonville. Construction began on a five-story building, but demand for office space spurred the addition of a sixth floor by the time the structure was completed in May 1902. The company ceased business in Jacksonville after 1924.

A 1924 plat map illustrating the Phoenix Avenue area subdivisions and Jacksonville Traction Company streetcar lines through the community.  The two largest subdivisions platted in the area after the Great Fire of 1901 were Dyal-Upchurch (purple) and Highland Park (pink), both between Phoenix Avenue and Haines Street.

Phoenix Avenue

Phoenix Avenue is the historical heart of the Dyal UpChurch community and now recognized as the greater neighborhood's name.  Located in the center of the neighborhood, no residences is further than a two to three block walk from this thoroughfare.  The name "Phoenix" represented Jacksonville rising from the ashes of the 1901 fire.

Previous city studies suggest that this corridor was once a residential street before being taken over by commercial intrusion.  However, this line of thinking is inaccurate.  A century ago, Phoenix Avenue served as a streetcar corridor tying the neighborhood to the rest of the city.  A streetcar ride south, took residents to Springfield and downtown Jacksonville.  A ride north provided direct access to Evergreen Cemetery, while a ride to the east provided access to the river and Talleyrand.  

Since the automobile was more of a novelty than a necessity, Phoenix Avenue developed into a corridor with some of Jacksonville's earliest examples of transit oriented development.  During the neighborhood's heyday, the needs of everyday life were either within walking distance or a streetcar ride away for its residents.

Particularly, the four block stretch of the avenue between Adelia (now 12th) and  Mitchell (now 15th) Streets was dominated with commercial uses catering to the surrounding community by 1920.

According to the 1927 city directory, businesses in operation during that period included Royal George Meats, Whidden's Cash Stores, J.R.E. Kennedy Drugs, George Conner's Groceries, and Sam Lapedes Dry Goods.  By 1950, the retail scene included Daylight Grocery Company, Fred B. Wild's Restaurant, Jax Meat Company, Sheldon Grooms Drugs, and Tarratus Five & Dime Store.

Today, many of these early 20th century commercial buildings still remain standing adjacent to residences dating back to the same time period.  In addition, the width of Phoenix Avenue is a direct reminder of its days of having a fixed rail system running on it.

The Jacksonville Traction Company car #168 on the Phoenix Park streetcar line.  Like the neighborhood, it was named "Phoenix" after the city rose from the ashes of the 1901 fire. This car ran a route via Main Street, from Bay and Main to Walnut, to Phoenix, to Evergreen to Trout River. Image courtesy of the State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/32075

Riteway Laundry & Dry Cleaners

The remaining commercial buildings at the intersection of Phoenix Avenue and 15th Street were constructed between 1909 and 1919.

This two story building was completed in 1913 at the intersection of Phoenix Avenue and 15th Street, along the Phoenix Park streetcar line.  In 1927, the Sam Lapedes Dry Goods store was located on the first floor.  By 1950, Sam Lapedes had been replaced by the Lee Furniture Company.

Custom Propulsion Systems has been in operation since 1953.

In business since 1953, Ellis Propeller is one of the largest full service and marine hardware manufacturers in the Southeastern United States located in Jacksonville, Florida. Ellis Propeller has complete in-house state-of-the-art marine engineering and naval architectural design capabilities. In 1988, Ellis Propeller purchased the Columbian Bronze tooling for the Hydrosonic, Crewboat, Fishmaster, Kaplan, Mako, and many others designs. In 1996, Ellis Propeller was sold and became Custom Propulsion Systems, doing business as the Ellis Propeller Company.

Evergreen Avenue

Now recognized as the Phoenix Avenue neighborhood, the Dyal-Upchurch community was designed to accommodate a mix of uses within walking distance of each other.  The westermost of three major north/south local streets in the community, Evergreen Avenue includes a mix of residential and heavy industrial uses straddling the old Springfield rail yard.  Originally, Evergreen Avenue connected the communities of Oakland and East Jacksonville with the Evergreen Cemetery, which was established in 1880.  However, the construction of the 20th Street Expressway (now MLK, Jr. Parkway) would sever that connection during the 1950s.

Unlike many century old industrial districts, this corridor is home to several long time businesses that have not abandoned the urban core for newer locations.  Many of these companies provide with community with an self sustaining economic asset that other older neighborhoods throughout the city lack.

Springfield railyard

The neighborhood's largest land owner is Berman Brothers, Inc.  Berman Brothers is the largest family-owned and operated new steel warehousing and scrap recycling facility in North Florida.  Their industrial complex includes the former Smullian Building Supply Company's Evergreen Avenue property.

In the early 1940's, Milton and Harry Berman started a small scrap yard on Jacksonville's East 8th Street, M. Berman & Co. and Berman Bros., Surplus & Sales, dealing in WWII surplus items. With the addition of the first baling machine, furnace and roll off truck in Jacksonville, the companies merged into Berman Bros., Inc. at 2726 Evergreen Avenue.

Rubin Iron Works, Berman Brothers' metal fabrication and machine shop, is located a few blocks south on Carmen Street. Adjacent to the railyard that separates the neighborhood from Springfield, the iron works facility has been in operation since 1914.

Since our blacksmithing roots on Bay Street in 1914 to our early days at Carmen Street, Rubin Iron Works, LLC has come a long way offering unsurpassed technical skill and superior customer service for nearly 100 years.

Originally incorporated in May 1927, Rubin Iron Works LLC united with Berman Bros., Inc. in 2005 to broaden our offerings as a full-service metal center and to contribute to the revitalization of the neighborhood.

Looking towards the Rubin Iron Works on Carmen Avenue, from Springfield, in 1963. Image courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/167640

The Thompson Awning Company is a leading manufacturer of Stationary Awnings.  Located adjacent to the Rubin Iron Works at the intersection of Evergreen Avenue and Dyal Streets, the building housing the company dates back to 1919.  In 1927, it was the Duval Broom Factory. Of interesting note is how this manufacturing plant meets the street.  Despite being industrial, it interacts with the sidewalks at the pedestrian scale level with office entrances, windows and storefront awnings, which buffer the more intense industrial uses away from the mix of uses along Evergreen Avenue.  

This building at 635 East 12th Street was once the home of the Canada Dry Bottling Company of Jacksonville. Canada Dry Pale Ginger Ale was created by Canadian pharmacist and chemist John J. McLaughlin in 1904.  The drink grew in popularity as a mixer during Prohibition, when its flavor helped mask the taste of homemade liquor, leading them to expand worldwide in the 1930s. Prior to shifting operations to this East 12th Street plant in 1939, the company's local bottling plant was located at 619 Houston Street in LaVilla. Products bottled at this location included Ginger Ale, Canada Dry Water, Tom Collins Mixer, Hires Root Beer, Sparkling Water and Tru-Fruit Flavors. In 1978, the company closed this urban core bottling factory and relocated to 6045 Bowdendale Avenue in Jacksonville's Southside.

GOSAN USA produces fabricated sheaves and crane components. GOSAN USA opened their 14,000 square foot facility in 2008 with the main purpose of providing their customers in the Western Hemisphere a more expedient delivery and service of their products while maintaining the same high quality and innovative products manufactured by GOSAN (Spain) since 1971.

This abandoned East 10th Street warehouse, adjacent to the Springfield railyard, dates back to 1919. In 1930, this building was occupied by the Atlanta-based Beck & Gregg Hardware Company.  Established by Lewis Hicks Beck, the company's roots dated back to 1866 and it was known as the first mercantile company ever incorporated in the South. In 1950, the structure was occupied by F.H.Ross & Company.  By the 1960s, the 20,000 square foot building and an adjacent 40,000 square foot warehouse was occupied by the Atlantic Bag & Paper Company.  Atlantic Bag & Paper manufactured paper bags, plates and cups.  Today, the facility waits quietly for a new use.

The Evergreen Filling Station building at 8th Street and Evergreen Avenue was completed in 1929.  By 1936, the streetcar line it was located on was no longer in operation as Jacksonville transitioned into an autocentric community.

Paul Murray Oil has been in the Florida petroleum business since 1930, with over 75 years of service in Jacksonville.

The Horse and Kennel Warehouse carries products rarely viewed as necessary in an urban setting, such as the Dyal-Upchurch neighborhood.

Horse and Kennel Warehouse was established in 1988. The store covers over 7500 square feet and contains over $2 million of inventory for the equine enthusiast. Quality, name brand products are all we offer to our customers. And plenty of it. You won't find just one or two styles of riding accessories, you'll see dozens of options to choose from. Complete and extensive product lines of saddles, bridles, bits, reins, headstalls, saddle pads and every imaginable tack accessory you can think of for the English and Western rider.

Public Right-of-Way

Like many urban Jacksonville neighborhoods, the poor maintenance of public right-of-way really stands out throughout the community.  On several streets, sidewalks have been taken back by nature or missing altogether, which forces pedestrians into the streets with cars and trucks.

Franklin Street

Franklin Street runs parallel to Phoenix Avenue through the neighborhood.  It once connected the community with the neighborhoods of Longbranch and the Eastside.  However, like its western counterpart, Evergreen Avenue, the connection to the north was severed with the construction of the 20th Street Expressway (MLK Parkway) during the mid-20th century.  While Evergreen Avenue contains a mix of industrial and residential uses, Franklin Street provides connectivity to the neighborhood's public square and elementary school.  

Franklin Street's Edwards Park is a great example of what a passive urban green space should resemble.  It's one of the few public parks in Jacksonville's Northside where pedestrian access isn't restricted by fencing.  Instead it opens up to the community and is surrounded on all four sides by residential structures.

Edwards Park is located in north Jacksonville’s Dyal-Upchurch subdivision, which was platted in 1904. The Dyal-Upchurch Company moved to the City and hired Henry Klutho as architect for the first high-rise building constructed in downtown after the Great Fire of 1901. During the period from 1920 to 1928, the City purchased the land for the park, which was expanded by the addition of two lots in 1951. When the park opened around 1928, it was named Walter Edwards Park and contained a baseball diamond with a backstop. A small community center with a meeting room and restrooms was built on the west side of Franklin Street, and may at one time been considered part of the park. In 1975, the passive park’s design was the same as today – a square expanse of lawn with a circular concrete walk in the middle, from which diagonal and perpendicular walks radiate to the perimeter.

Public School Number 8 opened in 1912.  It eventually became known as J. Allen Axson Elementary School.  Today the school is occupied by the Northeast Springfield Head Start Center.

The Franklin Street Baptist Church

Recently, pedestrian scale connectivity along the Franklin Street corridor has been further severed.  Over the last year, it's Talleyrand Terminal Railroad crossing near the former J. Allen Axson Elementary School was closed (above) and now there is a massive expressway interchange project underway in the same area.

After being in the middle of a residential district since 1914, this structure now finds itself in the middle of a highway interchange.

Haines Street

Haines Street, Dyal UpChurch's fourth major north/south corridor, was radically altered by the Jacksonville Expressway Authority.  During the 1950s, many of its homes and businesses were demolished to make way for the street's conversion into one of Jacksonville's first expressways.  Today, additional construction is underway as more land has been taking to create space for a new expressway interchange at 21st Street.

Residential Character

Located adjacent to multiple railyards, industries and being a short distance from JAXPORT's Talleyrand Terminal, the community developed as and remains a working class neighborhood.  It's residential building stock is similar to the character of architecture found in Springfield and the Eastside.  The majority of the homes built before 1960 are bungalows and frame vernacular structures..  After the 1940s, concrete block homes were mostly built.

Turning A New Leaf

Phoenix Avenue's Vak Pak Inc. is a designer and manufacturer of self-contained filtration and operating systems for swimming pools, spas, fountains and zoos. Several of its buildings date back to 1930 and were once a part of the Berea Baptist Church campus.

Many buildings throughout the community that appear to be abandoned like Vak Pak, actually have operating businesses in them.  This is one inner city Jacksonville community where the critical amenities of urban revitalization, such as operating businesses, public spaces and reusable building fabric still remain.  It's also one of Jacksonville's few communities where the main street still generates foot traffic. In addition, the neighborhood is centrally located with direct highway and rail access in close proximity of the port. With these things in mind, a stronger focus on revitalization within the greater context of the urban core could result in this neighborhood becoming one of Jacksonville's crown jewels.

Article by Ennis Davis