EU Jacksonville shares the story of Frenchy Le Grand. The man who owned the Jacksonville Beach roller coaster. Article written by Liza Mitchell.
Not everyone was a fan of the boardwalk’s carnival atmosphere. A devastating fire claimed a sizable portion of the boardwalk in the mid 60s. Ron Le Grand says that to his dying day his father believed it was set deliberately by someone who wanted to develop the oceanfront property for other ventures. Despite his close ties to many of them, city officials did not allow him to rebuild, thus closing a memorable chapter in the city’s history. Ron Le Grand fondly recalls his memories of Jacksonville Beach when families, sailors and tourists alike would be stacked “elbow to elbow like a football game.” He looks back to the Opening of the Beaches Parade, sitting atop a carousel horse on his father’s parade float as the Lone Ranger. They took home first prize. “I remember it like it was yesterday, but when it changed it went quick,” Ron says.
The city closed the beach to automobiles, which, according to the Le Grand family, prompted a downward turn in the city’s economy. “Back when you could drive on the beach, that’s what brought the people to the beach,” Ron Le Grand says. “With the amusement rides down, that’s when the transformation happened from a vital, entertainment community to what it is now. At least they can’t ever take the ocean away.”
Frenchy Le Grand stayed true to his roots, working at various amusement parks throughout the Greater Jacksonville area. “This was what he did all of his life,” says his son. “I never saw him take a vacation.” The elder Le Grand remained an active member of the community of carnival workers up until his death at the age of 82, on August 22, 1993.
The face of Jacksonville Beach is nearly unrecognizable from its early days. After the carnival atmosphere dimmed, and the rides disappeared one by one, the tone of the boardwalk shifted, making way for hotels, restaurants and tacky tourist fare. Gone were the bumper cars and boardwalk arcades, but the legacy of Frenchy Le Grand lives forever in the annals of Jacksonville Beach history.
Article by Liza Mitchell