Lost Jacksonville: The Row

May 6, 2014 55 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

The Garden District in New Orleans has St. Charles Avenue, Monument Avenue graces Richmond's Fan District, and 3rd Street anchors Old Louisville. Today, Metro Jacksonville takes a step back in time to share the story of a similar residential district that no longer exists: The Row.

The Cummer residence in 1901. Image courtesy of the Florida State Archives.

Today, office buildings of various sizes dominate Riverside Avenue between Five Points and Brooklyn. During the late 19th and early 20th century, this seven block strip was known as "The Row." Stretching from Margaret to Edison Streets, The Row consisted of 50 mansions lining both sides of Riverside Avenue. It also included a linear park in the median of Rosselle Street, connecting Riverside Avenue with the riverfront two blocks east.

746 Riverside Avenue in 1949. Image courtesy of Florida State Archives.

Despite being exclusive, it was an environment tailored to the city and industry surrounding it. According to Riverside Remembered, it was pretty common to also see wranglers on horseback herding cattle through The Row enroute to a slaughterhouse in nearby Mixon Town.

A cluster of bordellos (houses labeled "F") at the intersection of Riverside Avenue and Date (Edison) Street in 1913 Sanborn map.

With the city rapidly urbanizing in the years following the Great Fire of 1901, the district did not last long. By 1913, the atmosphere of the Row's northern end had changed. Six bordellos were in operation at the intersection of Date (Edison) Street and Riverside Avenue. Additionally, that same year Philadelphia-based Lubin Manufacturing Company opened a silent film movie studio across the street from The Row's bordello district. Here, Oliver Hardy began his acting career, working for Lubin during the day and as a cabaret and vaudeville singer at night.

YouTube clip of Oliver Hardy starring in the 1916 silent film, Bouncing Baby. The city scene was filmed in the streets of early 20th century downtown Jacksonville.

The Row continued to lose its luster as an upscale residential district with the development and popularity of Avondale and Ortega during the Florida Land Boom. By the end of World War II, the commercialization of Brooklyn had literally erased The Row, north of Riverside Park Place.

Where elegant residences had once lined Rosselle Street's linear park, a Packard automobile dealership, the offices of Standard Oil and the Peninsula Life Insurance Company now stood.

During the mid-1950s, more structures in the vicinity of Gilmore Street were removed for what would eventually become known as the Fuller Warren Bridge and Interstate 95. Additional demolition of The Row's mansions, south of the Fuller Warren continued in the following decades of the 20th century.

Today, the exclusive Row is no more. Many of the uses that replaced turn-of-the-century mansions are gone as well. For example, the motion picture studio that launched Oliver Hardy's famed acting career is now the parking lot for Fidelity National Financial, while bordello district is the site of Florida Blue. Furthermore, property that contained the majority of The Row's remaining residences has become office buildings or surface parking lots serving them.

However, not all is lost. Culturally, The Row lives on through the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens and the Museum of Science and History (MOSH).  The Cummer was established in 1958, when art collector, garden enthusiast, civic leader, and The Row resident Ninah Cummer bequeathed the art collection and riverfront home, which she owned with her husband Arthur, to create an art museum. Today, the museum has grown to feature a permanent collection of nearly 5,000 works of art and historic gardens on a riverfront campus that attracts 110,000 annual visitors to the area.

The Jacksonville Children's Museum at 1061 Riverside Avenue in 1967.

The Jacksonville Children's Museum began in 1941. In 1948, the museum moved to a Victorian house on the Row at 1061 Riverside Avenue (Lomax and Riverside). In 1969, a new museum building, designed by architect William Morgan, opened on the St. Johns River in downtown's Southbank. In 1977, it became the Museum of Arts & Science, and in 1988 it became the Museum of Science & History (MOSH).

Architecturally, two of The Row's original dwellings near Memorial Park, at 1521 and 1541 Riverside Avenue, still stand providing a visual glimpse into urban Jacksonville's amazing history.

The Gilmore Street Bridge on February 15, 1954. Image courtesy of the Florida State Archives.

Next Page: The Row Today

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