Time to Demolish Former Courthouse Parking Lot?

February 10, 2015 78 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

After being closed to the public since 2012 for structural problems, a portion of Liberty Street finally fell into the river. As we ponder why, how much it will cost to repair, and where the money to repair will come from, perhaps it's time to consider another alternative. Partially or completely removing the aging and decaying blighted bridge to better utilize the portion of the river under it.

The Bay Street waterfont in 1950. The future location of the courthouse deck, Liberty Street and Coastline Drive is highlighted in red. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/51099

With the St. Johns River serving as its economic anchor, early Jacksonville's landscape was not much different from any decent sized maritime oriented city dominated with wharves and steamships. By 1913, the Clyde Line Steamship Company operated two large wharves at the foot of Market and Liberty Streets. The wharf at the foot of Market Street served as the company's Boston freight house while the Liberty Street wharf was used as their New York freight house. On June 8, 1941, the Clyde Steamship Line's two piers were destroyed with a suspicious fire. After the end of World War II, Jacksonville had become a stagnant built out city with a decaying industrial riverfront. The glitz and glamour it had during the early 20th century had been replaced by growing cities in Central and Southern Florida. In fact, according to the US Census Bureau, Jacksonville actually declined in population, losing 3,245 residents between the 1950 and 1960.

1913 Sanborn map of what is now the Courthouse parking lot, Coastline Drive and South Liberty Street.

Determined to revitalize his city, Haydon Burns defeated incumbent C. Frank Whitehead to become the 35th Mayor of the city on June 21, 1949. As a part of his effort to clean up downtown, his administration replaced the riverfront wharves with a new courthouse, City Hall, Civic Auditorium, parking lots and the Sears Roebuck store on what was known as skid row. In preparation for the construction of the former City Hall and county courthouse complex, the Vann Warehouse Company along Bay Street and wharves and an associated railyard operated by the Johns River Terminal Company were removed.  The courthouse building was completed in 1959 and the new City Hall a year later. Soon after their completion, the large surface parking lot over the river, was built where the Clyde Line Steamship and St. Johns River Terminal Company's wharves once stood.

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