The Day the Movies Died: Southbank’s Rich Film History

June 27, 2015 3 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

From EU Jacksonville: Jacksonville has permitted more than 400 film, television, and digital media productions. Vincent Vega (John Travolta) called the city “a great asset” due to the diverse locations after shooting Lonely Hearts and Basic here. Written by Brenton Crozier.

Luck was not on the side of early Jacksonville filmmakers. In 1916, a producer hired 1,380 local residents for a mob scene at Davis & Monroe streets in La Villa. He also employed forty policemen with rubber clubs. Unfortunately, some people in the crowd took their parts too seriously and a real mob formed during the filming and spiraled out of control. It nearly destroyed a nearby saloon and a two-story building. On another occasion, a filmmaker placed a misleading ad in a local paper so as to draw a genuine crowd and avoid paying salaries to actors. A thrilling scene in one movie required a car to race down Main Street. The vehicle splashed into the St. Johns River at the ferry dock, which was near today’s Jacksonville Landing. Townsfolk criticized the badly shaken actors for disregarding public safety. They also grew concerned when producers called in false alarms if they needed fire trucks to liven up their film shoot. And when movie makers shot bank robberies on Sundays, the churchgoers would shake their heads. Lady Luck headed west to California.

VIM actors: Mr. Kirby, Ethel Burton Palmer, Bob Eddy. Middle row: Vina Daniels, Jack Gardner, Budd Ross, Dan Kenover.

It’s a fascinating dive into Jacksonville’s history, especially when you consider how little it’s discussed and how quickly the area’s reputation as a production hub perished. The decline was largely a political one. A number of Jacksonville’s citizens grew weary with filmmakers for what they felt were obstructive movie shoots, as well as religious considerations that opposed the violence and behavior being portrayed. Significant productions were still based in Jacksonville throughout the years, including Revenge of the Creature, the first sequel to Creature from the Black Lagoon. River City Brewing Co., originally built as The Diamondhead Restaurant, was constructed adjacent to The Lobster House restaurant where Lori Nelson was kidnapped by the Creature. The Lobster House was destroyed by fire in 1962. Additionally, the St. Johns River stood in for the Amazon in the movie.

In 2008, Recount, an Emmy Award-winning HBO movie starring Kevin Spacey and Laura Dern, was filmed at Riverplace Tower and a San Marco restaurant. And maybe you rubbed elbows with Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) as he became a regular at Bistro Aix in San Marco when he was filming Basic. I like to imagine him striking down some seared foie gras and steak fries with great vengeance and furious anger, but that’s just me.

Between The Edison Company, VIM, and Gaumont Studios, Southbank plays a central role in Jacksonville’s short but storied film history. There are several other feathers in the city’s movie cap, including the first Technicolor motion picture The Gulf Between, filmed here in 1917. The Flying Ace was filmed by The Norman Studios based in the Arlington area and was called “the best airplane thriller ever filmed.” And of course, we can’t forget a string of 50 short films starring Oliver Hardy who arrived in Jacksonville from Milledgeville, Georgia, in 1913.

Renewed interest in the Southbank, with major development and the continued growth of film and television production, may help to spark interest and make Jacksonville an entertainment industry hub once again.

Article by Brenton Crozier,  @brentoncrozier

Brenton has lived in Jacksonville for nearly 25 years and worked in various capacities in the digital marketing industry. He was the Multimedia Producer for the NPR show, State of the Re:Union and has written for EU Jacksonville for more than 7 years. Follow him on Twitter: @brentoncrozier.

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