Author Topic: Remembering Railroad Row  (Read 12870 times)

Metro Jacksonville

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Remembering Railroad Row
« on: March 21, 2012, 03:58:34 AM »
Remembering Railroad Row



Ever wonder why Jacksonville lacks a famed district like New York's SOHO, Atlanta's Castleberry Hill, New Orleans Warehouse District, or Dallas' West End? Twentieth century demolition removed the building fabric needed to spur such a district.  Today, Metro Jacksonville remembers Jacksonville's Railroad Row.

Full Article
http://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2012-mar-remembering-railroad-row

simms3

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Re: Remembering Railroad Row
« Reply #1 on: March 21, 2012, 07:18:37 AM »
It is AMAZING what Jacksonville destroyed.  The city forever screwed itself over, and that is the mentality that still exists!  Now the city is filled with suburbanite family transplants and 3rd generation natives who simply know no better and know not what the city used to be like, so the mentality that downtown is and should be forgotten/neglected is perpetuated.

Supposedly Jacksonville's rallying point to prevent further demolition was in 1982 with the Union Terminal, but I think it had to be lukewarm at best, and where was everybody in the 50s, 60, and 70s when literally 90% of the city was paved over for surface lots?

In Atlanta the rallying point was 1973 with the potential razing of the Fox by Southern Bell (Atlanta still lost many treasures, including its own Union Station), but that was a really strong rallying point and holds today.  Georgia Tech has wanted to demolish a building that is relatively insignificant, and the city and the whole community continues to protest and block GT's advances towards purchasing and demo'ing the building.  The only buildings razed are projects - and then they are replaced by new garden-style affordable apartments and townhouses.

In NYC the most famous example of public outcry was Penn Station in 1963, and that effort failed, but look at Manhattan now.  Buildings still go down, but bit by bit and only to build further up.  Nothing is razed for surface lots and they just have so many buildings to begin with.  My company has been instrumental in preservation in NYC, particularly in Chelsea where we restored the two largest buildings there (and sold one to Google in 2010 for $1.8B - the largest office deal of the year).  And NYC did not completely destroy its waterfront.

Back to Jacksonville there is just no sense of preservation, history, 21st century thinking whereby we connect to our roots as we reach to the future.  There are still people who just don't care.  Even amongst the more highly educated, business-oriented and potentially intown readers of the Biz Journal there were still a good 15-20% of people who voted that a *private* investor should just demolish the Laura Street trio rather than renovate.

The destroying of the waterfront in Jacksonville for me is particularly damaging as waterfronts are unique to waterfront cities, and Jacksonville would have had the only "northeastern" style waterfront in the south with wharves.

Despite popular belief, Birmingham, Nashville, and Atlanta were all much larger than Jacksonville until the 60s.  Birmingham had over 600,000 people in the 40s and 50s for instance.  Their building fabrics were always more substantial to begin with, but keeping their fabrics was not going to ensure their growth.  Atlanta had to look at building an airport, keeping it civil during the 60s race riots, and going for things like the Olympics to rise above the rest of the south.  But Jacksonville is waterfront in Florida.  It never had to invent expensive gimmicks to ensure its growth, in fact as much as it "sucks" now it is still growing rapidly.  No state income, an unbeatable climate, the beach, etc.  If in fact it had kept its downtown intact AND had developed the suburbs, it could potentially be 3rd in the south behind Atlanta and Miami.  Its tourism could be strong and it could be an attractive place to educated creative types and 21st century businesses.
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thelakelander

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Re: Remembering Railroad Row
« Reply #2 on: March 21, 2012, 07:33:26 AM »
Good points.  The loss of the waterfront is somewhat disturbing to me as well.  While Atlanta and Birmingham were larger, Jacksonville (173,065) passed Nashville (167,402) before 1940.

http://www.census.gov/population/www/documentation/twps0027/tab17.txt

I'm not as familiar with Nashville during this era but it could be a good comparison case study, considering they have been similar in size/scale since 1920 and both consolidated during the 1960s.
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BridgeTroll

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Re: Remembering Railroad Row
« Reply #3 on: March 21, 2012, 08:06:32 AM »
Ennis, congratulations on the scope invoked by this article.  We have been discussing the importance of this district to the growth and economy of the city for the past year---ever since we discovered this economic reactor of the past while researching the bordellos so long ago with Beth Slater.

I hadnt seen this piece before today, and its hard to project to our readers how much research you had to do in order to get this information compiled.  magnificent job!

Our history has been so destroyed, and falsified that you had to go back to original sources and references in the old papers of the time to determine what the buildings were used for.

But to be able to invoke even this partial view of what this all was like and what it could have been used for?

just genius.

Thanks.

Thank you Stephen for articulating what I was also thinking... Great Job Ennis!
In a boat at sea one of the men began to bore a hole in the bottom of the boat. On being remonstrating with, he answered, "I am only boring under my own seat." "Yes," said his companions, "but when the sea rushes in we shall all be drowned with you."

peestandingup

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Re: Remembering Railroad Row
« Reply #4 on: March 21, 2012, 08:12:59 AM »
There wasn't a sense of preservation or planning, and that mentality is obviously still around today (Springfield's struggles as an example & our huge sprawling footprint that never ends). It's those single factors that doesn't give me high hopes for the city overall. I don't know that its "forever screwed", but it sure is for a while. That stuff is really difficult to reign back in & recover from. And leadership still seems to be asleep at the wheel regarding these things, including transit.

Speaking of which, looking through these pictures it still blows my mind that someone thought it was a good idea to not only level half the town, but put a raised transit system OVER the barren land, like it was just too lively down there on the ground or something. And at a cost of $70 Million a mile no less. Brilliant.

simms3

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Re: Remembering Railroad Row
« Reply #5 on: March 21, 2012, 08:22:38 AM »
Good points.  The loss of the waterfront is somewhat disturbing to me as well.  While Atlanta and Birmingham were larger, Jacksonville (173,065) passed Nashville (167,402) before 1940.

http://www.census.gov/population/www/documentation/twps0027/tab17.txt

I'm not as familiar with Nashville during this era but it could be a good comparison case study, considering they have been similar in size/scale since 1920 and both consolidated during the 1960s.

I guess I should have specified counties.

Duval County 1940 - 210,143, 774 sq. miles, 272 ppsm

Davidson County TN 1940 - 257,267, 502 sq. miles, 512 ppsm

Fulton County + Dekalb County GA 1940 (ATL is in both) - 479,828, 797 sq. miles, 602 ppsm (392,886 in Fulton alone over 502 sq. miles, 743 ppsm in 1940)

Jefferson County KY 1940 - 385,392, 385 sq. miles, 1,000 ppsm already in 1940

Jefferson County AL 1940 - 459,930, 1,113 sq. miles (though mostly uninhabitable), 413 ppsm (B'ham was the king of the south until the 60s)

Shelby County TN 1940 - 358,250, 755 sq. miles, 475 ppsm

And of course NOLA and Richmond were already huge, and surprisingly Chattanooga and Spartanburg were similar in size to Jacksonville at this point.  Hamilton County TN had 180,478 people in 1940 over 542 sq. miles (333 ppsm).


I guess my ultimate point is that Jacksonville was dense and thriving for the relatively small size it was, and that was due to its waterfront, its location as a winter destination in FL, and its utilization of the economies of its day.  The city has completely lost all of that.
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Garden guy

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Re: Remembering Railroad Row
« Reply #6 on: March 21, 2012, 08:35:29 AM »
Good ole southern conservative leadership...dontcha just love it?

ChriswUfGator

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Re: Remembering Railroad Row
« Reply #7 on: March 21, 2012, 09:01:09 AM »
Sounds like the Jacksonville "Renaissance" was a smashing success...


thelakelander

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Re: Remembering Railroad Row
« Reply #8 on: March 21, 2012, 09:04:29 AM »
Good points.  The loss of the waterfront is somewhat disturbing to me as well.  While Atlanta and Birmingham were larger, Jacksonville (173,065) passed Nashville (167,402) before 1940.

http://www.census.gov/population/www/documentation/twps0027/tab17.txt

I'm not as familiar with Nashville during this era but it could be a good comparison case study, considering they have been similar in size/scale since 1920 and both consolidated during the 1960s.

I guess I should have specified counties.

Duval County 1940 - 210,143, 774 sq. miles, 272 ppsm

Davidson County TN 1940 - 257,267, 502 sq. miles, 512 ppsm

Fulton County + Dekalb County GA 1940 (ATL is in both) - 479,828, 797 sq. miles, 602 ppsm (392,886 in Fulton alone over 502 sq. miles, 743 ppsm in 1940)

Jefferson County KY 1940 - 385,392, 385 sq. miles, 1,000 ppsm already in 1940

Jefferson County AL 1940 - 459,930, 1,113 sq. miles (though mostly uninhabitable), 413 ppsm (B'ham was the king of the south until the 60s)

Shelby County TN 1940 - 358,250, 755 sq. miles, 475 ppsm

And of course NOLA and Richmond were already huge, and surprisingly Chattanooga and Spartanburg were similar in size to Jacksonville at this point.  Hamilton County TN had 180,478 people in 1940 over 542 sq. miles (333 ppsm).


I guess my ultimate point is that Jacksonville was dense and thriving for the relatively small size it was, and that was due to its waterfront, its location as a winter destination in FL, and its utilization of the economies of its day.  The city has completely lost all of that.

Simms, thanks for your detailed explanation.  Now I understand where you were coming from in regards to community size from that era. 

As an urban planner, I tend to view the demographics between pre and post WWII american cities as being different.  For example, a rum running trip from Jacksonville to Pablo Beach would have took a full day during Prohibition.  That trip would have been all woods once out of South Jacksonville.  Despite being in Duval County, a place like Mandarin was its own city and not economically reliant on Jacksonville.  Given the era and technology of the time, I believe its safe a former farming community like Antioch in Davidson County would have had its own separate economy that wasn't reliant on Nashville before WWII as well. 

Quote
I guess my ultimate point is that Jacksonville was dense and thriving for the relatively small size it was, and that was due to its waterfront, its location as a winter destination in FL, and its utilization of the economies of its day.

I agree.  Looking back, about a decade ago, I started making it a point to visit nearly every city in this list that had a population of 100k or above before 1920:

http://www.census.gov/population/www/documentation/twps0027/tab16.txt

The majority had decently developed dense urban cores because that's simply how communities were developed during the era before the interstate highway system and suburban zoning regulations came to dominate our society.  For me, it's been pretty cool to discover what each community has done with their urban core in the last half century.  Unfortunately, it appears that Jax was one of the leaders in detonating a significant chunk of ours in a relatively short time period.
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thelakelander

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Re: Remembering Railroad Row
« Reply #9 on: March 21, 2012, 09:13:25 AM »
Supposedly Jacksonville's rallying point to prevent further demolition was in 1982 with the Union Terminal, but I think it had to be lukewarm at best, and where was everybody in the 50s, 60, and 70s when literally 90% of the city was paved over for surface lots?

I think we're still waiting for that true rallying point or it may be occurring right before our eyes with the Laura Trio and the mothballing efforts in Springfield.  Historically, we've tended to stand up for specific buildings or neighborhoods from time to time but we've never really embraced preservation in a manner that sibling communities like Savannah and New Orleans have.  When the rally came to save the old terminal half of Railroad Row was still standing.  However, a good chunk of it was taken out by the horrible plan to "clean up" LaVilla and buildings are still coming down around the courthouse site.
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thelakelander

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Re: Remembering Railroad Row
« Reply #10 on: March 21, 2012, 09:35:43 AM »
Ennis, congratulations on the scope invoked by this article.  We have been discussing the importance of this district to the growth and economy of the city for the past year---ever since we discovered this economic reactor of the past while researching the bordellos so long ago with Beth Slater.

I hadnt seen this piece before today, and its hard to project to our readers how much research you had to do in order to get this information compiled.  magnificent job!

Our history has been so destroyed, and falsified that you had to go back to original sources and references in the old papers of the time to determine what the buildings were used for.

But to be able to invoke even this partial view of what this all was like and what it could have been used for?

just genius.

Thanks.

Thanks.  As you know, we've been interested in the history of this district for years and this brief article doesn't highlight 99.5% of it's rich history and stories behind the people and buildings that once stood there (and even the few still standing).  Two of the sites in the soon to be released Reclaiming Jacksonville book (Jax Terminal Tunnels & WP Sumner Company) were once a part of this district.  Researching their past revealed additional stories, people, and companies from this district that all deserve to be topics of their own.



From an economic standpoint, there's no telling how many thousands of people were employed in the railroad industry by itself.  The train station alone employed 2,000.  That's equal to downtown attracting Everbank except Everbank won't bring as many spin off support jobs as the railroad and maritime industries did during that era.  While we can't recreate what was lost, learning and understanding downtown's economic history does help one to come to the realization why many of the redevelopment plans over the last half century have failed. 


Inside the Railway Express Agency's terminal in 1948.


Caribbean Fruit and Steamship Company providing bananas for produce trucks in 1948.

In short, we've focused too much on expensive gimmicks without attempting to lay the ground work for a natural self organizing sustainable urban environment.  Jacksonville's position of being a logistics community created the vibrant place that downtown once was.  While it doesn't necessarily hurt, throwing money at downtown isn't the most pressing concern.  How we over regulate the core, which stymies the natural market, should be the focus.  Perhaps its time to better take advantage of the river and railroad related assets that still remain in addition to modifying public policy?
« Last Edit: March 21, 2012, 09:38:03 AM by thelakelander »
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Ocklawaha

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Re: Remembering Railroad Row
« Reply #11 on: March 21, 2012, 09:42:51 AM »
This was an excellent piece Ennis!

Keeping the old waterfront is a major theme of many of our articles, and while it would indeed be cool to have a 'working waterfront' today, it's just not possible, at least not in any historic sense.

The changes that have occurred in the transportation of freight were already moving full force by the end of WWII. General merchandise boxcars were 'super sized,' and as distribution centers and warehousing moved away from the railroads in many locations, those cars morphed into semi-trailers. In the 60's and 70's the hottest ticket on the railroad was a solid block of 'piggyback TOFC semi-trailers' rolling non-stop between major metro centers. How much parking space would we have needed for a 100 car train of 200 vans, 5x each day?

Where there were once literally thousands of men loading and unloading individual boxes and crates, and bulk cargo by the net full, they were quickly replaced by large cranes, and fork lift trucks. Small steamships became much larger and started taking on a scale of truck-load lot proportions.

Some of this traffic could still have been loaded in a downtown waterfront such as ours, but as the train lengths grew, and the industry looked for economies, the container was born. Today maritime shipping is all about the 'TEU' or 20' foot container (larger containers are measured in 20' TEU's, so a 40' is 2 X TEU). With the containerized cargo came even larger cargo vessels, and today we are looking at truly aircraft carrier sized 'Post Panamax' ships.

These ships of 8,000 or more containers CAN be completely unloaded and set in a container yard, truck, or rail car, WITHOUT a human element.

No matter how hard we might have tried to keep a working waterfront, it wouldn't have happened and today we'd probably be complaining as the city was in roughly 1960 that the whole dock, warehouse, waterfront complex is rotting and falling into the St. Johns River.

I agree that this was a much more 'human' time, and the downtown was blessed by it's location. However today it is simply impractical to think anyone would want this labor intensive method of shipping for nostalgia's sake. As we struggle with hundreds of empty lots stupidly left in the wake of hopeful investors or irresponsible owners, imagine how much more we would struggle had that shipping industry stayed downtown. Safe to say the whole area south of Union and north of the River would be a massive container lot. Downtown Jacksonville would be straddling the Trout River.

Keeping a few of the old docks in place would have been wise, provided there would have been a way to maintain them through those transition years. Today, interesting little 'import' shops, food vendors and perhaps our local crab boat industry could call them home. But in a downtown where fishing in OUR river is illegal, and roller skates are a capital crime, I wouldn't hold out much hope.

So today we have a downtown created for automobiles, where we could have had one created for the container... Somewhere in all of this the HUMAN ELEMENT got left waiting for the next streetcar.
« Last Edit: March 21, 2012, 09:45:35 AM by Ocklawaha »

BridgeTroll

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Re: Remembering Railroad Row
« Reply #12 on: March 21, 2012, 09:56:56 AM »
What affect did the attempt to transform Jacksonville into "The Bold New City of the South" impact the destruction of this area?  By that I mean the desire to transition the city from a blue collar industrial (rail and shipping) economy to a white collar financial center type economy... of the Atlanta model for example.
In a boat at sea one of the men began to bore a hole in the bottom of the boat. On being remonstrating with, he answered, "I am only boring under my own seat." "Yes," said his companions, "but when the sea rushes in we shall all be drowned with you."

tufsu1

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Re: Remembering Railroad Row
« Reply #13 on: March 21, 2012, 10:21:55 AM »
great article....can't wait for the book!

thelakelander

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Re: Remembering Railroad Row
« Reply #14 on: March 21, 2012, 10:24:03 AM »
Quote
Keeping the old waterfront is a major theme of many of our articles, and while it would indeed be cool to have a 'working waterfront' today, it's just not possible, at least not in any historic sense.

Ock, I believe a working waterfront is possible but you can't get caught up on the ground level details of what the specific uses should be at this point.  I base that belief upon the successful transformation of similar districts in American cities all across the country (San Francisco, San Diego, etc. are good examples). 

While the waterfront of the past was port related and the area may not be suitable for container terminals, there's no reason a waterfront of the future can't offer more pleasure craft opportunities (think St. Petersburg or Miracle Mile) and be an environment that offers the possibility of small scale fishing, crabbing, charters, river cruises, etc. 

As for Commodore's Point, perhaps we should be trying to grow the remaining heavy maritime industries there instead of dreaming of ways to relocate them?  Perhaps some of the surface tailgate lots west of the Talleyrand should be repurposed for addition maritime related industry?  The river, rail, and expressway are already in place.  On the railroad front, while railyards won't be coming back, the terminal becoming an intermodal transportation hub would be a huge economic benefit.
« Last Edit: March 21, 2012, 10:28:58 AM by thelakelander »
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