Bars restaurants, theaters, dance and lecture halls, parks, sundry shops and soda bars packed and lively with the concentrated energy, artistic expression, intellectual life, and sexual congress of a city of hundreds of thousands.
We will not go into detail here the bright, exotic names and places of supperclubs like the celebrated Emerald Room at the Roosevelt Hotel, nor the thousands of local and international celebrities who made their early years performing in them.
We will not re-illuminate the questionable and boisterous antics of the fancy dandies who peopled the movie sets and speakeasies of Jacksonville's avante garde Motion Picture Industry. We will not evoke the memories of Babe Hardy and Fatty Arbuckle (who hated each other assiduously) in a town where Billie Holiday once broke a finger running from Revenuers.
We will not talk about the vibrant African American district in the heart of the city on Ashley Street, the "Great Black Way", nor the multiple theatres and concert halls that covered the starlit city like a garland of warmly lit party lanterns that hugged the murky St. Johns River.
We will not guess what conversations were passed in the cramped bedrooms of a thousand something rooming houses that lined the streets from Duval Street and Hemming Park to the uppercrust of Springfield and East to the old movie centers and industrial neighborhoods of a downtown that extended to the foot of the Hart Bridge.
Nor will we dwell on a high society which revolved with the grace of a minuet around the Banquet Dining Rooms of the four star hotels that surrounded Hemming Park.
Because that downtown is long gone, collapsed and left for dead until its very bones rotted out from underneath it, and even its physical existence has been defaced and beaten back into the earth from which it once sprang.
In our previous essay we have dwelt on the greed and stubbornness which created the conditions which drove businesses and residents out of the old city center.
Parking meters, first installed in 1942---from the beginning merely an additional source of revenue. When harsher penalties were enforced and the meters became universal in 1948, we see that this one extra inconvenience to the consumer brought a sudden end to the long and unbroken growth of new businesses in the downtown, and the creeping rise of truly suburban alternative merchant districts which had hitherto been non-existent.
We also touched briefly on the even more destructive effects of the installation of toll bridges as the main travel concourse into the city core.
It was no coincidence that downtown's greatest prosperity lay in the years between 1940, which was the year in which the old toll bridge was made a free crossing and 1955, the year in which tolls were reinstated.
The effect of the tolls was so egregious, both in terms of inconvenience and traffic jams that the administration of one Jacksonville Mayor, Tommy Hazouri, will be most notable for the fact that he abolished them to great fanfare and acclaim. Most people today cannot name another single accomplishment of the Hazouri administration, but they do remember fondly the images of the mayor personally swinging a wrecking ball to bring one down.
But from here forward, we move from the simple background of greed and hardheaded obstinance which dampened downtown's prospects while fanning the flames of suburban flight, and bring our attention to bear on the Age of the Dynamiters.
This series will show, in multiple installations the ideas and plans, many of which are still in play, which not only leveled our downtown, but created similar havoc in multiple cities across the United States.
What the gentle reader will find most troublesome is that while one city after another has abandoned the discredited ideas upon which the Dynamite model of redevelopment was based, Jacksonville remains catatonically enslaved to their influence and seems unable to embrace the common sense repudiation which has truly revived scores of cities over the past 15 years.
Our story will begin, strangely enough, in New York City, with the very exciting and controversial career of Robert Moses. The Big Apple's most notorious Visionary and Villain.
But it will then swing immediately back to our own fair city and document the rise of the 'Downtown Redevelopment Agency' and graphically show how the city of Jacksonville dynamited its own heritage and city center out of the ground, blowing up all possibility of prosperity in the meantime, and replacing it with a soviet gulag of administration and non profit property owners who have sucked the very marrow out of its bones.
Remember the name Jack Diamond.
You will be hearing much of him soon enough.
By Stephen Dare