Jacksonville Beach: Summer of '09

A look at one of Jacksonville's most vibrant areas for entertainment, people watching, cycling and walkability; Jacksonville Beach

Published August 27, 2009 in Neighborhoods - MetroJacksonville.com

About Jacksonville Beach

Ruby, Pablo Beach, or Jacksonville Beach – no matter what it has been called, this special place has been the hub of Beaches life since the early days of the 1880s. This was the beach for fun and festivities, of the railroad, and the beach that set the tone for the development of the other beaches. This is the Famous Beach.

In true Florida style, Jacksonville Beach began here with the dream of development: to turn this "oak scrub beach" into the tourist and entertainment hub of the Atlantic Coast. Beginning as a tent city for a few hardy souls, Jacksonville Beach has become a business, resort and residential community able to thrive on change and recognize adversity as an opportunity.

In 1884, William and Eleanor Scull set up their tent home at the beach to help survey the area for the coming railroad. Eleanor opened the first general store and post office on the beach, thereby bestowing the name Ruby on the area. The little community grew. In 1899, Henry Flagler purchased the faltering Jacksonville & Atlantic Railroad, converting it to regular gauge and spearheading the development of the area. Some 20 years later, the boardwalk had become a major attraction and the Beaches population grew. Racing, aviation, dancing, eating and frolicking in the waves became hallmarks of Jacksonville Beach!

Today, the sense of community is very strong here as Jacksonville Beach experiences growing pains. The city is growing vertically with old landmarks being replaced by modern cement "sand castles" and an influx of new residents. The atmosphere is still warm and friendly as a small town would be. The Jacksonville Beach welcome is still strong after some 110 years. Old friend or new friend, we are glad you are here.


Jacksonville Beach Timeline

1884 - The first lots go on sale in Ruby, FL (original name of Jacksonville Beach).

1884 - The 16.5 mile Jacksonville & Atlantic Railway opens connecting Ruby with South Jacksonville.

1884 - The first lot is purchased by General Francis E. Spinner, the Treasurer of the United States during the Civil War.

1886 - Ruby is renamed Pablo Beach.

1886 - The 350 room, six story Murray Hall Hotel opens.

1890 - Built out of wood, the Murray Hall Hotel is destroyed by fire.

1899 - Jacksonville & Atlantic Railway purchased by Henry Flagler who extends it to Mayport.

1900 - Pablo Beach is served by three daily trains to Jacksonville.

1907 - Pablo Beach is incorporated as a town and H.M. Shockley becomes the first mayor.

1907 - One of the first ordinances of Pablo Beach was the prohibition of "indecent bathing suits."

1910 - Atlantic Boulevard is completed, linking Pablo Beach with Jacksonville.  Pablo Beach has a population of 249.

1920 - Miller & Rose opens an amusement park at Pablo Beach complete with a rambling roller coaster.

1922 - Extending 600 feet into the ocean, the original fishing pier is completed by Charles Shad.  

1925 - Pablo Beach is renamed Jacksonville Beach.

1932 - Florida East Coast Railway abandons the rail line linking South Jacksonville with Jacksonville Beach.

1937 - The State of Florida takes over old railroad right-of-way.

1949 - Built over the old railroad right-of-way, Beach Boulevard opens.

1961 - The original wooden fishing pier is destroyed by fire.

1964 - Most of the Ocean View Pavilion amusement park is destroyed by Hurricane Dora.  

1968 - Along with Neptune Beach, Atlantic Beach and Baldwin, Jacksonville Beach remains a quasi-independent city when Jacksonville consolidates with Duval County.

2000 - Jacksonville Beach's population is listed as 20,990 by the U.S. Census Bureau.  Covering 7.7 square miles of land area, Jacksonville Beach has a population density of 2,726 people per square mile.

2004 - City establishes a 35ft building height limit to stop the growth off high rise condominium towers within it's limits.

The Ocean View Pavilion

Much of Central Jacksonville Beach was once occupied by the Ocean View Pavilion Amusement Park.

This former amusement park was located in vicinity of where the Bandshell and the Jacksonville Beach Pier stand today. It included a ferris wheel and a 50 mph wooden roller coaster known as "The Beach Coaster" which operated from 1928 to 1949. Much of the area where the park was located was destroyed by Hurricane Dora in 1964.
A Jax Beach Ocean View Pavilion Photo Tour is available on the Metro Jacksonville website.

The 1930's/40's

The 50 mph wood rollercoaster, "The Beach Coaster" operated from 1928 to 1949.



The 1960s/70s

The entertainment oriented attractions die out and parking lots replace them.

The 1980s on the next page


Present Day

The Ocean View Pavilion is gone, but parts of it are still in use today.

Sea Walk

The Sea Walk is an element of the old amusement park that still survives today.  Like it was fifty years ago, this pedestrian promenade is home to many restaurants, bars and retailers catering to the beach crowds.

The Jacksonville Beach Fishing Pier stretches nearly a quarter of a mile into the Atlantic Ocean giving anglers access to deep-water species of fish.

Sea Walk Pavilion

The Seawalk Pavilion amphitheater is the centerpiece of entertainment and special events in Jacksonville Beach.

Looking to revitalize the core of the beachfront community The City of Jacksonville Beach selected Haskell to take on the task of creating a unique gathering place that would enhance the cultural life of the more than one million people it serves.
Working within a limited budget Haskell planned and executed the development of a park area that also functions as a concert and festival venue. The Sea Walk Pavillion is the centerpiece of the new Commons space, an architecturally exciting facility designed to cope with the harsh oceanfront environment.

Built in just four months the project has been the recipient of nine local and national awards of excellence.

Red Cross Life Saving Corps Station

This prominent ocean-front landmark with its five-story look-out tower stands on the site of the old Murray Hall Hotel.  The U.S. Volunteer Life Savings Corps was begun at Pablo Beach in 1912, and the first life-saving station was completed in 1913.  Nineteen volunteer lifeguards equipped with a surf boat and lifelines patrolled the beach.  In those early days, the F.E.C. Railroad paid $25 per month for support of the lifeguards.  In 1918, the Pablo Beach Town Council deeded the present site to the American Red Cross for the construction of a new "very substantial and very expensive" life saving station, which was completed in 1920 and stood until 1946 when the present station was built.  Jefferson D. Powell designed this building, the tower of which has rounded corners and the clean lines of the Moderne style.
Source: Jacksonville's Architectural Heritage

1st Street

One block from the oceanfront, 1st Street is the home of several condominium towers, apartment buildings, hotels, bars, restaurants and retail shops.

A familiar sign and desolate landscape found in many areas of the urban core.

Casa Marina Hotel

Opening its doors in 1925, the Case Marina Hotel is the last in a long line of grand hotels from the early days at the Beaches.

The Casa Marina Hotel is a radiantly refined grand 'lady' and still turning heads! Ever since it opened its doors onto the Jacksonville beaches in 1925, when every postcard of the era announced 'world's finest beach', the Casa Marina has remained an alluring landmark of Florida history.  There have been many forgotten moments in the vast drama of the 1920's, but the mystery of the Casa Marina is that she must have seen it all.

Jacksonville Beach was originally known as the town of "Ruby" (circa 1884) named by W.E. Scull, a railroad surveyor with the Jacksonville and Atlantic Railway Company, for his daughter. By 1885, the railroad and depot were completed and 'Ruby' was transformed into a tent city as crowds of beachgoers arrived with tents in which to live. By then the town was renamed Pablo Beach, after the San Pablo River, a name it kept for nearly 30 years, before settling in as Jacksonville Beach in 1925.

The Grand Opening of the Casa Marina on Saturday, June 6, 1925 was the height of Florida's first land boom. That same day the town was renamed Jacksonville Beach, while 200 guests dined and danced in the grand 'salon'. Its construction and Spanish-Mediterranean design brought a 'first' to the beach...a fireproof building composed of stucco, concrete, tile and an automatic sprinkler system.

The 1920's in Jacksonville were 'hot'. The Jacksonville train terminal opened in 1919 and everybody who was anybody came southward to Florida: from the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, John D. Rockefeller, and President Harry S. Truman and F.D.R. claims that these celebrities including, Jean Harlow and Al Capone, were guests at the hotel in its early years. The movie industry boomed in Jacksonville long before Hollywood and the 'greats' like Chaplin and Pickford made appearances.

The Casa Marina was two stories tall and had 60 rooms. Jacksonville Beach was the most alluring tourist town in NE Florida: its boardwalk, dance casinos, dining, amusement rides and wide beaches were known throughout America.

During the War Years of World War II, the U.S. government appropriated the Casa Marina for military housing. A succession of owners followed who were passionate about restoring and remodeling the Casa Marina into private residences and an assortment of businesses...a tearoom, clothing store, 37-room apartment building and restaurant.

The 'grand lady' finally took a well-deserved rest and closed until 1991. By this time, a veranda and 3rd-story penthouse had been added to the original structure.  Today celebrating nearly a century of romance, the Casa Marina Hotel & Restaurant offers 23 stunning bedrooms and parlor suites individually decorated to represent the distinctive and changing eras of its rich history. The Penthouse Lounge enjoys its own notoriety, with one of the most stunning views of the Florida coastline.

The Casa Marina brings a feeling of classic glamour to Jacksonville Beach, a sultry blend of history, natural beauty and sophisticated culture. One can still conjure up images of the 'ghosts' of the beach, the sounds of families and lovers laughing and a lineup of Model 'T' Fords as they enjoyed the best that life could imagine!

Recognized in 2005 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of the Historic Hotels of America, the Casa Marina is 'a building worth saving and history is in our hands'.

Second Street

With all the activity taking place on 1st and 3rd Streets, the cross streets between them have become an area defined by infill development and adaptive reuse.

The Beaches Museum and History Center

Located at 380 Pablo Avenue, the Beaches Museum and History Center includes the Florida East Coast Railway's old Section Foreman House, Mayport Terminal railroad depot, the original Pablo Beach post office, and a vintage 29-ton locomotive was owned by the Cummer Lumber Company.

Across the street from the museum, this 29,000-square-foot Publix was completed in July 2008. On the site of the former B.B. McCormick lumberyard, this is the first grocery store to operate in Central Jacksonville Beach in at least a decade.

Urban Makeover: 3rd Street

3rd Street is a corridor that historically has been known for automobile oriented commercial sprawl.  Currently, there is an FDOT project underway that will help reduce hostile pedestrian conditions.  Scheduled to be completed in late 2009, this 2.4 mile resurfacing and traffic signal work project stretching from the St. Johns County line to 9th Avenue, will also include wider sidewalks and landscaping.  If successful, stronger pedestrian connections from the oceanfront to the west side of 3rd Street will encourage more pedestrian friendly development along this corridor.

Photographs by Ennis Davis and Daniel Herbin.

Historic Photographs from the State Archives of Florida: http://www.floridamemory.com/PhotographicCollection/

This article can be found at: https://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2009-aug-jacksonville-beach-summer-of-09

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