Overview of Riverside Avondale Historic District
A. HISTORY of RIVERSIDE and AVONDALE
This historical overview of Riverside and Avondale is from Jacksonville's Architectural Heritage: Landmarks for the Future, Revised Edition, Wayne W. Wood, 1996, Jacksonville, Florida.
After the American Revolution, Spain regained East Florida from England. Eager to attract new inhabitants, the Spanish Government in 1790 began granting tracts of land to prospective settlers. The area known today as Riverside and Avondale is based on two such grants, one to Philip Dell and the other to Robert Hutcheson.
Dell received his 800-acre grant in 1801. It included all of the land along the river between McCoys Creek and a point midway between Barrs and King streets. Known as 'Dell Bluff,' this property changed hands several times until 1847, when it was purchased by James Winter, who operated an extensive plantation there. In 1868 Edward M. Cheney, editor of the Jacksonville newspaper, The Florida Union, purchased the southern 500 acres of Dell's Bluff for $10,000 in gold. He bought the land as an agent for John Murray Forbes, a Boston millionaire, who had the land platted and named it 'Riverside.'
Southwest of Dell's Bluff was a 150-acre tract granted in 1815 to Robert Hutcheson, who established a successful plantation there. Three years later he obtained another 350 acres, extending his holdings to the south. This entire tract of land came into the ownership of William McKay in 1836, who named it 'Magnolia Plantation.' Producing sea island cotton, the plantation worked fifty slaves.
When Elias Jaudon bought Magnolia Plantation in 1850, it included 550 acres extending from what is now Powell Place all the way to Fishweir Creek. Expanding the plantation to over one thousand acres, Jaudon produced cotton, corn, sweet potatoes, sugar cane, cattle, and sheep. After his death in 1871, Magnolia Plantation was sold and divided into several truck farms. In fact, all of today's Riverside and Avondale remained rural in character until 1887 when the first surge of residential development occurred. After Jacksonville's city limits were extended to include Riverside (out to King Street), a street railway was built connecting the suburb with Downtown. In 1893, the name of the main road was changed from Commercial Street to Riverside Avenue. Two years later, Riverside was an established upper middle-class neighborhood of 2,500 residents.
Following the Great Fire of 1901, many prominent citizens built large mansions along Riverside Avenue. This gallery of elegant homes was nicknamed 'The Row' and became the residential showplace of the city. Away from the river more modest bungalows and two-story houses spread southwest to King Street and beyond, following the extension of the streetcar line.
During the peak years of Riverside's development from 1901 to 1929, a profusion of residential building styles gained popularity across the nation. With the influx of building tradesmen who came to the city after the Great Fire, Riverside became a laboratory for aspiring architects and competing residential fashions. Today the neighborhood has the largest variety of architectural styles in Florida.
While Riverside prospered, the western part of the old Magnolia Plantation remained thickly wooded with a few scattered farms. As early as 1884, a portion of the Jaudon estate was purchased for development as a residential community by a group of northerners, led by James Randall Challen, William Harksheimer, and John Talbott. Named 'Edgewood,' the development extended from present-day Park Street to Roosevelt Boulevard, along Challen, Edgewood, and Talbot avenues. The land was platted for homesites, but only a few residences, mostly farmhouses, were constructed there. During World War I, hunters were still shooting wild game in this vicinity.
By the summer of 1920, several wealthy investors led by Telfair Stockton had assembled a large tract of land including all of Edgewood and the adjoining riverfront property, at a cost of over $500,000. They developed an exclusive subdivision that would overshadow all of the smaller developments around it. Stockton chose the name 'Avondale' after a subdivision near James R. Challen's former home in Cincinnati. Avondale was advertised as 'Riverside's Residential Ideal,' where only the 'correct' and 'well to do' people would live. Boasting that 'Avondale is desirable because the right kind of people have recognized its worth and because the wrong kind of people can find property more to their liking elsewhere,' the Avondale Company sold 402 of the total 720 lots and completed nearly two hundred homes in its first two years.
As the most elaborately planned development in Jacksonville at that time, Avondale lived up to its publicity. Sidewalks, sewerage, city water, gas, electricity, and telephone lines were installed before lots were offered for sale. Gently curving roadways and 16 parks were laid out by William Pitkin, a well-known landscape architect from Ohio. Restrictive covenants regulated types of construction in order to maintain the exclusive nature of the residential development. Most of the houses were two stories tall. Adopting the architectural style that would saturate Florida during the booming years of the 1920's, a large proportion of the early Avondale residences were built in the Mediterranean Revival style. The Better Homes Company, a subsidiary of the Avondale Company, did much of the actual construction, insuring a uniformity of building quality.
Initially considered part of Riverside, Avondale quickly developed its own identity. The original Avondale subdivision was long and narrow, only 4-1/2 blocks wide (Seminole Road to just beyond Talbot) and one mile long (from the river to Roosevelt Boulevard). Although contiguous developments such as Windsor Place, Ingleside Heights, St. Johns Heights, Shadowlawn, and Arden sprang up, the mystique of Avondale prevailed: the entire area from McDuff Avenue to Fishweir Creek is today generally known as 'Avondale.' By the time the Florida building boom fizzled in 1928, virtually all of this area had been developed.
Although primarily residential in character, Riverside/Avondale has three small-scale retail districts, which generally blend harmoniously with the neighborhood. Commercial zoning on the northern portion of Riverside Avenue, along with the construction of the Fuller Warren Bridge and Interstate 95, have brought an end to the elegant homes along 'The Row,' replacing them with modern office buildings. Two sprawling hospital complexes farther down Riverside Avenue have also intruded into the ambiance and residential quality of the neighborhood.
Today Riverside and Avondale still form one of Florida's unique neighborhoods. The riverfront setting, the ample parks, and the tree-canopied streets blend with the varied architecture to produce a pleasing tapestry. In recognition of these qualities, the Riverside section was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1985 as Jacksonville's first Historic District.
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B. DESCRIPTION OF THE RIVERSIDE HISTORIC DISTRICT
The Riverside Historic District is a large, mainly residential neighborhood whose architecture spans a period from approximately 1871 to 1935. The Riverside District is located southwest of downtown Jacksonville on the west side of the St. Johns River. The District contains over 30 subdivisions and three major parks. At its widest, it is bounded on the north and east by Roosevelt Boulevard and Seaboard Coastline Railroad, on the south by the St. Johns River, and on the west by Seminole and McDuff avenues. The majority of the buildings in Riverside reflect middle and upper income taste in residential architecture during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The significant styles represented include Bungalow, Prairie School, Colonial Revival and Mediterranean.
The neighborhood is composed of three major subdivisions and more than twenty smaller subdivisions and replats. The three major subdivisions are Riverside, Riverside Annex, and New Riverside. There are approximately 2,120 contributing buildings and 430 non-contributing buildings in the district. In addition to the residential buildings, there are three major parks, sixteen churches, four public schools, two parochial schools, two fire stations, two hospitals, and a library. Major streets in the district are Post Street (U.S. 17), Riverside Avenue (State Road 211), Park, Stockton, and King streets and McDuff Avenue. In addition to the Interstate and Expressway system, Riverside Avenue, Park and Post Streets provide access to the downtown.
Designed landscapes and green spaces are important features of Riverside. In the southwestern corner of the district is Willow Branch, a small creek which originally was spring fed and which now forms the core of Willow Branch Park. Memorial and Riverside parks, on the eastern fringes of the district, are other highly significant landscape features of Riverside.
Riverside Historic District is dominated by the Bungalow architectural style. Almost sixty percent of the buildings in the district display details and influences characteristic of that style. This high frequency of bungalows reflects the developmental period and income levels of the area.
Even though precast concrete posts in the shape of columns and tapered piers were common in other Jacksonville neighborhoods, wood posts are more common in Riverside bungalows. Another interesting feature was the relatively large use of brick veneer in Bungalows in Riverside. In the relatively large comparable concentrations of bungalows in Orlando and Tampa, the use of brick was rare.
An even more unusual material used in these bungalows was coquina block. Coquina, which is indigenous to the northeast coast of Florida, was widely used in foundations and fireplaces and, in at least 40 instances, was used to construct entire bungalows. Coquina block and rusticated concrete block had become a popular building material in south Florida as early as the 1880s. Its wide use in residential construction began in the 1910s.
Although the Bungalow is the most common architectural style in Riverside, other styles contribute to the character of the district. Prairie School and Colonial Revival style buildings are present in significant concentrations. These buildings are concentrated along St. Johns and Riverside avenues and were generally built for wealthier clients. It is also more likely that these houses were individually designed by architects.
Mediterranean influenced architecture is represented to a lesser extent in Riverside, although there are some fairly significant individual examples. Mediterranean architecture was much more common in the major subdivision adjoining Riverside on the west. The Mediterranean influence may be represented to a lesser degree in Riverside because of the earlier period of development.
Many of the apartment buildings in Riverside utilize Mediterranean details and decoration. The use of unstuccoed brick is another variation on Mediterranean architecture in Riverside which is not common elsewhere in the State.
Other architectural styles represented in Riverside include Georgian Revival, which became popular in the 1920s, Tudor Revival style, and a few isolated examples of Queen Anne architecture. In addition, frame and brick vernacular houses may be found throughout the district.
In the 1910s and 1920s, many multi-family residential buildings began appearing in Riverside. In response to population increases, duplex and quadruplex units were designed and built. These buildings are especially prevalent in Riverside Annex. Most are either frame or masonry vernacular. The frame structures are generally two stories with drop siding. They have either one or two-story verandas and hip roofs. Gable roofs were used on some of the buildings built before 1915. The windows are generally one-over-one, double-hung sash.
Very functional, plain brick duplexes and quadruplexes became increasingly common in the late 1920s. These buildings tended to be two stories and were highlighted by a centrally placed two-story porch. The period of low-rise apartment construction initiated in the 1920s continued until the 1950s.
Commercial architecture in Riverside was, and is, modest. There are four concentrations of 1910s and later commercial storefront developments in the area. The most concentrated commercial development from the 1910s and 1920s is called Five Points and is located in the northeast corner of the district. This concentration is composed of one- and two-story stucco-clad buildings. All of the storefronts in the other commercial areas along King Street, Barrs Avenue, and McDuff Avenue are simple brick or stucco buildings set at the property lines with large plate-glass windows and transoms. Throughout the Riverside Historic District there are many historic churches, schools and other non-residential buildings. Typical Gridian Block with Alley in Riverside
These buildings generally date from between 1910 and 1930 and are of masonry construction. Riverside Baptist Church was designed in 1925 by Addison Mizner, one of Florida's most significant twentieth century architects. Other significant churches in the district include Riverside Presbyterian Church , the Church of the Good Shepherd, Riverside Avenue Christian Church, and St. Pauls' Roman Catholic Church.
Mediterranean architecture proved to be popular for the public schools in Riverside. West Riverside Elementary, John Gorrie Junior High and Robert E. Lee High School both reflect this influence.
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C. DESCRIPTION OF THE AVONDALE HISTORIC DISTRICT
The Avondale Historic District contains a high-quality concentration of residential design and construction dating from 1909 to 1936. It has remained primarily a single family residential neighborhood since its initial development.
The Avondale Historic District borders the St. Johns River, approximately three miles southwest of downtown Jacksonville. The district generally conforms to the boundaries of the Avondale Subdivision, a planned residential development recorded in 1921. The district boundaries are irregular and more or less rectangular in form. The district runs perpendicular to the St. Johns River, which forms its southern boundary. The remaining rough boundaries are the Avondale subdivision line on the west; along Talbot Street, Roosevelt Boulevard, a major traffic artery, on the north; and the Riverside Historic District, a slightly earlier residential neighborhood, on the east.
The plan of Avondale is the most distinctive part of the district and clearly distinguishes it from its surroundings. It consists of 35 blocks that extend north from the St. Johns River. The blocks and lots are frequently curvilinear and highly irregular in form, in contrast with the rectangular blocks and lots of nearby subdivisions, such as Riverside.
Landscape and streetscape design and green spaces contribute to the distinctive sense of place which the district conveys. These features include curvilinear streets, landscaped medians, and fifteen small, pocket parks. The parks and esplanades are concentrated along the major north-south streets of the district, specifically Avondale, Belvedere, and Edgewood Avenues. Natural features, mainly the river and an abundance of large trees that offer spacious canopies, distinguish the district. Trees and plants include live oaks, magnolias, palms, azaleas, and dogwoods. The parks, landscape features, and plantings visually link the modest with the more substantial residences in the district.
There are over 800 buildings in the district. Of these, 715 are historic or contributing buildings. Contributing buildings were constructed during or before 1936. There are an additional 92 buildings that are considered non-contributing. Non-contributing buildings fall into two categories: buildings constructed within the period of significance (1909-1936) which have lost the integrity of their original design or architectural detailing; and buildings that post-date the period of significance and have no significance under the National Register criteria. Very few buildings have, however, lost their integrity because of alterations. Most non-contributing buildings are defined as such because they fall outside the period of significance. Because of the subdivision regulations, even many of the non-contributing buildings embody the design, materials, and setting of earlier buildings despite their more recent date of construction.
Almost all historic buildings in Avondale are detached, one- and two-story single-family residences embodying a variety of early twentieth-century architectural styles. The residences range from finely crafted, custom-built, upper class homes to speculative housing designed for the city's then burgeoning middle class.
Part of the significance of the Avondale Historic District is its association with prominent architects. Professionally trained or self-taught architects designed over one-hundred buildings, or roughly one-sixth of the total number of those contributing to the district.
Design control and land-use restrictions were a key part of the historic development of Avondale. The Avondale Company controlled land use, density of development, and setbacks through restrictive covenants. The covenants prohibited apartments, flats, hospitals, stores, and offices. They restricted density of development by limiting construction to one house per lot. They established set-back at 10' for lots over 65' and 7.5' for lots under 65'. Model homes established precedent for architectural designs that followed as the development grew. Spanish and Italian-styled residences with tile roofs were among the first models. Other styles included Colonial Revival, Tudor, and Bungalow.
Land-use controls, landscape features, and the design and construction standards employed by the developers produced a visual cohesiveness throughout the district. Few buildings exceed two stories in height and all buildings are detached and share common setbacks. They are located on generous lots and have regular ground plans, usually rectangular in form. With the exception of the Bungalow style, the broad side of most buildings faces the street. The Bungalow is usually oriented with the narrower, gable end facing the street.
The Avondale Historic District contains numerous examples of well-designed custom built and speculative housing. Avondale contains an overwhelming concentration of formal architectural styles. Only 28 contributing buildings are classified as frame vernacular and many of these exhibit stylistic influences. Common architectural styles are the Colonial Revival with over 200 examples and the Bungalow with 191. Other common styles are the Prairie, Tudor, and Mission, Italian Renaissance, Spanish Eclectic, and other Mediterranean influenced styles.
The architecture of Avondale is decidedly eclectic, and is reflective of popular architectural trends and local historical precedents. Many styles common to Avondale, such as the Colonial and Tudor Revivals, might be found in any contemporary suburban development of the day. The Prairie School is generally associated with the Midwest. Henry John Klutho, a native of Illinois, introduced the style to Jacksonville following the great fire of 1901. Finally, the large number of Spanish and Italian influenced designs in Avondale are reflective of Florida's Boom period architecture and could easily be found in any community in the southern part of the state. The unique mix of architectural influences is another aspect of the architectural significance of Avondale.
There are discernible patterns of development within the district. Historically, development of the district proceeded from south to north and from east to west, starting with areas near the St. Johns River and the eastern boundary of the Avondale Subdivision. The blocks nearest the river, south of St. Johns Avenue, are less densely developed. They contain large, deep lots with the most massive and finest designed and constructed residences in Avondale. Beyond St. Johns Avenue, the height and mass of buildings diminishes. High-styled buildings, particularly those drawn from the Colonial Revival, Mission, and Tudor styles, predominate south of St. Johns Avenue while the Bungalow is the most common style to the north. Edgewood and Avondale avenues, more than any other streets, maintain a two-story scale and a continuity of architectural styles from north to south.
Most of the buildings in the district front on the north-south streets, with each block containing approximately ten to twenty detached buildings. East-west streets are less densely developed, with usually less than ten buildings facing them.
The Avondale Historic District, through its high percentage of historic buildings and its unusual plan, conveys a strong sense of time and place. Because of the innovative planning concepts applied by its original developers, the architectural integrity and quality of life of the neighborhood have been maintained. The district is one of the most picturesque in Jacksonville and includes the most intense concentration of high-quality, historic residences in the city.
Avondale is one of Jacksonville's first residential areas where the automobile exerted a wholesale influence on building and landscape design. Driveways, garages, carports, and porte cocheres are common, original features of most buildings and lots in the district. Garages and carports were frequently integrated into the design of houses through stylistic features and materials. Most garages are, however, located at the back of lots and clearly subordinate to the house.
A final aspect of the architectural significance of the Avondale area is the prevalence of masonry building materials. Materials commonly found in buildings there include brick, tile, stucco, and coquina concrete block. As a result, Avondale contrasts greatly with many of the older sections of Riverside, where literally hundreds of frame buildings were constructed.
Curvilinear Streets and Small Pocket Parks
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D. Description of the West Avondale Historic District
The West Avondale Historic District is located three miles southwest of downtown Jacksonville as part of the larger Riverside and Avondale area that developed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as one of the city's premier residential suburbs. The district encompasses approximately 300 acres and is roughly bounded by the back property lines of Dancy Street and Hollingsworth Street, Yukon Street, and St. Johns Avenue on the northwest, the Avondale Historic District on the northeast, and the St. Johns River on the southeast. The boundaries encompass a total of 1648 properties, of which 1273 are contributing and 375 are noncontributing.
The district is essentially an extension of the adjacent Avondale Historic District, which was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. Like that district, the West Avondale district is primarily residential, although a small collection of commercial buildings exists along the 3500 and 3600 blocks of St. Johns Avenue, as well as at the intersection of Dancy Street and Park street. The most distinctive natural features in the area are the tenacre Boone Park and Little Fishweir Creek, which meanders through the park on its course to the St. Johns River.
Due to a haphazard pattern of subdivision development and the bodies of water that define its limits, the district contains a mixture of straight, diagonal, and curved streets. Houses in most areas of the district conform to a standard setback on lots that measure between 50 and 100 feet in width. Many of the lots are raised and slope toward the streets. A variety of evergreen and flowering bushes and trees, including live oaks, pines, crepe myrtles, magnolias, and palms, provide an attractive backdrop and enhance the historic appearance of the district. The high concentration of contributing resources along the streets of the district creates an impression of unbroken historic development that links the area with the neighboring Avondale Historic district.
PRESENT PHYSICAL APPEARANCE
Boone Park is a ten acre open space bounded by Herschel Street on the north, Van Wert Avenue on the east, St. Johns Avenue on the south, and Little Fishweir Creek on the west. The property for the park was donated to the City of Jacksonville by William E. Boone in 1926 and has changed little since that time. It is planted with randomly placed pine and oak trees and provides a pleasant break from the otherwise uninterrupted housing and commercial developments that surround it. The area of Boone Park north of Herschel Street is more developed with a Girl Scout clubhouse, tennis courts, pro shop, and playground.
The contributing buildings of the district possess characteristics that are associated with national and statewide trends in architecture during the first half of the twentieth century. The superior building materials employed in their construction and the high level of craftsmanship that is apparent in many of the designs readily distinguishes them from the modular prefabricated buildings that dominated home construction in the post World War ll era. The majority of the contributing buildings in the district exhibit elements of one or more architectural styles that were popular at the time of their construction. Architectural styles represented in the proposed district include the Craftsman style, Colonial Revival, Prairie School, Tudor Revival, Mediterranean Revival, Mission, Italian Renaissance, Minimal Traditional, Classical Revival, and Art Deco. Other buildings in the district are classified as either frame or masonrv vernacular.
The most distinctive architecture in the area is found south of St. Johns Avenue where prominent local businessmen built homes on large lots with proximity to the river front. For the most part, the homes along Richmond and Hendrick Streets, Montgomery Place, Arden Place, and Shadowlawn, Greenwood, and Morningside Avenues were designed by prominent local architects and reflect definitive architectural stvles that were popular at the time of their construction. Most have hollow tile or brick structural systems and are sheathed with stucco or brick veneer. The area northwest of St. Johns Avenue contains a high concentration of residences that, while more modest in scale than those to the south, exhibit a wide range of historic architectural styles. Packed tightly on narrow lots, the homes there are between one and two and onehalf stories. They usually have one or more associated outbuildings that also date from the historic period. The predominant structural system in the area is wood, balloon frame, but a number were constructed of hollow tile and brick.
The small commercial area along St. Johns Avenue and at the intersection of Dancy Street and Park Street are harmonious with the surrounding residential sections. The buildings are examples of one-part commercial blocks that reflect masonry vernacular, Mediterranean Revival, Mission, and Art Deco designs. Typical of other commercial sections in the city, the area has suffered from intrusion of modern commercial architecture and the alteration of some of the historic storefronts.
All of the contributing properties in the district were constructed between 1910 and 1947. While the majority of the subdivisions that make up the area were platted in the decade between 1906 and 1915, only a few existing buildings in the district were constructed before World War 1. Most of the buildings date from the Florida Land Boom period of the 1920s. The wild success of Telfair Stockton's Avondale Subdivision, which was platted in 1920 and borders the area on the northeast, drew attention to the area and sparked the first significant development in the district. Building dropped sharply during the first half of the decade as the city weathered the darkest days of the Great Depression. Beginning in 1935, however, construction resumed, and by the end of the historic period nearly all of the building lots within the district had been developed.
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