In terms of Jacksonville’s 21st-century gentrification efforts, the small area of Murray Hill has always been considered a neighborhood that seemed like it could go either way. To its south lies Avondale, with its manicured lawns, its sprinklers that come on twice a day, where you rarely, if ever, hear cars booming bass as they rattle down residential streets.
To the north and west of Avondale, a different story — flanked on the west by the war zone that is Cassat Avenue, with its streetwalkers even during the afternoon rush hour, and the infamous Eureka Gardens nearby. Not too far north, the equally infamous Operation Ceasefire zone, in which it seems no amount of policing is enough. You can get a small mid-century house for a song up there, if you drive around and look for the hand-lettered signs on street corners, and can afford to pay Cash Only.
But if you did have that kind of cash, you’d probably want to live somewhere else.
Being positioned where it is, Murray Hill has long served as a canary in the coalmine to savvy local observers of urban renewal. Of late, we’ve seen encouraging signs in the commercial strip at the corner of U.S. 17 and Edgewood. Maple Street Biscuit Co. went in there a couple months ago, and does great business. Bold Bean wasn’t far behind.
If you want gentrification — and it beats the alternative for the neighborhood’s property owners — those two establishments signal potential for the kind of development we’ve seen in Avondale and on King Street in Riverside. Murray Hill, very possibly, could at some point soon be considered a destination, not a fallback option for renters.
And yet, issues still abound. There are reports, for instance, that the Fat Kat Lounge is poised to reopen. The club closed earlier this year after a gunman killed one and injured four, and, as First Coast News reported earlier this year, neighbors’ complaints about the club, dating back all the way to 1992, are legion.
Clubs have come and gone in that space — house, goth and, most recently, dirty South hip-hop, the permutation that brought the most problems. Last winter, as Fat Kat drew its biggest crowds, driving down that part of Edgewood was always an adventure, as Fat Kat patrons brimmed out into the road at all hours of night.
After the shooting and the ensuing publicity, those crowds went away, the club soon locked its doors.
The neighborhood was glad to see it go.
Despite the manager’s promises at the time that it was gone for good, Action News reported last month that Fat Kat plans to relaunch under a different name, which means nearby businesses will want to ensure their insurance premiums are paid up. Hip-hop hooray.
In unrelated news, the neighborhood has seen graffiti recently — the kind of tagging that makes the news.
Murray Hill Presbyterian Church was festooned with satanic tags — the veritable greatest hits: “666,” “Helter Skelter” and “Worship the Devil,” along with the requisite swastikas — on a recent Friday morning. A nearby pizza place got hit, too, as did another building, with a “Praise Allah” tag. Such ecumenism from a can of spray paint and the most cliché-happy graffiti artist I’ve heard of this decade.
For Murray Hill to grow in the way neighborhood partisans want, they’re going to need real gentrification. It will be on a block-by-block basis, and there may be missteps, but it won’t happen without the neighborhood accepting no alternatives. Taking a stand against the reopening of the Fat Kat would be a good start, and so too might starting up a real Neighborhood Watch program.
Community standards ultimately have to be imposed by those who live there, and Murray Hill seems ambiguous on this front. The people in the area need to remove all doubt in the eyes of potential malefactors.