JAX NEIGHBORHOODS – Murray Hill

Jax Neighborhoods

From Avondale to Arlington, LaVilla to Lake Shore, the Southbank to the Southside, each one of Jacksonville’s over 500 neighborhoods has its own distinct character, history, and amenities. In the upcoming issues of EU Jacksonville, our team of writers and photographers will take you along on a journey of discovery, introducing you to stories, residents, and merchants in our myriad community pockets, as well as highlighting the many public facilities at our disposal. Did you know there are 27 parks in San Marco, or that the largest neighborhood land mass is in the Northside?

Let’s learn what’s in our own backyards. You just might like to live there one day. Start by checking out this issue’s spotlight on Murray Hill.

Where’s Murray Hill?

Bordered by Interstate 10, Cassat Avenue, Park Street and Roosevelt Blvd, Murray Hill is another historic neighborhood in the midst of gentrification. Platted in 1906, incorporated as a separate city in 1916 and annexed by Jacksonville in 1925, the neighborhood consists of a mix of commercial and residential structures with a diverse collection of architectural details that make it stand out among the urban core neighborhoods.

Jacksonville’s Great Fire of 1901 was one of the most devastating urban fires in American history. However, the resulting reconstruction effort created Florida’s first metropolis. Murray Hill was one of the areas that sprung to life as a result.

Platted as the suburb of Murray Hill Heights in 1906, the development was constructed on the site of the failed 1880s Edgewood development. Conceived around the same time as Henry Ford’s invention of the assembly line, Murray Hill was one of the first communities planned in Northeast Florida to accommodate automobiles with paved roads and detached garages. Murray Hill’s main thoroughfare, Murray Hill Avenue, was envisioned to be a landscaped boulevard similar to Springfield’s Main Street and New Orleans’ St. Charles Avenue.

Located adjacent to the industrialized suburb of Lackawanna, developers marketed Murray Hill as the perfect place to live for the 1,000 workers at the Seaboard Coast Line Railway’s locomotive shops near McDuff Avenue.

Despite the rapid growth of Jacksonville, Murray Hill’s first years saw little building in the community, which lacked connectivity with the rest of Jacksonville. Thirteen years after the Great Fire, things began to change. With World War I underway, the Florida Military Academy opened with 75 boarders and 50 day cadets in 1914. Later that year, Jacksonville Traction Company extended a streetcar line to the Florida Military Academy, finally connecting Murray Hill with Downtown.

Desiring the modern conveniences of a city, area residents voted to officially create the Town of Murray Hill in 1915. Hugh Lauder was elected as the town’s first mayor. Murray Hill’s main thoroughfare, Murray Hill Avenue (now Edgewood Avenue) connected the city with the railroad and the St. Johns River. Cassat Avenue, Black Creek Road (now Lenox), Nelson Street and Kingsbury Street served as Murray Hill’s boundaries.

The major street network of Jacksonville was vastly different in 1920. Another 25 years would pass before the wide highways that make Jacksonville a deadly place for pedestrians and bicyclists today made their introduction to the region’s landscape. With no direct route to downtown Jacksonville, having a streetcar connection was essential to Murray Hill’s survival.

The initial fanfare of being its own incorporated community didn’t last long. Within a decade after electing its first mayor, Murray Hill became known as “Murray Bottom.” $300,000 in debt, Murray Hill’s residents desired annexation into neighboring Jacksonville. At the time, Jacksonville had its problems as well. Long known as the largest city in Florida, Tampa had just surpassed it in population. Adding Murray Hill’s residents would be just enough for Jacksonville to one-up Central Florida’s largest city. Thus in 1925, the Town of Murray Hill was annexed by Jacksonville.

World War II would forever change the complexion of Murray Hill and Jacksonville’s Westside. With Naval Air Station Jacksonville (NAS Jax) as an economic driver, residential growth in Murray Hill extended west of Cassat Avenue by 1948. By the end of World War II, four steady decades of growth had created a community featuring a diverse range of residential architecture within a walkable setting.

During the 1960s, Jacksonville’s first fully enclosed shopping mall was planned for the site of Murray Hill’s Normandy Twin Drive-in Theatre. According to the developer, Edward J. DeBartolo, his new retail center would “employ the newest concepts in suburban shopping facilities.” In 1963, DeBartolo’s 462,000-square foot Normandy Mall opened. Forever changing Jacksonville’s retail development patterns, the mall was anchored by Montgomery Ward, P.H. Rose, Food Fair, a 1,000-seat twin theatre, and 1,836 parking spaces. By the 1980s, the proliferation of malls in the area and new growth in fringe areas of Duval County had taken their toll on Murray Hill’s economy.

Former Murray Hill resident Jon Reich was as close as anyone has ever come to being a bona fide Art Celebrity in Jacksonville. The iconic artist’s work was ubiquitous in Murray Hill during the 1970s and 80s. In the early 80s, Reich left Jacksonville to continue his education at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. By the time of his death at the age of 39 in 1992, the former Jacksonville artist had earned the nickname, “Liberace of the Arts.” A series of four nudes called “Transparencies I-IV”, the work that Reich is most known for, is in the Smithsonian collection.

During the 1980s, Monroe Midyette, one of the most famous club owners in Jacksonville history, operated a quintessential gay disco known as College Station. His entertainment complex on Edgewood Avenue set the standard for LGBT nightlife in North Florida for two generations. It was an actual megaclub in a city that has never seen the like since.

Nationally, established neighborhoods like Murray Hill are benefiting from current development trends driven by 86 million millennials. With its proximity to popular Riverside/Avondale, and its present-day physical assets, there is a great possibility that Murray Hill’s Edgewood Avenue could become one of urban Jacksonville’s next emerging walkable districts. While there are several urban neighborhoods in Jacksonville that feature walkable commercial districts, very few are like Edgewood Avenue. Edgewood’s building stock offers several opportunities for new businesses, while also being anchored by many long-time retail institutions.
Unlike previous generations, many make locational decisions based on quality of life, and 80% desire to live in vibrant, central, pedestrian-friendly areas such as Murray Hill.

Sustainability is also becoming an important economic driver. Communities that embrace green infrastructure, offer adaptive reuse possibilities, and efficient transportation solutions are becoming increasingly popular.

Furthermore, national trends are favoring neighborhoods that are bike- and transit-friendly. With property values being 15-20% higher near rail stations, many cities are utilizing investments in fixed transit to stimulate infill economic development. Facing budget shortfalls, many cities are looking to become more fiscally viable by encouraging growth in areas where public investment in infrastructure has already been made.
The downfall of the real estate market in 2008 has created a situation where infill growth and multifamily housing has become popular. Locally, this can be witnessed in Brooklyn and the Southside around St. Johns Town Center.

Within the urban core, development pressure from these trends creates organic growth opportunities for areas that facilitate trends instead of stymieing them. Locally, difficulties in establishing arts and entertainment-oriented uses in Downtown opened the door for Riverside’s emerging CoRK Arts District and King Street in recent years.

Given its original period of development, Murray Hill’s landscape features several well preserved and maintained parks within a walkable setting. This is an asset that is hard to find in great supply in Jacksonville. Murray Hill’s infrastructure, building fabric, and physical location provide it with the opportunity to take advantage of national mobility trends. With growth spanning a century, Murray Hill’s building stock is as architecturally diverse as it gets in Jacksonville.

With all these advantages, the future of Murray Hill can be whatever its residents want their community to become.

About Stephen Dare

october, 2021

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