Once the “World’s Lightest and Tallest Fountain”, Now Celebrating 50 Years!
Since 1963, Jacksonville has enjoyed a signature fountain and park designed by the late, world-renowned architect Taylor Hardwick, also designer of the Hayden Burns Library, among other notable city buildings. Opening in 1965, Friendship Fountain and the St. Johns River Park are situated on the Southbank Riverwalk, where generations of families have enjoyed ambulating between the Main Street or John T. Alsop bridge, which opened in 1957. The fountain, park, and bridge are the visual triumvirate architectural signatures which connect what was once known as South Jacksonville to Downtown.
In the beginning, the fountain and park were made possible by a donation of land by the Southside Business Men’s Club. Water moved at a rate of 17,000 gallons per minute pushed by 70mph pumps. It featured water expansions up to 10 stories. The companion pump house was designed as a Jules Verne-type structure with round windows reminiscent of a submarine and swirls of concrete offering walkable access to the top. Originally called the Fountain of Friendship in Dallas Thomas Park, the park was named for Dallas Thomas, a Jacksonville Parks and Finance Commissioner. However, Thomas was later indicted and his name dropped from the City’s new park, leaving it as Friendship Fountain.
For years, the railroad bridge, known as the Acosta, merged its traffic into that coming off of the Main Street into I-95 South. In the 1940s, a well-known restaurant with a vibrant clientele was built where an old boat repair business was located underneath the Acosta. This popular place was called The Lobster House Restaurant. It is where parts of the Creature From the Black Lagoon movies were filmed. Woven fan-back chairs and wooden floors with a vista of the big sign that featured the words “cable crossing” offered vistas of a growing downtown metropolis outside its windows just across from Downtown. The restaurant fell to a fire in 1962, and another watering hole establishment was opened adjacent to that site. The sprawling, fancy Diamondhead Restaurant offered a bustling bar filled by 5pm and served massive lobster dinners. Conversation was everywhere and entertainment stars always dropped by, like boxer Joe Frazier. The new restaurant encroached on the original Friendship Park’s acreage, as it needed expanded parking. This began the downsizing of public space along the river for the City’s people.
In 1985, the fountain went through a much needed renovation and repair in order for it to resume operation for the next 15 years. In 1990, the Acosta Bridge was rebuilt and the old, now defunct Diamondhead was in the way, so it was demolished. The fountain continued its operation until it was closed at the end of the 20th century due to disrepair.
Taking the place of Diamondhead was the Harbormasters Restaurant. The City agreed to give even more of its parking acreage to this new retail establishment, but its debit soon exceeded its income, and the debacle closed in 1992. The park’s diminishment was never expanded back to its original plan. Many of the architect’s original design structures were gone, and the city was left holding the bag for a $3million loan. Taking the place of Harbormasters was River City Brewing Company, which opened on the city-owned land at the old Harbormasters’ site in 1993, serving customers with on-site house-made brews and a fantastic view of downtown Jacksonville. For decades, Jacksonville has had an active brew business. The restaurant’s proximity to Friendship Fountain made it an even more popular place for boaters. A marina is located in front of the restaurant and a put-in for kayaks and boats is adjacent for St. Johns River access.
Friendship Fountain has had its issues through the years, primarily due to needed repairs. However, it has continued to be a landmark for 50 years. Its 200-foot base holds 500,000 gallons. Nozzles send water 35-40 feet high, and they are driven by 250- and 150-mph motors, noting the center ring shoots up 120 feet and features dark red, light red, turquoise and amber light features.
In 2010, Mayor John Peyton led the way along with Friends of Friendship Fountain. Friendship Fountain Park reopened in 2011. Friendship Fountain Park is a major landmark of Jacksonville, a place where families gather for generations to watch the July 4th fireworks, babies are strolled down the newly refurbished Southbank Riverwalk, a place to sit quietly and watch the boats go by, and just for a routine walk by the river. It is the most popular vista for out-of-town media, especially when focused on from the air during Jacksonville’s Post to Post Links II error: No link found for term slug "Super Bowl", and now it’s a nexus for drone photography. It is a beautiful place to drive by at night to see light, air and water at play adjacent to the St. Johns River. Its view from the Northbank, such as at the roof-top River Club, Jacksonville Landing, and signature hotels, is just beautiful and, hopefully, the generations now coming up will enjoy it once again with a beautiful and pedestrian-friendly renovated Southbank Riverwalk. It is the community’s place. It is the people’s park.