What If Jacksonville Suddenly Woke Up?, Photo by Lance Asper
Photo by Lance Asper

What If Jacksonville Suddenly Woke Up?

Some say Jacksonville is a diamond that wants to remain coal. What would it be like if Jacksonville were a city that didn’t hate itself… led by people who acknowledged its achievements?

Here are a few things that possibly would have happened in New York, Rome, London Paris, Seattle, or San Francisco if the leaders that made them into Great Cities had been given our city and history.

The Southern Music Hall of Fame would be open and full to capacity somewhere in downtown. Molly Hatchet, Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers would have exhibits there and all the music aficionados would know a history of the Southern music and the Jacksonville music scene.

A statue of Ray Charles would stand in the perfectly preserved and popular bar where he first played soul piano and blues in the South.

There would be a statue to Don Estridge, the father of the modern PC, the Bishop Kenny graduate whose work transformed, literally the entire planet, and whose ideas of open source coding are still revolutionary

There would be another museum of Black Film commemorating the achievements of black filmmakers here in Jacksonville.

Local businesses Peterbrooke, The Loop Pizza and the Burrito Gallery would all have gigantic headquarters in the center of town that rivaled the Preston Haskell building on Riverside Avenue. There would be standing lines for tours of Sally Corporation.

Blaire Woolverton would cohost her own cable show with Shawana Brooks and Jake Godbold would have a cookbook.

Ray Mason would have an Institute where international finance and Arabic trade principles were taught, studied and debated. People would know who Raymond Mason was, and have no fucking clue who the latest scheming developer was.

When the Jacksonville Film Festival opened every year, Josh Skierski and Chad Hendricks would be the emcees and Rita Manyette would be the Gala Hostess.

Mandarin would have a trolley tour of the famous writers who lived there over the past century. And even white people would know that Zora Neale Hurston lived here.

People would know who Zora Neale Hurston was.

People would be patriotic about Maxwell House. It would have a string of successful cafes all over town.

Jacksonville Tars and the Negro League’s Jacksonville Red Cap’s throwback jerseys, would be available at any given local sporting goods store.

Matt Carlucci would have been Mayor and John Peyton would be president of the Chamber of Commerce.

Mayor Lenny Curry would have been a car salesman out in Green Cove Springs.

There would be a Maritime Museum on the riverfront celebrating the many nautical elements of Jacksonville’s History.

Old Stanton would be a Music Conservatory which offered a scholarship in the name of the writer of “Lift every Voice and Sing” James Weldon Johnson.

The River City Band would be housed there.

The Jewish Center and graveyard would have signs on the bridges and highways to point out the gigantic and culturing effect that Jewish people had on Jacksonville, an unexpectedly tolerant and welcoming home in a time and country that met them everywhere else with fear and loathing.

Jazz musician Noel Freidline would be a rich man with a big Jazz Club that he owned somewhere on the Riverwalk.

The talented Jason Woods would have a functioning, funded theatre season based out of the Florida Theatre, and would be advertised by our tourism board.

The Marabanong House would be a famously discussed historical feature on the Jacksonville tour.

Someone would have said “Thanks” to John Currington for resurrecting San Marco.

Or Lex Hester.

There would be a monument and perhaps a college marking the Landing of Protestant French Huguenots, and you could buy well-researched books about their history here.

There would be reenactments of pirate clipper attacks on the Ortega River, and the locals would brag about which French or English pirate they were descended from.

The Great Black Way would have curio shops and little plastic bubbles with glitter in them swirling round Duke Ellington and Billy Holiday performing at the Ritz, and Klutho’s Balustrade would be lit at night so that lovers could walk past the moonlit canal along Hogan’s Creek.

There would be bronze statues of the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Bill Pickett (the famous black cowboy from Norman Studios in Arlington), Tom Mix and Oliver Hardy (of Laurel and Hardy) on the Riverwalk instead of the goofy jogger?

There would be a big Barbeque festival on Main Street every year and people would come from miles around to check out a hundred million recipes for ribs and collard greens.

It would create an interesting and colorful course that teaches our history and the cities issues and require that it be taught to all 7th graders.

The architecture wouldn’t have to be studied from old postcards and books with crossed out black and white photos with the word “demolished” stamped across them.

The urban population would have increased faster adding to the corporate scrapers due to the less restrictive city policy and would make Jacksonville the premier city in Florida if not the southeast.

The sports venues would have been built into the urban fabric allowing neighboring establishments to feed off of the activity.

The surrounding neighborhoods would all be connected to the core via a comprehensive network of commuter, light rail or skyway lines.

Visitors to the city would have a multitude of way finding signs leading to attractions, parking, and districts.

There would be a permanent exhibit of Joseph La Rose’s shoes at the City hall or perhaps the LaVilla School of the Arts and students would host John Fluevog competitions for shoe design every year.

Jacksonville’s Kona Skatepark would have highway signs from all the interstates. The city would have invested in the infrastructure surrounding the legendary park. Martin Ramos would have the keys to the city. Every championship competition would be televised on the local stations.

Liz Straight, Al Letson,  David Pugh, Allan Justiss, Jon Reich, Valerie Anthony, Christina Wagner, Lee Harvey, and Ian Mairs would be household names. The Mayor would know them all, and they would be able to make a living with speaking engagements.

But we don’t have those things.

They are too ‘low class’, too ‘black’ and too ‘southern’.

Instead we have consultants telling us how to appear more like Indianapolis or Louisville.

If we wanted to be Indianapolis or some other place…

But we don’t have a “Jacksonville”.

About Stephen Dare

Stephen Dare is a writer, restauranteur, chef, arts and civic advocate with a background in urban development, planning, neighborhood revitalization and pure old fashioned Southern gossip. He currently edits a few celebrity and lifestyle publications and has great affection for EU and the remarkable family that produces it.