Monday, October 31, 2011

St. Johns Quarter: Montague Place Apartments

Here's another interesting apartment building in the St. Johns Quarter district in Jacksonville's historic Riverside neighborhood.  As I've noted in earlier posts, this riverfront neighborhood within a neighborhood contains a mix of single-family and multi-family homes.  This apartment house is next door to the second building in my last post.

Montague Place apartments, 2129 River Boulevard, St. Johns Quarter, Jacksonville.  This three story Mediterranean-style apartment house was constructed in 1924 by the George W. Langford Company, which was noted for building several Miami Beach hotels of that era.  There are six apartments in Montague Place, each with a sun room that has views of the St. Johns River just across the street.

The sign simply says Montague, but a few years ago the building was on the Riverside home tour and was identified as Montague Place in the program.  Apartments are large; the total floor space for the building is ten-thousand square feet.  According to the home tour program, each apartment has a marble-floored entrance, a formal dining area, a breakfast room, and the sun room with river view.  The entrance to the building is surrounded by cast-stone quoins, and surmounted by a fancy cast-stone ornament of the sort frequently used on Spanish and Mediterranean-style buildings of this era.

You can see a reflection of the river (and a little of me with my camera...oops!) in the front door, which is recessed in a small lobby. 

Here's a closer look at the lamps that flank the entry and the overhead light.  

Turn back toward River Boulevard, and you get this view of the St. Johns River across the street, framed by the stylized entry to the lobby.

The view of the river is visually and literally refreshing; the river moderates the temperature.  It's cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter next to the water.  During the 1920's, the St. Johns was a working river in downtown Jacksonville; commerce, not parks and scenic walks, lined the waterfront-- mercantile businesses, wharves, docks, and ships stood between the business district and the St. Johns.  But in neighborhoods like Riverside, Avondale, and San Marco, developers valued the river for both its beauty and the cooling breezes.  This was, after all, Florida before air conditioning.  Thus, on a beautiful day like this one, you'll still see lots of windows opened to catch the breeze on the river-side of buildings like Montague Place:

A view of the east side of Montague Place, looking toward the river, shows its proximity to 2117-25 River Boulevard (featured in my last post).  It's interesting to see how both buildings include rooms that extend out to the side.  The Montague Place extension gives a third floor apartment additional space.

A view of the west side of Montague Place shows a single garage, perhaps for the building's owner.  Other tenants may park in front of the building.

Many beautiful homes and estates line the St. Johns River; generally, the closer you get to the water, the higher the price of the home.  But apartment buildings like Montague Place on River Boulevard make riverfront living accessible and affordable.  You don't have to be wealthy to live here.  You do have to be lucky enough to find an available apartment!

Next time, a St. Johns Quarter 4-plex that manages a river view from a block away!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

St. Johns Quarter: Two by William Mulford Marsh

The St. Johns Quarter district in Jacksonville's Riverside neighborhood contains an interesting mix of single and multi-family homes.  Most of the apartment houses are small, with just four to 6 apartments.  There are several 4-plex buildings in the area that are representative of a type that can be found throughout Riverside.  These buildings are a variation on a theme:  two apartments up, and two down, arranged around a courtyard entrance, and with spacious porches in front.  Yet, despite the repetition of the pattern, the individual touch of the architect made each building unique and charming in its own way.  Here are two such buildings by William Mulford Marsh.

2126 St. Johns Avenue, built in 1919, St. Johns Quarter, Jacksonville.  Along with Riverside Avenue, St. Johns Avenue is one of the premier streets in Riverside.  St. Johns Avenue begins in St. Johns Quarter, but runs for only three blocks before stopping at St. Vincent's Hospital (there are a lot of saints in this part of town!).  It resumes outside St. Johns Quarter on the other side of the hospital campus, and continues through Riverside and Avondale.  The hospital creates one of the boundaries that defines this self-contained neighborhood on the river. 

This 1919 brick and wood 4-plex is simple and attractive.  A tenant told me the apartments are nicely renovated, with large bedrooms, hardwood floors, and fireplaces in each unit.  These are two bedroom, one bath apartments.

The porches extend out from the front of the building; entry is through the small courtyard between them.  This is among the last buildings designed by William Mulford Marsh before his celebrated partnership with Harold Saxelbye, which resulted in so many iconic Jacksonville homes (see my October 5th post on Haddon Hall for more on Marsh and Saxelbye).  The Marsh-Saxelbye partnership began the same year this building was constructed.

The entrances for the upstairs apartments are next to those for the downstairs units, so the ground-floor tenants don't have quite the privacy on their front porch that is enjoyed by their upstairs neighbor.  On the other hand, coming and going is easier.  In the photo above, the door on the right opens to the stairway leading to the upstairs apartment.

The apartments extend the length of the building, giving each home three exposures and plenty of light.  2126 St. Johns Avenue is just one block from the river, and is located on a pleasant, oak-shaded street; it is as good an address today as it was in 1919.  Small apartment buildings share the street with substantial, well-kept single-family homes.  Shopping, restaurants, and a vintage movie theatre are a quick walk away in the 5-Points business district.

Just around the corner, on River Boulevard, is a second building by Marsh, a near-duplicate of the one on St. Johns Avenue, according to reference books, though you wouldn't know it at first glance. 

2117-2125 River Boulevard, built in 1919, St. Johns Quarter, Jacksonville.  The most obvious difference between this house and its sibling is that the front porches have been enclosed, increasing the living space, and giving the building a more "modern" appearance.  The brick has been painted.

Again, the courtyard entry.  In this case, the doors now open into the courtyard space instead of the now-enclosed front porches.  The casement windows have been appropriately updated and the doorways are nicely detailed.

This building contains six apartments, which means it has either been subdivided from its original configuration, or is not truly a duplicate of the St. Johns Avenue building and was bigger from the start.  In either case, it contains two more apartments.  One upstairs unit extends over the driveway, which runs between this house and the building next door.  Was this extension original?  I haven't found an answer to this question, but the extension does explain some of the extra space inside the building.

Black awnings add a sleek appearance to the building's front elevation.  The reflection of the river in the windows is a reminder of the appeal of the River Boulevard location.

This is the view that greets you as you leave the house.  As I explained in my last post, St. Johns Quarter is the only place in Riverside or Avondale where the road runs directly along the riverfront. 

William Mulford Marsh was a Jacksonville native.  He designed several Prairie-style buildings in addition to these apartment buildings before joining Harold Saxelbye in 1919.  Their partnership lasted 27 years. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Back to Jax: St. Johns Quarter

This neighborhood within a neighborhood is located in the Riverside district of Jacksonville, but has its own distinct borders and personality.  St. Johns Quarter (and by the way, "Johns" is not possessive, so there's no apostrophe) is two blocks deep, extending south from Riverside Avenue to the St. Johns River, and two blocks wide along the river.  I took this picture from San Marco on the opposite side of the river.  St. Johns Quarter is the tree-filled area between the two tall buildings, which are adjacent to, but not in the neighborhood.  The building on the right is the Park Lane Apartments, built in 1926; the one on the left is the Villa Riva Condominiums built in 2005. 

The most distinguishing characteristic of this historic neighborhood is its close relationship with the river.  Many Riverside/Avondale streets end in small parks at the river, but only in St. Johns Quarter does the road run parallel to the river, on the waterfront.  River Boulevard is only two blocks long, but the two blocks are pleasantly scenic and make the river very accessible.

St. Johns Quarter is filled with single-family homes, small apartment buildings, and one large apartment building on Riverside Avenue.  Some of the single family homes are now commercial, mostly lawyers' offices.  While nearly all of the buildings were constructed in the early 1920's, one dates to 1870, which puts it a bit out of step with its neighbors!

Riverside House, 2107 River Boulevard, St. Johns Quarter, Jacksonville, built ca. 1870.  You might think this house had the neighborhood to itself for many years since the other buildings around it date to the 1920's, but the story is more complicated than that.  This three story Second Empire style building was named Rochester House when it was built in the Brooklyn neighborhood, which was closer to present-day downtown Jacksonville.  Sometime between 1903 and 1913, the building was moved on a barge up the St. Johns River to this location.  An original two-tiered veranda has been enclosed, but there are still open porches.

Riverside House was originally a hotel.  Jacksonville's Architectural Heritage quotes a description from an 1885 publication:

A large and spacious villa, with airy balconies suggestive of cool and comfort on a warm summer day, faces the river and commands a fine view of that noble waterway and the surrounding country.  The grounds are prettily laid out in walks and a fine grove of orange trees lends its dark foliage and golden fruit to the beauty of the scene.  A flight of stairs leads down to the terraced lawn to the river, which is the common rendezvous of people of leisure who seek pleasure or health in Florida's metropolis.

There is no longer a terraced lawn or grove of orange trees, but the view of the river isn't half-bad, and I found plenty of citrus trees on River Boulevard.  The last point is a reminder that citrus was once plentiful in this part of Florida and still grows in the right places.  While Jacksonville winters can include an occasional hard freeze, the temperature tends to stay warmer in the areas along the St. Johns River and the Atlantic Ocean.  Those same parts of town are cooler in the summer!

The Riverside House, which was described in the 1870's as "comfortably accommodating from 30 to 40 guests" has several entrances and five apartments.  This doorway opens to a hallway and a sharply winding staircase that leads to the upper apartments. 

Despite unsympathetic alterations over the years such as the enclosing of the verandas, Riverside House retains many original architectural features, such as wooden quoins (visible in fourth picture from top of post), bracketed eaves, and a distinctive mansard roof (visible in third picture from top).

Riverside House is the elder statesman of St. Johns Quarter.  Lavish 1920's-era homes and charming apartment buildings that share the riverside location are more typical of this historic neighborhood.  I'll share more of those sights tomorrow!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Rolling Down the Track

Have you figured out I love trains as well as old buildings?  I do, which is why my visit to the New York Transit Museum was so enjoyable.  So, as I explained in an earlier post, I hope you'll indulge my expansion of Mike's Historic Buildings to include these vintage subway cars!  Besides, the museum is located in a no-longer-used subway station, the Court Street station in Brooklyn.  Let's say that counts as an historic building!  I'll return to Florida in my next post, but today, let's keep rolling down the track.  Look, here comes an IND train now!

This 1938 R-7 car was involved in an accident in 1946.  In a 1947 rebuild, it was altered into a prototype of the next generation car, the R-10.  According to the museum's display, this was the first attempt since the opening of the IND (Independent Subway) to design a more modern car.  One of the first things you'll notice inside is the bright color pattern on the floor.

With four motors instead of the usual two, R-10 cars accelerated 60 percent faster than older cars.  They also had a more efficient braking system.  New interior amenities included fluorescent lighting, hinged metal hand-grips, and small twin bracket-mounted fans in place of ceiling-mounted paddle fans.

Seats are now covered in velon, a plastic version of the traditional rattan upholstery.

Where are we going?  As the sign points out, the subway goes everywhere, even the beach.  And, we can have the time of our lives without every leaving New York City.  Why leave town for a vacation?

The Subway Sun was a long-running series of ads communicating important announcements and information on the subway.  You'll see more examples of the Sun in the next train, a 1950 IRT R-15 car.  Just keep an eye out for the splash of color approaching the station.  It's hard to miss that red car!

The interior layout is beginning to resemble the subway cars of today.  The linoleum floor shines under the fluorescent lighting, and it's worth noting the seats are still padded, though they're covered in plastic rather than velon or rattan.  Ceiling fans are gone, replaced by fans set into the ceiling.  And how about those porthole windows in the doors?

Before we head into the 1960's, let's check out a few more announcements on The Subway Sun.

I don't know about you, but I think The Subway Sun was onto something.  Courtesy really is contagious, and good manners truly are fruits of loyal and noble minds.  So I'll try to be as courteous as possible as I ask you to change trains one more time.  Please.  Thank you.  This time, it's a 1963 IRT R33-S car, a so-called "blue bird", painted in a unique powder blue and off-white color scheme. 

Inside, these cars are beginning to look very familiar.  Many of these cars were still running when I lived in New York in the 1980's.  And why not?  They would only have been twenty years old at that time!  One difference-- in those days, the train would have been covered in graffiti!  Thankfully, that part of the subway's history is over.  Today's trains are clean...and the air conditioning even works (another change from my New York days)!  As you can see in the picture below, by 1963 padded seats had become a thing of the past.  Here are the hard plastic seats we know today.

Many of the visitors to the 1964-1965 World's Fair arrived on these "blue birds".  The "World's Fair Express" made it from Times Square to Flushing Meadows Park in Queens in 20 minutes!  Oh, by the way, if you purchase anything at the A&P before going to the fair, please don't forget your plaid stamps.

Finally, won't you please take a moment and help select Miss Subway?  I don't want to sway the votes, but I'm going with Doris Lee, because she's forced to work at a packing plant while the others get to work in offices and on airplanes, and yet her smile reveals a cheery disposition rather than bitterness.

Thanks for riding with me and the girls.  You can probably tell that I think the New York subway is one of the marvels of the world.  I love it and will take the train over a bus any day!  Naturally, I have plenty of other great things to share from Open House New York Weekend, but I think it's time to get back to my original mission of exploring historic buildings I've known and loved.  Tomorrow, back to Florida!