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!

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