Friday, October 7, 2011

Three Riverside Sisters

There is a story behind every building.  The most basic is who built it and why.  Stories about the largest and/or most architecturally significant buildings are recorded, remembered, and often celebrated.  Other buildings aren't so lucky.  Their stories are lost over time; properties change hands, family-connections are cut, conditions deteriorate.  Yet we find, in historic neighborhoods like Riverside, buildings with something very personal that reaches out to us, even if we do not know the details of their history: a name.  Here are three named buildings, three "sisters" in Riverside, that caught my eye:

Oak Villa, 2750 Oak Street, Jacksonville.  As I've shown in earlier posts, four-plex apartment buildings are an integral part of the Riverside streetscape.  They are found throughout the neighborhood, and, in the early part of the 20th century, represented an economical way to provide comfortable multi-family shelter without the anonymity of a larger building.  Oak Villa's facade is distinguished by its green tile roof and simple but handsome entry.  White stone set against the red brick surrounds the center window above the front door, the only window with any decoration. The keystone over the window points upward to the building's nameplate and the decorative shield that extends above the roofline:

There is very little decoration on the rest of the building, only an understated accent between the first-floor and second-floor windows, as seen below:

As with most four-plex and duplex apartment houses, parking for residents is in the rear of the building.  A driveway leads to the back:

Oak Villa is one of the many 1920's apartment buildings that provide continuity and scale to the Riverside streetscape.  They have a relationship to the sidewalk in this pedestrian-friendly neighborhood.

Here is another "named" building, another four-plex, the very symmetrical and sedate Martha:

Martha apartments, 2842 Park Street, Jacksonville.  As with most of the apartment houses from the 1920's, the apartments in the Martha feature fireplaces, as indicated by the chimneys.  This may be Florida, but it's north Florida near the St. Johns River and winter mornings can be chilly!

Here's a closer view of the building's entrance with the name "Martha" over the front door:

We're left to wonder...who was Martha?  The builder's sweetheart, wife, daughter, sister, mother?  All we know is that someone cared enough about Martha to name a building after her.  Martha, are you out there?

Finally, here's Celena:

Celena apartments, 2516-20 Oak Street, Jacksonville.  I wasn't going to take a picture of Celena, another four-plex.  She has seen better days, and there were so many other buildings, in better repair and more photogenic, that beckoned to me.  Yet, I could see what she had once been.  Look at the richness of the barrel tile roof and the inviting porches that extend out from the center entrance.  And, there's that name Celena, proudly displayed above the entrance:

As with Martha, I wondered: who was she?  Is Celena still with us?  And what would she say about her namesake's condition?  I think she would say this: Celena is still someone's home on Oak Street and can be restored to what she was.  Who out there might care for this apartment house?  Who might care as much as the original builder...who cared enough to give her a name?

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