Monday, November 14, 2011

Historic Memorial Park

The apartment buildings in my last two posts shared an attribute in common-- their proximity to Memorial Park.  The San Juline is located across Riverside Avenue from the park; the Napier Apartments are around a bend in the street, no more than a minute's walk away.  I thought it would be worthwhile to take a look at this historic park before moving on.

Memorial Park, 1600 block of Riverside Avenue, developed 1922-1924; landscape architects: Olmsted Brothers Company; supervising architects: Benjamin and Greeley.  This beautiful park on the St. Johns River began with a drive by the Rotary Club to build a memorial to Florida citizens who died in the World War.  The city purchased the property in 1919 for this purpose.  The Olmsted Brothers Company was commissioned to design the park.  Renowned St. Augustine sculptor C. Andrian Pillars created the park's centerpiece.

The bronze statue "Life" (or, sometimes, "Winged Victory") allegorically depicts the winged figure of youth rising victoriously above the "mad maelstrom of earthly passions" according to Jacksonville's Architectural Heritage.  Pillars also created Florida's two statues in the National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C.

The park on the St. Johns River quickly became the scenic focal point of Riverside.  The Olmsted Brothers, sons of famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, designed the park around a large central open space.  Bordering this is an oval promenade with shaded seating areas around the periphery.  Large southern live oak trees, draped in Spanish moss, provide the shade.

The dramatic backdrop for Memorial Park is the St. Johns River.  The river narrows here and, as it passes downtown Jacksonville, begins a series of twists and turns on its way to the Atlantic Ocean.  Six bridges cross the river between Memorial Park and the beach.  Although most rivers flow south, the St. Johns River, like the Nile, flows north.

Like most parks, this is a place for people to gather, especially around the memorial itself.  The Olmsted Brothers original design for the park called for a floating dock to allow access to the river behind the state of Life.  Supervising architect Roy Benjamin revised the design to omit the dock.

Another part of The Olmsted Brothers original design was completed this year...for the second time!  A pair of cast-stone eagles flanked the statue of Life until sometime in the 1930's.  Then, for reasons lost to history, the eagles were moved to Confederate Park in Springfield (where they are still located).  Now, they have been replaced in Memorial Park, and eagles once more stand guard before the memorial.  Jacksonville sculptor Diane La Fond created two bronze bald eagles which were installed in the park in April.  Each of these beautiful eagles weighs nine-hundred pounds. 

The eagles frame the statue of Life, which has become a Jacksonville symbol.  Indeed, the winged figure is used in the logo for Riverside-Avondale Preservation or RAP, whose signs can be seen on homes and buildings throughout the neighborhood.

This beautiful park on the St. Johns River is a major asset for the neighborhood and the city.  Happily for the residents of Riverside-Avondale, Memorial Park is one of many parks that are sprinkled through the historic district.

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