Throughout the years during my on-again, off-again relationship with Jacksonville I have heard several (and by “several” I mean all of them) family members and friends complain that the downtown area has nothing to offer and is (for lack of a better term) a “complete shithole”. Lately I’ve been wanting to go check it out for myself and see if these rumors were true or not. Sure, downtown is a spectacular sight at night; the bridge and buildings are all showing off in the dark with their lovely light displays while the St. John’s river lazily drifts north and reflects off of the moonlight. Anyone passing through town on 95 would easily assume that there is a lot to offer within those tall buildings and tantalizing views…buttt I’m not much of risk taker and decided that I wanted to give downtown a shot to dazzle me during the day (broad daylight to be exact).
I will say this: there are a LOT of homeless people downtown and they LOVE the library (who knew?). I wish I would’ve had my “real” camera with me because I could have gotten some amazing shots (from far away) of these lovely folks I saw lying around on park benches, congregating in alley ways smoking joints…ahem, cigarettes…together, or walking around talking to themselves about things that were tough to decipher from where I was standing. All of them looked like they had some fantastic stories to tell, but I was alone and not necessarily ready for such an…immersive introduction quite yet. So in lieu of making new friends, I decided to head into the library first. My my, what a beautiful sight. If anyone reading this ever needs ANY book that was EVER written by ANY author, you should probably check this place out. Three stories lined wall to wall with countless books and magazines…knowledge of the antiquated dewy decimal system will help no one in this place. Only a licensed and insured librarian would know where to find anything (is that a thing? Because if not, I just made it one). This library is a dream come true for someone needing specific information for a research paper when their professor won’t allow them to use online resources (aka, me). Okay okay, so I HAD to go to the library that day anyhow, but I figured it was a great opportunity to kill two birds with one stone:
After scoping out the place (specifically the Florida Room – if you ever visit, make sure to go up there, you won’t regret it) and checking out some books on Andy Warhol needed for the above-mentioned project, I decided to walk around Hemming Plaza. I must say, there is no city in Florida quite like Jacksonville – the architecture alone stands out and is paradise for those wanting to get away from the typical pink stucco and palm tree themed views we’ve all grown so accustomed to. Fun fact: According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, there are more buildings built before 1967 in Jacksonville than any other city in Florida (although most buildings do not predate the Great Fire of 1901 unfortunately). The only other place I’ve found somewhat comparable in terms of architecture worth noting is Ybor City in Tampa, which makes sense since that area is so rich in history as well. I also noticed a growing street art scene going on downtown although my phone died and I wasn’t able to grab as many pictures as I was hoping for:
All in all I’d say that downtown Jacksonville is rich in history and full of potential. Would I call it a “shithole”? Definitely not, although some parts are arguably seedier than others. I would urge the powers that be in Jax to focus on some sort of downtown revival if it’s not already happening. It’s definitely easy on the wanna-be-photographer’s eyes (me), but not a place I’d bring visiting friends or relatives to for a day of fun, as it has a ghost town vibe to it (not counting my homeless friends, they’re definitely out and about in full force) and there really doesn’t seem to be much going on which is disappointing. Maybe I’d bring visitors there for an hour…or 30 minutes…then we would likely hop on over to Riverside (or basically anywhere OTHER than Top Golf, let’s be honest).