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Carnival on the Boardwalk

By Donald J. Mabry

Merry-go-rounds, Ferris wheels, roller coasters, hot dogs, salt water taffy, beer, games and more! The surf with the rollers coming in and lapping at your feet! Sand castles. Ocean bathing in the surf! Suntans and beach blankets. Come to the boardwalk!

People flocked to the shore for pleasure after the Civil War ended in 1865. The United States industrialized and urbanized and city workers wanted an inexpensive place to escape the rigors of work and the essential boredom of factory work. Go-getters met this demand by creating amusement parks, eateries, bars and beer joints, carnival games, and hotels in such places as Atlantic City (1880) and Palisades Amusement Park (1898) in New Jersey and Coney Island in New York. Coney Island influenced the creation of a smaller version on the shore of present-day Jacksonville, Florida. This essay, part of my historical series on the east coast of Duval County, Florida (see list below), studies the rise and fall of the carnival on the boardwalk of Jacksonville Beach, Florida. First, a tad of background about east coast amusement parks is useful.

In Brooklyn in the 1860s, businessmen began developing the huge amusement complex known as Coney Island. Coney grew rapidly in the 1880s, about the same time that Pablo Beach was founded. Being part of the giant metropolis, New York City, made the growth and prosperity of Coney Island easy for the resort had millions of potential customers.

Coney Island was considered the world's largest and premier amusement area during the first half of the 20th Century. It was a beach resort that provided carefree entertainment and thrilling amusement park rides to the millions of residents that lived in New York City. It featured three huge amusement parks; Luna Park, Steeplechase and Dreamland, and countless other attractions along the Bowery, Surf Avenue and its numerous side streets.

It would feature luxury hotels, restaurants, bars, sideshows, bars, games, a steel pier, bath houses, music, dancing, beauty contests, gambling and prostitutes. The carnival rides—Ferris wheel, roller coasters (the first was the Switch Back Railroad in 1884), carousels, and hundreds of other rides throughout its history. Its success as an entertainment venue was a direct result of the growth of the population of New York City through natural increase, immigration, and annexation, by the development of cheap transportation, especially the arrival of the subway in 1923 which brought the urban masses, and completion among the various businesses located there.[1]


Figure 1 Boardwalk Carnival ca. 1959 Source: Don Keller

Jacksonville Beach thrived as an entertainment and carnival-like amusement center for decades before becoming a bedroom community and part of the City of Jacksonville; the core of the entertainment district was the boardwalk, a strip of five blocks along the oceanfront where the city began in 1885. The boardwalk as an amusement venue evolved over time but then went into decline in the 1960s and became something quite different.

Nomenclature changed as people decided to call the settlement and its streets different names. In 1885, it was Ruby Beach, named after the daughter of William E. and Eleanor K. Scull; two years later the Jacksonville & Atlantic Railroad renamed it Pablo Beach after the river which separated this barrier island from the mainland to the west. In 1925, Pablo Beach officials decided to identify more closely with Jacksonville, hoping it cash in on its growth and rising fame. Then, on October 1, 1968, the City of Jacksonville Beach also became part of the City of Jacksonville when Duval County and the City of Jacksonville became one. This confusing political arrangement works but with problems.

Street names also changed. The founders named streets, of course, and then town officials named streets after themselves and after friends when Pablo Beach was incorporated in 1907. Putnam Avenue became Pablo Avenue. What is now Beach Boulevard was Duval Avenue, the Railroad Avenue, and then Mundy Drive. In 1937, in order to simplify navigation, north-south streets were numbered as in 1st Street North and 1st Street South. East-West roads became numbered avenues, north and south with the exception of Pablo Avenue and the future Beach Boulevard. Other named streets also exist but are not part of this story. To help the reader, both names will be given when necessary.

Fortunately, the Sanborn Map Company created schematic maps of Pablo Beach for 1903, 1909, 1917, and 1924 for fire insurance purposes. The University of Florida Digital Map Collection[2] serves up these maps at Sanborn maps for Florida but, unfortunately, uses a presentation system which does not allow one to download a full map. Thus, the essay often utilizes snippets. However, the 1903 map, drawn eighteen years after the community was founded is available. The full image is difficult to read but one can discern Leon Avenue (now 1st Avenue North), Putnam Avenue (now Pablo Avenue), Duval Avenue (now Beach Boulevard), the Ocean View Hotel at the edge of the beach, the dancing-skating octagonal pavilion (now a parking lot), and the train depot. The map also shows existing stores and cottages. The closer up map makes these details clearer. Photos and postcards help.

Figure 2 Pablo Beach, 1903 Source: Sanborn Fire Insurance Co.

Figure 3 Pablo Beach, 1903 Closer Source: Sanborn Fire Insurance Co.

Pablo Beach - Bird's eye view Figure 4 Postcard View Looking West Source: Andrew Bachman

Pablo Beach - Arrival of Train.JPG Figure 5 Pablo Beach Train Depot Source: Andrew Bachman


Pablo Beach and the other beach communities came into existence because the newly-formed Jacksonville & Atlantic Railroad Company laid tracks from South Jacksonville on the banks of the St. Johns River eastward almost to the ocean. To generate passenger traffic, the company sold lots in the little settlement of Ruby Beach (and then Pablo Beach) to whomever could afford summer houses and to the few permanent resident. Housing was also provided for railroad workers as well as the people who worked for others or sold things.

Wealthy people traveled to Jacksonville, arriving by railroad or steamship from more northerly climes to escape cold and sometimes inclement weather. Situated near the mouth of the north-flowing, very large St. Johns River, the county had over 26,000 people in 1890, not much by modern standards but, Florida was a frontier state and Jacksonville its metropolis. When tourists tired of the local delights, they could take passage up the St. Johns River to the center of the peninsula, enjoying the beautiful flora and fauna.

Entrepreneurs decided to extend the reach of this tourist industry by running a little train of the Jacksonville and Atlantic Railroad to the ocean east of Jacksonville. Wealthy people, they hoped, would build summer homes on the beach and day trippers would sustain railroad operations. After all, it would only be a forty-five minute trip, much less than a three-hour boat ride to Mayport.

In October, 1883, a contract was let to build the Jacksonville and Atlantic Railroad between South Jacksonville and Pablo Beach. There was ferry service across the St. Johns between Jacksonville and South Jacksonville. On November 12, 1884, even before the railroad was completed, lots were 34 lots sold at Ruby Beach (Jacksonville Beach) bringing the railroad company $7,514. In order to maximize profits, the lots were quite small, often 50 feet by 100 feet.[3] The railroad tracks were narrow, three-foot gauge and 35 pound rail. The roadbed and track were completed in December, 1884.

The railroad allowed people and goods to get to the ocean shore cheaply and quickly when cars and, later, trucks were rare or expensive. People in Jacksonville could and did establish summer residences. “Eagledune,” the L’Engle-Barnett house built in 1887 was one of a dozen houses scattered near the railroad terminal. Prominent Jacksonville men George Wilson, W. A. MacDuff, S. B. Hubbard, P. McQuaid, J. W. Shoemaker, and others had houses. Tom Cashen was one of the early residents of Pablo Beach but built a house on the oceanfront away from the others in what is now Neptune Beach. General Francis Spinner, former U.S. Treasurer, lived at Pablo Beach in a tent for about two years—1885-87—because he said it was good for his health. Spinner was the father-in-law of Shoemaker, the first cashier of the First National Bank of Florida. By 1895, Jacksonville residents had seventy summer cottages there.[4]

The little railroad became more important when Henry M. Flagler bought the Jacksonville and Atlantic Railway Company in 1899 and changed the narrow gauge, light rail track to standard gauge track with 60-pound rails, thus making it compatible to the railroads in the country. In other words, he made the railroad to Pablo Beach part of the FEC system and the national train network. He extended the line to Mayport in 1900, and built a railroad bridge across the St. Johns River between Jacksonville and South Jacksonville. Moreover, he built a luxury hotel, the Continental, in Atlantic Beach, opening up that part of the beaches at the turn of the century.

Without adequate transportation the Jacksonville beaches would have remained sand barrens on a barrier island. People from Jacksonville first had to cross the mighty St. Johns River by ferry until the bridge was completed in 1921 to South Jacksonville and then sixteen miles across creeks and swamps until they reached the ocean. Travel on foot or by a wagon pulled by horse or mule were possible but not probable. They came and went by train. It chugged along several times a day carrying passengers and freight to and from the big city. Its right of way approached within walking distance of the oceanfront before turning north (at what became Second Street North) on its way to Atlantic Beach and then Mayport. Most of the passenger traffic occurred in the summer, of course, carrying people to enjoy sun, surf, eats, drink, and the fun and games of the boardwalk.


Burnside Beach was its potential rival. Located near Mayport on the south bank of the St. Johns River at its easternmost point where the river met the Atlantic Ocean, Burnside could be reached by sea, river, and railroad. Mayport was an established and important settlement east of Jacksonville. The arrival of two railroads, the Jacksonville & Atlantic, and, in May, 1888, the short-lived Jacksonville, Mayport, and Pablo Railway and Navigation Company (JMP), seemed to promise a bright future for the little resort. Nearby Mayport was a thriving settlement with a fine port. Prior to the railroads, it was a three-hour boat trip to Mayport, limiting the number of tourists; the railroads reduced the time and should have brought more people to Burnside.

Bad luck, undercapitalization, and competition made Burnside only a stop on its way to and from Mayport on the route of the Florida East Coast train. The JMP developed a bad reputation almost immediately when it got bogged in sand and passengers had to alight and push. It became known as the Jump, Man, and Push, a sobriquet that it never lived down. Arlington, its western terminus, was very small with bad connections across the river to Jacksonville. Alexander Wallace, its founder, died in 1889; the JMP went bankrupt. In March, 1892 , the JMP was bought out and its terminus moved from Arlington to South Jacksonville, but its financial troubles continued. There was not enough traffic for two railroads to Mayport and it could not compete with the Jacksonville and Atlantic Railroad. The hotels, the San Diego Hotel, the pre-Civil War Burnside House, and the new 4-story Palmetto Hotel were destroyed by fire in 1889 as was the beach pavilion. Pablo Beach surged ahead with the backing of the Jacksonville and Atlantic railroad and the Florida East Coast Railway after Henry M. Flagler bought the J&A in 1899, modernized it, built a railroad bridge across the St. Johns river to connect Jacksonville and South Jacksonville, and built dock facilities at Mayport where he imported coal for his trains. Worse, for Burnside and Mayport, he established Atlantic Beach a few miles south and built the luxury Continental Hotel there to cater to the wealthy.

Although a paved highway was built from the City of South Jacksonville to Atlantic Beach in 1910, very few people had automobiles. Henry Ford figured out how to mass produce them and pay his workers enough so they could afford to buy them. In 1910, there were only 468,500 registered cars in the United States for a population of 91,972,266 people or half of one percent of the population. By 1940, the population had risen 131,954,000, the number 27,465,000 or about 21% of the population owned a car. By 1950, 52% of families owned a car but only 7% owned two or more. By 1960, 62% did with 15% owning two or more cars [5] The new highway to the beach made getting there easier but few people owned cars over a decade later. The little railroad sped people to the beaches in forty-five minutes but the mass production of automobiles in the 1920s and their use in the Jacksonville area doomed the FEC railroad beach branch. The company abandoned it in 1932 during the Great Depression. So the railroad was the key to development in the pre-automobile age but it had to generate settlement and traffic.


The Jacksonville and Atlantic Railroad company built a pavilion at the beach to attract passengers to the beach. The pavilion had a 64’ by 105’ floor for dancing and roller skating. The contract with James F. Woodworth called for the construction to be completed by October 1, 1885 for $3,980 but work was delayed by heavy rains and difficulty in getting materials to the site in a timely fashion. Railroaders were partly to blame but so were suppliers. The workers were paid $1.25 a day, a decent wage when working men earned $400 a year on average. The pavilion was finished November 18th, much later than the contract had specified and the contractor tried to collect extra money because he asserted that the J&A had caused the delays by untimely delivery of materials which cost him more in labor.[6]

The luxurious Murray Hall Hotel was occupied even before it opened in 1887. During July 5-10, 1885 it was used for the encampment of state troops, not long enough to make a difference. The hotel cost $150,000 and had 192 rooms or a 350-guest capacity. Steam heated the hotel but it also had 58 open fireplaces, a danger in a wooden building in a settlement without fire protection. The Hotel generated electricity for itself and the rest of Pablo Beach. Its artesian well supplied the city until 1918. For entertainment, it had a children’s playroom, a billiard room, bar, and an orchestra for its ballroom. John G. Christopher , a powerhouse Jacksonville businessman who had pioneered electrical generating plants in Florida and brought the telephone to Jacksonville, dreamed of attracting the wealthy in both summer and winter. One could telephone Jacksonville from the hotel.

Nevertheless, the hotel was a financial disaster. Christopher hired C. H. French to manage it; the he and his wife managed it in 1887 and 1888 before again hiring someone to try to figure out how to make it profitable.

Figure 6 Murray Hall Hotel, 1988 Source:


Quickly, people and their buildings clustered around this magnificent structure. In 1887, a directory asserted that Pablo Beach had one thousand people but listed only 145 persons. Of these, thirty-three (22.8%) were identified as African American. The directory lists one baker, two butlers, a bookkeeper, twenty-nine carpenters, three chambermaids, two chief cooks, two second cooks, two cooks, three clerks, a dairyman, fourteen domestics, a drayman for a vegetable and poultry dealer, a druggist, two grocers who worked at the James E. Dickerson grocery and dry goods store, a headwaiter, five hostlers, two janitors , a laborer, three laundresses, two livery stable employees, two managers, a nurse, two painters, five porters, a real estate agent, a railroad section foreman, a servant, a storekeeper, a railroad superintendent, and three waiters. The “highest ranking” member of the tiny community was James M. Schumacher, President of the Jacksonville & Atlantic Railroad and the First National Bank, but, surely, he resided in Jacksonville and only had a cottage in Pablo. Eight people, at least, either worked for the railroad or its bathhouse. Spinner was not listed in the directory. There were owners—R. M. Call of Call & Jones, lawyers in Jacksonville, John G. Christopher of the Murray Hall Hotel, John Clark of John Clark & Son who was a wholesale and retail grocer as well as a dealer in soap, coal, champagne, and hotel supplies, W. N. Emery of the Hotel Pablo, Samuel B. Hubbard of the S. B. Hubbard & Company, President of the American Illuminating Company, VP of Jacksonville & Atlantic Railroad, president of the Citizen Gas Light Company, and other businesses; Thomas McMurray of McMurray livery stable, and Mrs. Jane R. Mahoney of the Atlantic Restaurant. Patrick McQuaid was mayor of Jacksonville and an agent of a firm which sold manure and grains. Two were two lawyers (one was a notary public; one was John M. Barrs, Secretary of the Jacksonville & Atlantic Railroad and law partner of Duncan U. Fletcher, who would be mayor of Jacksonville, a U.S. Senator, and the namesake of the Beaches high school in 1937. Most were workers, however, people living in Pablo Beach to provide services to the wealthy and to visitors. Most resided there throughout the year since they could ill afford to own two homes or to commute. How many resided there year round is not known. The name listed might represent a single individual (except when identified as Miss) or a family. Richard’s says the population was one thousand, unlikely unless he counted summer population from cottagers and tourists.[7] The U.S. census in 1890 counted 282 people, 257 in the town.

The Murray Hall and surrounding buildings burned to the ground as a result of a boiler room fire on August 7th, 1890. Reports attest to the spectacular sight as the middle of the night fire lit up the sky; the blaze could be seen for miles. As Dwight Wilson says:
“The building created a fire storm, and the Ocean View Hotel, a block away, was almost destroyed. Pryor’s Grocery burned. The railroad station, the pavilion, the two pagodas, the sheds, some homes, the wooden bulkhead and a box car were all destroyed. Sheet metal from the roof fell 600 feet from the fire. Railroad rails for a hundred feet twisted and curled.”
John S. Christopher and wife lost $225,000 less the $4,000 insurance but Mrs. Christopher was relieved that the financial albatross died. The railroad company lost its pavilion and terminal but fared better, losing only $500 after its $5,500 insurance policy was paid. The lessee, J. W. Campbell, owner of the St James Hotel in Jacksonville, lost little. [8]

Besides the Murray Hall, there was the Hotel Pablo on what is now 2nd Avenue South and 2nd South (then Orange Street). The hotel was close to the ocean. It was more modest but did a substantial business until it was consumed by fire.

Figure 7 Hotel Pablo Source: BAHS


Summer residents and day trippers shared Pablo Beach with other visitors. The Florida State Troops camped at Pablo Beach in 1886 in the troop’s first encampment. “The summer encampments, each only an average of five to nine days long, in addition to greatly increased federal aid, seem to be responsible for the rapid improvement in the proficiency and skill of Florida’s State Troops after 1891.”[9]

Lady Howard gushes about the charms of Pablo Beach when she stopped there on her North American tour in the late 1890s. Her comments deserve quotation at length.

After hurriedly breakfasting at a restaurant, G. went on by train to St. Augustine, whilst I hurried down to the ferry-boat across the wide Matanzas river—starting on its further side at once, by the Jacksonville and Atlantic railroad, to Pablo Beach—one of the most charming seaside nooks I know. The train runs across the island, through seventeen miles of the sunniest and most delightful forest of tall pines, with a luxuriant undergrowth of palmetto and wild fruit trees, cleared at rare intervals for plantations of orange, lemon, fig, and pomegranate— 'wild roses and flowering creepers abounding.
Within a mile or two of the sea the forest has been cleared, but the dense and brilliantly-green mass of palmetto still decks the open space, though which the train runs to the very edge of the moderate cliff overhanging the sparkling blue Atlantic ocean, with magnificent sands, ideal for bathing, stretching away to right and left into far distance.
These sands are delightful for walking, riding, or driving—the heaviest wagon makes no mark—and many are the delicate and lovely shells to be found. The cliffs are of richly-coloured yellow, pink, and red sandstone, crowned with the vividly-green palmetto.
I thought it an enchanting spot—at any rate for one day—and more than one day it is, at present, impossible to spend there ; for no sooner rises, with American quickness, a fine hotel, then comes the incendiary and burns it down. Two hotels which I was told were worthy to compare with the best had been burnt, one after another, within the previous year; and so surely does this happen, not only here but in many other resorts, that the insurance companies, in places where for some reason new hotels seem not to be desired, decline any longer to effect insurance, the fire-doom being next to a certainty.
Many of the well-to-do of Jacksonville have charming villas here, built (as is often the case in America) several feet above the ground, resting on short square pillars of brick or stone, the air circulating freely beneath—a good way of keeping houses dry.
The villas themselves are mostly of wood with wide verandas covered with gay creepers and plants in pots, roses twining round the supporting pillars. These flowery verandas are all over Florida the great ornament of the houses, and are furnished with comfortable rocking-chairs, much used by the dwellers.
I spent a long delightful day here wandering about revelling in sunshine,, and had an excellent tea at a charming little cottage, one mass of creepers and flowers, close to the sea, to which day visitors were directed; after which, late in the afternoon, the train returned to the ferry, where I wandered about for some time amidst charming villas and gardens and orange groves of great size, grand pines and giant cypresses with their drapery of Spanish moss, before re-crossing the ferry into Jacksonville ; whence at 8 p.m. I started by train for St. Augustine, arriving at 10 p.m., and joined G. at the Cordoba Hotel, in the grand plaza, which is beautifully laid out with lawns, fountains, and palms, orange and lemon trees, and beds of dazzling flowers; one whole side occupied by the huge and magnificent hotel " Ponce de Leon," and another by the almost equally splendid " Alcazar"— neither of these yet open for the winter—and other fine buildings and villas embowered in flowers and gardens. In short, nothing of its kind could be finer or more gay.[10]

The hotels she mentions were the Murray Hall and the Pablo.

J. M. Hawks, a medical doctor, visited the area in 1887 and found seventy-five “good-sized buildings and several hotels.” The railroad would make this a good summer report, he opined, but he found Mayport, much of it sitting on dunes, to be a popular watering place with almost one hundred cottages owned by Jacksonville businessmen for summer use.[11]

The 1888 Yellow Fever epidemic in Jacksonville helped Pablo Beach because it had no cases originate there. Swamps had been drained and the breezes helped reduce the mosquito population. Railroad traffic from South Jacksonville was closely monitored so as to prevent the spread of the dreaded disease. Roads were improved. The community developed a reputation as a healthy place to live.


By 1896, the Murray Hall was replaced by the Ocean View Hotel. It occupied the same spot as the Murray Hall at the foot of Putnam Avenue [Pablo Avenue]. It had an adjoining public bath house to serve clients from elsewhere who needed to rent a bathing suit and a place to change clothes. This wood frame structure was the very popular anchor of the boardwalk. W. H. Adams, Sr. acquired it in 1903 and added a billiard room, bowling alley, shooting gallery, and a drug store. Both the water system and the telephone exchange operated from its premises. Until it burned in 1926, taking much of downtown and parts of the boardwalk with it, most images of the boardwalk included it.[12] Soon, Adams replaced it with the Ocean View Pavilion amusement area; the roller coaster would be built there.


Figure 8 Ocean View Hotel Source: Jacksonville Public Library

Figure 9 Front Verandah Source: Laurie Adams Crowson

Figure 10 Beach and Ocean View Hotel Source: Laurie Adams Crowson
Figure 11 Pablo Avenue, Walkway, Pavilion Source: Florida Memory

The Pavilion on the right was built in 1905. A decade later it would become the core of Little Coney Island, a huge amusement park covering almost an entire city black.. The two bath houses are connected to the pavilion. In the photo, the ocean is in the background while the Pablo Beach business district is on the left. The Ocean View Hotel is in the distant background, the last structure on the left. The walkway pralleling Putnam (Pablo) Avenue) ran from Boulevard (First StreetNorth) to the beach sand. The photograph was taken about 1909.


Figure 12 Little Coney Island and Ocean View Hotel Source: BAHS


Before Pablo Beach became a serious amusement locale, the United States Army used it for a few months in 1898. The Army sent troops to camp at the beach and established a convalescent Army hospital on August 2, 1898.. The Red Cross had to supply furniture, bed linens, medicines, and other items to this hospital because the Army was ill-prepared.[13] The photo below shows tents west of the Pavilion, its bathhouses, and the Ocean View Hotel. The Third Nebraska Regiment was led by Colonel William Jennings Bryan (the Democratic Party candidate for President in 1896, 1900, and 1908). Bryan was sent to Pablo Beach so he couldn’t participate in the war.

The 2nd New Jersey was encamped there, some of its members were sick.[14] One died in the surf. Most of the troops never saw action in Cuba. They had been sent to Pablo Beach and Jacksonville to become acclimated to a hot, humid climate or because they had fallen ill. The Second Virginia Volunteers found a long rattlesnake with 17 buttons, indicating that the wild was very close to the beach. They had little to do.


Figure 13 The 2nd Virginia Volunteers Source: Florida Memory

“On September 9 the men were ordered from Panama Park [in Jacksonville] to Pablo Beach. It was a welcome change because it was the location of a small summer resort. The 3rd Nebraska now pitched its tents near one of the best beaches in the country. Of course it proved too good to be true, and the resort atmosphere came to an abrupt end when Pablo Beach was graced with the worst storms of the year. Tents were blown away and a nearby creek [Bontall Creek] swelled to river proportions with a river-sized current to match. In this disaster Lieutenant Ohlheiser was noted for his cool head as he calmly led the men out of the waist-deep water to town without a single soldier lost.”[15]

Figure 14 Ocean View Hotel and the Pavilion Source: Florida Memory
Figure 15 2nd Regiment Illinois Volunteer Infantry Source: H. W. Bolton


Figure 16 Drilling on Pablo Beach Source: Florida Memory

Residents liked having the Army spending money and providing some excitement to an otherwise humdrum life by the shore. They lobbied the War Department to extend the stay of the troops and succeeded.[16] This valuable lesson of being at least partially dependent on U.S. taxpayer money in the form of the military was learned; they would follow this precedent several times until the area became one of the major US military establishments in the country. Units present included the 2nd Virginia, 3rd Nebraska, 2nd New Jersey, and the 49th Iowa, a cross-section of the United States. The camp closed by November 15th, 1898.


By the end of 1898, a wooden walkway (boardwalk) would be built from the end of Putnam (Pablo) Avenue to the beach. The photo taken in 1909 or 1910 shows the wooden walkway to the beach with the Dance Pavilion and bath houses on the right (south). The street is Putnam (Pablo; at the end is the Ocean View hotel.

The dunes or hummocks so characteristic of the area disappeared as men flattened them to erect buildings and ease access to the beach and ocean. Some businesses, such as the Ocean View Hotel, provided a walkway so its guests could sit and watch the seaside sights or walk along. Not many years passed until a boardwalk was built in front of oceanfront businesses. By the 1920s, not only was there a boardwalk but also wooden platforms that hosted rides in some places.


Figure 17 Beach scene with boardwalk, 1920s. Source: Coveman

Figure 18 Pablo Beach Restaurant, 1910 Source: Mabry Archive

Some of the entertainment in the little resort village was clandestine; prostitution existed in Pablo Beach near the boardwalk as early as 1904 when Cora Crane ran a brothel. Ralph Emery of The Jacksonville Story[17] Web site told the following story:

bathers in water at pablo
Yesteryear's beachgoers didn't show much skin at Pablo Beach (Jacksonville Beach). This postcard dates from around 1910. The people in it evinced a modesty that probably wasn't present in Palmetto Lodge, an oceanfront bordello. The Lodge functioned as the Pablo branch of the Court, Cora Crane's house of ill repute in Jacksonville. The proprietress built the surfside brothel in August 1905, and it stayed in business for three years. Patrons partook of its offerings within a roomy, two-story frame house with wide screened porches. Cora split her time between an apartment at the Court and one at the branch. She eventually died at the Lodge.
When on the beach in public, Cora dressed like many of the other women in long black stockings and skirts below the knees. In fact, she displayed even less skin. The madam kept each arm covered with a scarf tied around it, and she donned a wide shade hat secured under her chin by an elastic band.
The jetties proved a favorite haunt for Cora while surfside. With a small group of her ladies and their young boyfriends, she would picnic and fish for crab, leaving only when the sun sank low in the sky.
Palmetto Lodge sold its services to the more adventurous beachgoers. When lightning struck the building on July 20, 1907, no doubt some local residents saw it as the hand of a vengeful God. Just two months before at Mayport, Cora's husband Hammond McNeil had killed a teenager he suspected of being his wife's lover. And, of course, the unsavory activity at the Lodge inflamed conservative townsfolk. Here's how the Florida Times-Union described the zapping of Cora's establishment:
"STRUCK BY LIGHTNING -- House at Pablo Beach Badly Damaged Yesterday; Roof, Walls and Ceilings Demolished; Young Woman Stunned. ~
Passengers arriving from Pablo Beach last night reported that a house was struck by lightning at that place during a severe thunderstorm yesterday afternoon, and was badly damaged.
Those reporting the occurrence said that the house belonged to Cora Taylor of this city and that it is a large, two-story house situated north of the Ocean View Hotel.
Lightning struck the roof of the house, tearing away a large portion of the roof and two corners of the building; (it) tore out the ceiling and demolished a large portion of the furniture.
One young woman, whose name was not given, was reported to have been badly stunned but was restored to consciousness by Dr. Jackson and Dr. Denton (spelling?), who were called to attend her, and was reported as getting along very well at the time the train left the beach.
So far as known, no other damage was done by the lightning at the beach."

Cora Crane Taylor died September 4, 1910, the Sunday before Labor Day, at age 46. A generous person, she had overexerted herself by helping push a car out of the beach sand. One doubts that prostitution ended with her death but records about it do not exist.

The village grew into a town and was incorporated as such in 1907. It was much smaller than it would be in 1925 when it became Jacksonville Beach. It did not include what would become Neptune Beach in 1931. Pablo had reached 326 residents in 1900 according to the US Census Bureau; by 1910, it only had 249 in the incorporated area but there were a few hundred more scattered neat the two limits. Even by 1925, the Florida State Census only showed 744 inhabitants. Bounded on the east by the ocean, it stretched west to 10th Street, to the north to Wakulla Avenue [15th Avenue North] and south to Hillsboro Avenue [15th Avenue South]. In fact, settlement was confined to a few blocks near the Ocean View Hotel. African Americans, however, tended to live southwest of the railroad station in an area which became known as “The Hill.” African Americans could only use Manhattan Beach, miles north near the mouth of the St. Johns and now encapsulated by Kathryn Abby Hanna Park. They did not work in the family-owned businesses on the boardwalk. If they did, they were invisible.[18]

 Pablo Beach - the Depot railroad
Figure 19 Looking East Source: Andrew Bachman

Pablo entered the automobile age, so to speak, when a paved road was completed in 1910 from South Jacksonville to the intersection of Atlantic Beach and the Neptune section of Pablo Beach at the oceanfront. Today’s Atlantic Boulevard was a marvel at a time when Florida enjoyed few paved roads. One still had to drive a few miles south to downtown Pablo but one could drive there on the beach when the tide was right. The hard-packed sand was suitable for automobile racing at low tide when the beach was 600 feet wide. Racing on the beach started in 1906 and continued through 1911. The five-mile course from Atlantic Beach to Pablo Beach saw a new world record established in August, 1911when an “E-M-F 30” ran the course in 4.20 minutes beating a Chevrolet which had held the previous record at 4.27.[19]


Playing in the ocean was one of the chief draws of the resort and on which the boardwalk depended but poor or careless swimmers could get in trouble from the pounding waves or riptides. By 1912, a Volunteer Life Savings Corps was organized. The following incident and its legal ramifications made the existence of a corps more imperative.

The drowning of a young nurse in the summer of 1912 prompted Clarence McDonald, then supervisor of public recreation for Jacksonville, and Lyman Haskell, a lifesaving teacher from the YMCA, to quickly recruit, train and organize young men to volunteer their time to guard swimmers at the increasingly popular Pablo Beach.[20]

W. H. Adams, owner of the Ocean View, was sued for $50,000 by the estate of Mary E. Proctor, who had rented a bathing suit, changed in his bathhouse, and drowned in the ocean on July 7th, 1912. The court ruled that Adams did not own the Atlantic Ocean and, thus, was not liable.[21] Tourists, who often did not understand the vagaries of the sea, needed help. Death by downing discouraged visitors. In April, 1913, the town of Pablo Beach gave the corps the building shown below. A year later the American Red Cross absorbed the Volunteer Corps as part of its Water Safety Program. It still exists. The Life Guards began using the now-famous Walters’ Torpedo buoy in 1919 which made it easier and safer to rescue distressed swimmers.[22]

1920 Torpedo Buoy 5 200.jpg
Figure 20 H. W. Walters Source: Popular Mechanics
1913 Corps @ Pablo Bch

Figure 21 Life Saving Corps, 1913 Source: Pablo Improvement Co.

The American Red Cross Volunteer Life Saving Corps station was a concrete, visible reminder that visitors to the beach would be protected. Over the years, different stations were built to meet the needs of the corps but always in the same spot. The current station, built in 1946, is a much photographed beach icon. The Corps, of course, only protected surf bathers once they hit the water.

Figure 22 Life Guard Station, 1989 Photo: Don Mabry


Prosperity for Pablo Beach depended on enticing people to come to Pablo Beach and spend so Beach entrepreneurs mimicked what they saw in New York. Pablo Beach businessmen had built hotels, bath houses, beer halls, shooting galleries, and the like. In 1916, the Pablo Development and Power Company started adding on to the Pavilion to create Little Coney Island. Situated on the southwest corner of Pablo Avenue and First Street with a wooden walkway to the beach, it was the area’s first amusement park. Unfortunately, records of the enterprise are scarce but we do know the following.

An Englishman, Charles Henry Mann who moved to Jacksonville in 1883 was the president of the Pablo Development and Power Company. In1892 at age sixteen, he began a hide and skin business, the Southern Hide and Skin Company, and eventually the American Oak and Leather Training Company. In addition, by 1909, he was vice-president of Citizens Bank and vice-president of Welaka Mineral Water Company which was incorporated on November 15, 1907. D. E. Fletcher[23] was president and H.C.D. Williams was secretary. The mineral water company attracted people to its “healing mineral waters” upstream from Jacksonville on the St. Johns River. Governor Napoleon Broward appointed him to the town council of Pablo Beach when it was incorporated in 1907. Mann bought a lot of real estate between 1892 and-1909. A Pablo Beach street was named for him [24]

Figure 23 Charles Henry Mann Source: Makers of America

Little Coney Island was a large amusement park, a destination for tourists. The Sanborn Fire Insurance Company map for 1917 shows Little Coney Island with a bowling alley, a dance floor, a pool room, concession stands, stores, and a roller skating rink.[25] The 1924 map of the area around Little Coney Island shows the Life Guard Station across the street and on the shore, a Pavilion at the eastern terminus of what is now Beach Boulevard, the Ocean View Hotel in the upper right hand corner, and City Hall and the Fire Department on 2nd Street North. Photographs from the 1920s show its existence along with the development of the boardwalk proper.


Figure 24 Little Coney Island, 1919 Source: Sanborn Fire Insurance Co.


Figure 25 Little Coney Island Source: Sanborn Fire Insurance Co.


Figure 26 Postcard of Pavilion Source: Jacksonville Public Library

Little Coney Island, massive as it was, aged badly, being wooden and buffeted by the constant winds of the ocean. The Beach News & Advertiser reported on January 26, 1924 that it had been condemned. Razing the building was a protracted affair with a contract let at the end of March, and being torn down in January, 1925.[26]


A new entertainment venue but along the oceanfront was built. By May, 1925, the call for a boardwalk was made and plans drawn by late September. The City Council balked against recommendations for the boardwalk and bulkhead the following March b, by April, 1927, the boardwalk was built on one level and was straight.[27]

Before the boardwalk was a strip along the beach edge, Mary E. Perkins built a bath house and boarding house in 1907. That she operated in a male-dominated society never stopped her. Born in Wisconsin in 1856, she came to Florida in 1880 with her husband, L. S. Birks. After he died in 1883, she opened a boarding house in Jacksonville to earn an income. She established her Pablo Beach business in Pablo Beach in 1907. Before she died on November 19, 1933, she had yielded control of the Perkins Bath House and Hotel to her daughter Anna Perkins Pursel in 1931. Perkins started with a two story house facing the ocean where one could get room and board. Her success meant expanding the business until it was quite large by 1924. It consisted of three separate buildings connected by walkways. It was destroyed by the 1933 boardwalk fire.

Figure 27 Mary E. Perkins Source: John “Wimpy” Sutton


Figure 28 Perkins Boarding and Bathhouse Source: John “Wimpy” Sutton

l 24perkins-p1-1
  Figure 29 Perkins, 1924 Source: Sanborn Fire Insurance Co.

Figure 30 Beauty Pageant, 1920s. Source: Florida Memory

Undaunted, Perkins built a new hotel and more bathhouses. As her great grandson, John “Wimpy” Sutton, tells the story:

It was to face on the new concrete boardwalk built by the Works Progress Administration. Below the hotel, there was space for a restaurant and other forms of entertainment and, in front of the bath houses, there were other concessions such as Joe’s Pee Wee Bar and the shooting gallery. This very popular area on the oceanfront, between First and Second Avenues North, would remain part of our family until 1945.[28]

The hotel and bath house were sold to Pete Dickinson, who owned a large building with his hardware store across the street; his son Maxwell still owned it in 2009 but had closed the hotel when national chains better met consumer tastes.

Hotels - Perkins double view   Figure 31 Double View, Perkins Source: Andrew Bachman

Tourists went to Pablo Beach mostly to enjoy the ocean and its breezes and each other’s company. House parties were fun for the younger set. Unlike today, their dress at the beach was similar to what they would wear in town. Even on the beach getting a suntan was not in the fashion. These 1917 photos show one house party as well as its mode of transportation to Pablo Beach. Even though they were on the sand by the sea, they covered their bodies. The party may have been in the Hotel Pablo. The porch seems to be the hotel porch. Even in the 1920s, swim suits were very modest.

Figure 32 House Party, 1917 Source: Mabry Archive

Figure 33 Leaving the house party Source: Mabry Archive

Figure 34 Lawrence Gayle and Anna Grant , 1922 Source: Coveman

World War I intervened briefly in 1917-1919 and then the “Spanish” Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919. Twenty-eight men, three of whom were African American, out of 357 people at Pablo Beach served. This represented about 40% of the adult male population. More than this, the number of tourists declined during the war because of disruption and also because prices rose rapidly when the US government began spending lots of money. Jacksonville and Florida in general, suffered from the ‘Spanish influenza” with thousands contracting the virus and hundreds dying from it. “In the fall of 1918, an Ocala, FL man, Mr. Olson, traveled to Jacksonville, FL for a carpentry job. Jacksonville was inundated with the flu at the time, and despite a citywide quarantine and the use of gauze masks, Olson contracted the flu.” [29] Travel from other states declined as well. Prices shot up 17.4% in 1917, 18% in 1918, and 14.6% in 1919 until prices precipitately dropping 10.5% in 1920.[30]

Pablo Beach gained national fame when military pilots used the hard-packed sand as an ideal runway for airplanes, a new phenomenon in the world, as they experimented with transcontinental flights. On December 22, 1918, Major Albert D. Smith and three other Army aviators landed on Pablo Beach in Curtiss JN-4 biplanes. It had taken 18 days from San Diego. Then, on February 24, 1921, Lt. William Devote Coney landed at Pablo Beach after making a flight from San Diego, California in 22 hours, 17 minutes. His return trip began March 25, but he crashed and died near Cornville, Louisiana. That same year, Lt James Doolittle left the Neptune Beach portion of Pablo Beach on a transcontinental flight to San Diego in 21 hours and 18 minutes.[31]

The first half of the 1920s was an exciting time for Pablo Beach. Getting to the beaches became easier on July 1, 1921, when the Jacksonville-St. Johns Bridge (Acosta Bridge) was opened. Automobiles, trucks, busses, and pedestrians could cross the St. Johns River without using a ferry or a train. In 1922, the Town of Pablo Beach became the City of Pablo Beach. Residents of the Neptune area in the north considered seceding, however, for they were separated by several miles of sand dunes of Pablo Beach but bordered Atlantic Beach which was on the other side of Atlantic Boulevard.

Pablo Beach became more modern. The Duval County school board built a new grammar school for whites in 1924, a school that building served the community for decades. The Pablo city government started building a new city hall which was completed in 1926.[32] In 1922 and after, the beaches communities made a big push to increase tourism. To encourage this ”industry without chimneys,” they paved the road between Neptune and Jacksonville Beaches, built seawalls or bulkheads, and installed street lights to illuminate areas near the strand. They bridged Bontall Creek in south Jacksonville Beach. They persuaded the Seminole Auto Bus Company to provide daily service from Jacksonville to Pablo Beach via Atlantic Boulevard. On March 14, 1923, Pablo Beach joined the Jacksonville electricity grid.[33] When the amusement-bathhouse-room rental part was built, the boardwalk, it was higher than the sand and ocean so steps had to be built to allow people to move between the two. The reflective properties of the beach sand meant artificial shade was desirable and accomplished by palm frond or other material umbrellas on the beach. Because of cars on the beach, sunbathers had to be protected by posts.

A swim suit competition was staged at the Pablo Beach pavilion on June 6, 1924. The American Legion Post # 9 sponsored the Delegation of Mermaids at the Revue of Modes and there were twenty-five women contestants who were said to be modeling swimsuits. Pathe News was to film the event. The suits were borrowed from the Mack Sennet film studio. Pablo Beach mayor Joe Bussey proclaimed the day “American Legion Day” and perhaps 7,000 came. A local woman, Mary Gonzalez, won.

Some beach residents fought the post WWI trends, believing them immoral. It was the age of alcohol prohibition, 1919-1933) so the law was on their side but this was the beach where such niceties were often not observed when family income was at stake. The late Bill Foley told the wonderful story of the city government banning shimmying, dancing cheek-to-cheek, possessing or drinking liquor, or women wearing anything other than a two piece swim suit with a skirt at least 12 inches long. The police intended to enforce these laws to save the youth! The 1924 Charter and Ordinances of the City of Pablo Beach specified a number of offences against public order which intended to punish such as prostitution, discharging firearms, gambling, shimmy or cheek to cheek dancing, or being homeless.[34]

Horrors abounded in 1922 when Coronel A.R. Stroup of the U. S. government and Duval County Sheriff R.E. Merritt and state officials were determined to keep Pablo Beach “dry” over Labor Day. That September 4th, they wanted law-abiding citizens to meet them at the Ocean View Hotel at 10 AM to organize to prevent the consumption of booze. Working people from Jacksonville planned to celebrate their holiday at the beach with picnics, games, playing in the surf, and drinking.On Shad's pier the ladies of labor were opening a week's carnival of wholesome activity, such as a country store and fortune-telling and raffles and bake sales and other diversions.” After a nice, “dry” day of family fun, the authorities would clear the beach for several miles north of the pier so James E. Doolittle could try again to make the first cross-country flight. He did.[35]

Besides booze, marathon dancing on Shad’s pier in 1923 flummoxed city officials. Jimmy Trotter, a band leader, ran the pier and he decided to stage a marathon dance, promising a thousand dollars in prizes . The last couple dancing split $400. There was another marathon dance on the Ortega pier in Jacksonville but no money was involved. Provisions were made to take care of the dancers as well as the crowds which watched. In Pablo, the druggist “Doc“ Russell was on hand and he could call upon the American Red Cross Volunteer Life Saving Corps if need be. In both cases, the dancing would inevitably slide over into Sunday, a sin according some religious types and they demanded that government enforce their religious beliefs. Sheriff Ham Dowling stopped the Ortega marathon at midnight; Mayor Joe Bussey did in Pablo. Trotter handed out the prize money on Monday with Herbert Sachs and Patricia Williams taking the big money for their 100 hours of dancing. [36]

The Ku Klux Klan infected Pablo Beach in the 1920s, threatening anyone who ignored Klan moralism and small town-rural Protestant values. This terrorist organization entered Florida on December 22, 1922 through Jacksonville with its largest Klavern the Stonewall Jackson No. 1 of Jacksonville and it “joined other Jacksonville civic groups to protect city beaches from commercial exploitation.[37] Since Pablo Beach consisted of small family-owned businesses, this statement is puzzling. Atlantic Beach to the north was essentially residential. Mayport and Palm Valley would not have been considered beach communities. What became Ponte Vedra Beach was then a very small mining settlement called Mineral City. It had to be directed at the carnival and honky-tonk character of the boardwalk and adjacent businesses.

Part of it was simply that the Klan opposed most Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Asians, Africans, most Europeans, urban mores, and African-Americans. People, including the Pablo Beach police chief, who supported the Roman Catholic New Yorker for U.S. President in 1928, were threatened by the Klan. [38]

Jacksonville had a very large African America population but Pablo Beach did not so it was not an anti-black movement at the beach. Instead, it appears to be a reaction to the growing tourist industry and the atmosphere it engenders. Bars (illicit during Prohibition), games and other amusements, hotels, and a desire for pleasure offended those who believed that one should only work, go to church activities, pray, and stay at home. Businessmen coped, ignored threats, and got on with the business of earning a living. They continued to improve the boardwalk.


Charles Shad led the next major development, the building of a dance pier jutting from the boardwalk. Martin G. Williams, Sr., a very successful tailor and men’s clothier in Jacksonville since 1919, invested in the boardwalk after becoming fascinated with it and the beach. In time, Williams would be known as the “Father of the Boardwalk.” Shad and Williams had joined forces in 1917 to acquire the patent rights to a sprinkler from Hugh Partridge and to renew the rights in 1919. Together with Charles Hawkins, they worked to get permission to build the pier.

Shad’s Pier opened on June 8, 1922, providing a place for visitors and residents alike to dance, relax, and fish. It was inspired by the Steel Pier on Coney Island in Brooklyn and that is what the Pablo City Council wanted built but the cost was prohibitive. U.S. Census Bureau figures explain the economic limitations. Jacksonville only had 91, 558 people. Duval County had 113,540. Pablo Beach had only 357. Kings County, New York (Brooklyn) had 2,018,356 and New York County (Manhattan) had 2,284,103. Coney Island was then an island in the southwestern part of Kings County but it was only a nickel subway ride from Brooklyn and Manhattan. Millions would visit Coney. So the Council reluctantly had to settle for Shad’s palmetto pilings and wood.

Shad installed a 10-watt generator and strung lights to light the entire structure, making it visible for miles. There was little danger that ships or airplanes would mistake what it was even though it was twenty-five feet wide and four hundred feet long with a large dance pavilion, La Brisa (the breeze), almost at the end. Music floated from the pier as James B. Trotter’s dance band or visiting major bands played on weekends and juke boxes on weekdays. Shad, however, died in late 1922, so he never knew how much he had accomplished. Hawkins and Williams assumed control of the pier.[39]

The pier was not static. It was “Trotter’s Pier” after Shad died, but others owned it subsequently. Storms as well as age meant repairs had to be made. At one point, the fishing extension was swept away only to be rebuilt. It burned in 1937 but was rebuilt. Some old timers said there was a whirlpool at the end of the pier in the 1920s but that myth was probably just a reflection of the pier’s iconic presence at Pablo.

The Jacksonville coast did not suffer direct hits from hurricanes except in 1964 but hurricanes generate peripheral winds, rain, and sea surges; more dangerous were the Northeasters which battered the coast for days in the late Fall and Winter and could arrive one after another. In 1925, storms damaged the pier and again in 1932. Fire, the bugaboo of the old beaches, struck in 1938 and 1949. In the 1938 fire, Charles W. Hawkins of Jacksonville, the owner, had insurance. E.W. Compton owned the concession equipment and furnishings which were lost. The pier was rebuilt. The 1949 damage was not as bad.[40]

That first pier was integral to the history of the boardwalk from 1922 through the 1961 season. Its entrance was on the boardwalk between 2nd Avenue North and 3rd Street North but its long profile out in the water made it hard to miss. Couples in fancy dress danced to the music of famous bands in until 1950 or so. Advertising signs decorated its sides. Signs warning bathers to stay 50 feet away from the pilings (the barnacles were like razors) were sometimes ignored. Life Guards and other young men would dive off the fishing extension during storms because the high waves gave such a good and dangerous ride to the shore. Beach teenagers hung out and danced on the pier, often unbeknownst to their parents. Those who fished loved its projection into the ocean and were willing to pay the small fee.

Figure 35 1920s Shad’s Pier Source: Florida Memory

Figure 36 Dancing at the Beach     Source:  BAHS

Figure 37 “Shad’s Pier” in 1955
Source: Web

Figure 38 Ticket Booth to the fishing extension Source: BAHS

The Florida land boom of the first half of the Twenties contributed to the prosperity of the beaches but so, too, did Henry Ford by manufacturing and selling cheap automobiles to the middle classes. Pablo Beach attracted investment because more people could buy amusement. In the early 1920s, Martin Williams built a large bathhouse complex on the boardwalk at 3rd Avenue North across from the pier entrance, operating it during the season. (See below) The president of the United Amusement Company, on April 16, 1922, proposed two or more riding devices; tented attractions of an amusement nature; free seats for the public; and free admissions to Oceanside Park at Pablo Beach. Further, he offered to fill the plot used to the level of First Street; to maintain at all times an orderly and credible amusement park, and to cooperate with the town government.[41]

Fires could not destroy the Casa Marina Hotel, started in 1925 and opened in 1926, for it was built not of wood but of masonry. Modest in size it would still exist in 2009 but not so the Ocean View Hotel which burned in 1926. The Ocean View Hotel and all about it were gone. Fate picked the night for a $100,000 fire. The Adams bathhouses, ''numerous'' concession stands, King Tut's theater and restaurant, the north boardwalk and the 60-room seaside hotel perished in the debacle.[42] The Casa Marina was just north of the boardwalk, blocks from the fire’s center.

Figure 39 Williams Bath Houses Source: Sanborn Fire Insurance Co.

Figure 40 Casa Marina Hotel, 1925 Source: Jacksonville Public Library


In August, 1926, W. H. Adams, Sr. created the Ocean View amusement park on the site of his former hotel and encouraged the construction of a large roller coaster in 1928 in imitation of Coney Island coasters. John Miller of the Miller & Rose Amusement Company of Milwaukee built the ride. It was 93-feet high and its trains reached speeds of 50 miles per hour. It was 3,168 feet long; Its two trains with two cars with the riders arranged 2 across in 3 rows for a total of 12 riders per train. Although it may have seemed longer for some passengers, it made the circuit in a minute and one-half, reaching a speed of fifty miles per hour. The coaster was huge, dominating the skyline where it could be seen for miles.[43]

It was vulnerable to storms and had to be repaired several times. In 1933, Miller sold it to W. H. Adams, Jr., who put Lake R. Peddy in charge. By 1949, the wooden coaster was increasingly unsafe and was dismantled in 1950 to be replaced by the metal, small “Wild Mouse.” Other rides and amusements were brought into the space. The Coaster Block complex included restaurants, apparel stores, game parlors, and other amusements.

Figure 41 Late 1920s-1933 Source: BAHS

Figure 42 Storm Damage probably 1929 Source: BAHS
  Figure 43 The Drop Source:

Figure 44 View in late 1940s Source: BAHS

Figure 45 Boardwalk & Pier, 1920s Source: BAHS


Figure 46 The Wild Mouse, 1st Street North (1961) Source: BAHS


Storms were but one of the many threats to the boardwalk but merchants could batten down the hatches with plywood. Fiscal storms battered everyone. The wild, speculative, real estate and housing bubble of the first half of the 1920s collapsed by 1926. For Florida, that was the beginning of the Great Depression. Land and buildings were sold for back taxes. The Florida East Coast Railway went into receivership in September, 1931; service to the beaches ended in 1932, making day trips more difficult for those without automobiles. Few people owned automobiles. Beach dwellers were accustomed to meager incomes since most depended on seasonal work but conditions worsened until the New Deal began in 1933.

Jacksonville and its beaches became very dependent on federal spending since 1993 when the New Deal began and prospered because of it. The liberal New Deal government of Franklin D. Roosevelt pumped money into beaches’ infrastructure and spurred a population increase. Duncan U. Fletcher, liberal Democratic U. S. Senator, managed to direct U. S. government money to Duval County, including the beach area. The Works Projects Administration (WPA) built a concrete seawall and concrete boardwalk (thus creating a wonderful place to skate when the tourists had left!). The U.S. government financed most of the construction costs of Duncan U. Fletcher Junior-Senior High School in 1936-37, an institution which unified the white people at all the beaches including those in the St. Johns County communities of Palm Valley and Ponte Vedra Beach. The Civilian Conservation Corps and its projects provided work. In 1940, the Works Progress Administration completed the concrete sea wall from 16th Avenue South to 37th Avenue South; in 1941, the WPA authorized $170,000 for additional improvements. Governor Dave Sholtz worked closely with New Deal agencies to garner federal money for Florida. He established a State Welfare Board, Planning Board and Emergency Relief Administration. As a result, Jacksonville Beach and Atlantic Beach grew from 1,046 people in 1930 to 5397 in 1940 with the Jacksonville Beach area leading the way by going from 882 to 3,566 even though it lost Neptune beach in 1931.

Federal spending and the national debt increased exponentially in the 1930s through 1945. Herbert Hoover’s Republican government had increased federal spending from $3.127 billion to $4.623 billion in 1933, a 47.8% increase. Roosevelt’s New Deal increased it to $8.858 billion in 1939, a 91.6% increase. Massive federal spending came with World War II; federal expenditures jumped to $95.184 billion in 1945, the last year of the war! Similarly, in 1929, the national debt was $16,931,088; in 1933, the national public debt was $22,538,673, a 33% increase; by 1939, it was $40,439,532, a 139% increase over 1929 and a 79.4% increase over 1933. The US borrowed money to fight the war so the national debt in 1945 was $258,682,187.[44] Wars bring big government.

Federal spending was not the concern of people in October 1933 when the boardwalk fire occurred. Survival was. Fire had always been the bte noir of the beaches. The Ocean View Hotel and neighboring structures had been consumed only seven years before. This time, however, following the lead of the Casa Marina Hotel, rebuilding would be done with concrete. Mary Perkins and Anna Pursel saved their safe and began rebuilding, contracting with Manuel Chao, a friend, to do the work. Next door, to the north, Martin G. Williams lost his oceanfront amusement businesses but he used his credit to build a new building which contained Martin’s Grill, a bowling alley, soda fountain, and luncheonette. W. E. “Monty” Montgomery, Jacksonville Beach Mayor in 1933-35 ,took over from his friend Williams to lead the reconstruction effort.[45]


Williams, who was Jacksonville Beach mayor in 1929-33, emerged as the undisputed leader of the boardwalk, specifically, and the little city’s business class in general. His story is remarkable. When he arrived at the Beach, there were about 300 people, no paved streets, and only one or two sidewalks. He was born on August 22, 1887 in Maclenny, west of Jacksonville; he and his family moved to Jacksonville after his father died in 1889. At age 12, he went to work for the W. R. Grace Company in the daytime as an office boy and for American Telephone Company at night in Jacksonville. In 1919, he opened a successful tailor shop in Jacksonville but spent so much time in Pablo Beach that he moved there in 1929. Charles Shad was a close boyhood friend. He decided to build a boardwalk, bath house, and fishing and amusement pier. He built an arcade which had been a dance hall leased to Jimmy Trotter, the orchestra leader. Williams owned an ice company and various other businesses. Later, he had a miniature golf course on First Street North.[46]

Figure 47 Boardwalk Fire, 1933 Source: BAHS

Figure 48 Boardwalk Fire 1933 Source: BAHS

The devastation was tremendous but the expensive rebuilding of businesses, the sea wall, the concrete “boardwalk,” and houses generated jobs and sales. People came to do the work and stayed. New money also brought visitors from Jacksonville and nearby who wanted a respite from the daily grind.

Williams understood that the boardwalk and the beach had to be merchandized through ads, sales, gimmicks, and free publicity. He owned Martin G. Williams Tailor Made Suits next to the Florida Theater in downtown Jacksonville but he worked at night and weekends at his businesses on the boardwalk from May to September. He persuaded many of his fellow Jacksonville merchants to let their employees go to the beach on Thursday afternoons and beach merchants, including on the boardwalk, to give them discounts; he promoted these Thursdays via newspaper ads and flyers. In 1929, he closed the tailor shop and devoted his time to the beaches.

In cooperation with other boardwalk owners informally and then through the Boardwalk Association and Beaches Chamber of Commerce he founded in the 1930s and early 1940. The group would issue scrip which was buried in the sand; finders could be redeem it for rides, games, and food. Bathing beauty contests, started in the 1920s, became common after World War II as sexual mores changed. In 1946, the “season” was begun with an Opening Day Parade to draw crowds and to get newspaper coverage. Whenever possible, officials and groups from other towns, particular in Georgia, would be invited to participate. He got the first convention, the Florida State Firemen’s Sixth Annual convention. to come to Jacksonville Beach by going to the 1930 convention and handing out photos of bathing beauties; it worked.[47]

Efforts to attract people to Jacksonville Beach and its boardwalk not only occurred before and during the summer season but also at the end as merchants sought to earn a bit more before the long eight-month idle period. These clippings from September, 9, 1935 of the Jacksonville Florida Times-Union demonstrate the “end of the season” festivities. The first shows the crowd attending the baby parade contest; the second the victor of the 6th annual Life Guard swimming marathon being hoisted by fellow guardsmen; and the third women in a bathing beauty contest. Their platform was built perpendicular to the pier.

Figure 49 Closing Day, 1935 Source: Florida Times-Union
Figure 50 Boardwalk Looking South Source: 36boardwalk2number
  Figure 51 1936 Boardwalk Looking North Source:
Figure 52 Boardwalk Source:

As Martin G. Williams, Jr. remembers “What is vivid in my mind as a kid (1930-40) were the images of men in shirts and ties, panama straw hats and ladies wearing dresses and gloves seated on the Boardwalk benches enjoying the cool ocean breezes in the evening and the strollers walking in similar dress.” One can see this formal style of dress in the photo below.

Figure 53 Martin G. Williams Building Source:

The boardwalk and other beach fun places recovered so much by 1938 that the ministerial alliance of Jacksonville campaigned against them but to no avail. The beach had only two sources of income—commuters and tourism—and was not about impoverish itself because some church people objected to entertainment establishments. The State of Florida had legalized horse and dog racing as well as jai alai after the Depression hit. Other forms of gambling were at the discretion of the county sheriff. Poker, bingo, slot machines, roulette wheels and the like on the boardwalk and nearby bars seemed ordinary. Carl S. Ward, who owned 200 slot machines filed suit in federal court in the Fall of 1937 in an effort to get the courts to grant an injunction to stop sheriffs from seizing slot machines.[48] Drinking alcoholic beverages and dancing at the beach started when the town was founded. One suspects that adultery and even prostitution even occurred in some hotels and rented rooms. After all, the beach was far enough from Jacksonville to afford some privacy.


Then came the military and war and lots and lots of money. The Army used Camp Blanding near Jacksonville beginning in 1939. Florida had been friendly to the New Deal and the War Department rewarded the state with the Jacksonville Naval Air Station in 1940 and McDill Air Force Base in 1939. The Navy passed 10,000-plus pilots and 11,000 air crewman through JAX NAS during the war. Naval Air Station Cecil Field came on line in June 1941; by 1943, all Navy pilots went through Cecil Field before joining either the Atlantic or Pacific theatre.

To accommodate the visiting service members who came to enjoy our beaches, a Recreation Camp was built with the aid of Civil Conservation Corps labor in Jacksonville Beach on Seventh Avenue North between Eighth and Ninth streets.

When completed in July 1941, it afforded over 100 shelters on concrete slabs, each with six folding army cots, where servicemen could be based while on pass to the beach.

Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 135th Infantry Division maintained the camp and furnished patrons for the Beaches.

It then became the Combat Training Camp in 1942 in Atlantic Beach. Much more important was the selection of the Mayport Naval Auxiliary Station in 1939 and its commission in December, 1942. In 1943, the Casa Marina Hotel was leased to the US government to house immigrant workers and converted into forty-nine apartments. When the war ended, the Mayport naval base was deactivated until 1948 when it was revived. In 1951, Mayport NAS was expanded and the channel deepened. The next year, the first aircraft carrier berthed in Ribault Bay, the carrier basin that had been developed. In 1955 the Navy added a master jet runway. The base became more important as the United States fought the Cold War and hot wars in Korea and Vietnam. It has become one of the three largest US Navy bases in the country, covering 3,409 acres and is the third largest US Navy facility in the continental United States. [49]

Billions of dollars were spent to operate these bases. The military acquired land, bought supplies, provided housing, and all the other necessities to establish small cities for its personnel. Besides thousand of sailors, soldiers, and Marines, the military hired civilians. The presence of the bases increased the demand for social services such as schools.

In the 1940s and 1950s, most military personnel were young males; they wanted fun and the beach specialized in fun. Relief from military discipline might mean traveling and they did it. Some had never seen an ocean. Some wanted to enjoy the beauty and beauties on the beach. The USO helped with loneliness; so, too, did professionals. This author remembers the 1950s when the bus from Mayport discharged its passengers at the terminal on 1st Street North and 6th Avenue and a “sea of white hats,” headed for hotels and bath houses to change into civvies or to bars or the boardwalk or all three. An unusual number of youngish women arrived the day before. Testosterone worked. Sailor tourism became a mainstay of the boardwalk.

The war ceased to be an abstraction in April, 1942 when a German submarine sank the SS Gulfamerica off the Jacksonville Beach coast. Boardwalk lights, including those of the pier, made the SS Gulfamerica a better target but the captain of the sub, once he surfaced, saw that firing on the ship would endanger civilians on show and sailed between the shore and sea before firing. People could see fire; some tried to rescue survivors. The boardwalk lights dimmed. Then on June 17, 1942, four German saboteurs landed at Ponte Vedra Beach in Operation Pastorius. Four others had landed on Long Island on June 13, 1942. The Florida group included Edward John Kerling, 33; Herbert Hans Haupt, an American citizen; Werner Thiel; and Herman Neubauer. They carried boxes of incendiary devices and bombs and money. They walked the few miles to downtown Jacksonville Beach and took the bus to Jacksonville where they had a large breakfast. Two stayed at the Seminole Hotel; the other two at the Mayflower Hotel. Kerling and Thiel went to New York City and were arrested on June 24; Haupt and Neubauer went to Chicago and were arrested on June 27th. One of the Long Island party ratted out the Florida group before it had landed. On August 8, 1942, the Ponte Vedra four were executed.[50]

Security measures were taken. Blackouts were required. Dark curtains on the windows and shaded car lights and, on the boardwalk, more elaborate means of hiding light. Barriers were installed at ramps to the beach to hide car lights. Coast Guard patrols became more active. Passes were required, even of students. Bus passengers to Jacksonville had to be inspected. Civilian lookouts were used.

Figure 54 Beach Pass Source: Clint Sykes

City boosters, however, insisted that the growth of Jacksonville Beach between 1937 and 1942 owed nothing to wartime spending. Their advertisement in the Beaches Outlook (Summer,1944) asserted that the City’s capital and surplus from $300,000 in 1937 to $1,160,000,000 in 1942, that private investment had built The Flag, the Bowling Center, the Baker Bryan Building, the Beach Bank, and the Sportland Building. The City adopted radio to contact its police officers, beautified the city park, paved seven miles of roads and paved two miles of sidewalks, installed sewage systems, and completed three sea walls. The building total was one and one-half million dollars.[51] True as these statements were, they ignored the injection of New Deal and military monies.

The boardwalk survived the war even though its lights had to be dimmed at night. The daytime was no problem, of course, and tourists could play at night as long as light emissions towards the sea were controlled. The Flag, owned by Carl S. Ward and operated by Cecil Summers and Fred Blas. advertised itself as the South’s Largest Amusement Center, “Open All Year,” with 14 bowling lanes, billiards, Bingo, a soda fountain and grill, and games, penny arcade, pinball machines, and a dance floor (see Figure 36). It was built between 1937 and 1942 and occupied the city block between 4th and 5th Avenues North. Originally, Ward had installed seats for 3,000 for bingo, hoping to earn his fortune, but had to cut back and install the bowling alley. Ward was virtually illiterate but could count on his wife to help. The gambling Club 21, upstairs, was owned by George MacDonell.

Figure 55 The Flag Source: E. J. MacDonell Taylor

The Flag went down in flames. A large part burned on Tuesday, February 1, 1944 in a fire caused by a short circuit, but War had it rebuilt and open for business the summer of 1944. Then, on Monday, August 17th, it burned completely. Some say a problem with the neon sign was the cause; others say it began in the bowling alley. Regardless, Ward collected the $100,000 insurance. Luckily, the 500 people in the building escaped without injury and firemen were able to save neighboring buildings. Some rides were scorched.[52]

After the Flag burned, W. A. “Buddy” Albury and Frank Griffin bought the site and installed an amusement park and the Club 21 was opened further south. This 1948 photo of a bathing beauty contest also shows Club 21 on the second floor and the sign indicating where the entrance was can be seen behind the boys on the roof.


Figure 56 Beauty Contest, 1948, With Bobbie MacDonell Source: BAHS

Beauty contests always drew a crowd but so, too, did motorcycle races, Opening Day Parades, fireworks displays, and stunts. In the immediate postwar years, amphibian vehicle (duck) became a popular ride which took people out into the ocean almost beyond the site of land allowing passengers to see sea life. Martin G. Williams, Jr. tells of one famous stunt used to draw crowds to the boardwalk:

One famous 1949 act was Dynamite Jones. He had a platform out from the Boardwalk. A wire cage contained a wooden coffin and at 10 p.m. on Thursday nights Jones would enter with a crash outfit and helmet. He would climb into the coffin, an assistant would insert a stick of dynamite into a hole in the end of the coffin, and light it. When it exploded, wood and splinters went everywhere in the wire cage, there was lots of smoke. An assistant would rush in; at first there was no movement, then finally a hand and arm would come up and they would assist Jones to his feet; he would wave and slowly be helped off the platform until the next week. This was sponsored in August when summer business slowed and it was at 10 p.m. to keep the crowd at the Boardwalk.


Until the crackdown in 1950, gambling was common on the boardwalk and the beach. Bingo was a popular gambling pastime. Martin G. Williams had a bingo parlor as did The Flag and another business. When The Flag ownership realized that seating 3,000 players was too many, fourteen bowling lanes were installed in some of the space. Art Alexander’s mouse game involved betting into which hold a mouse would go. Martin G. Williams, Jr. said he saw a man win $500 once. There were three gambling clubs, one at Club 21 in The Flag. A headquarters for serious gambling was Kite’s Bar & Grill, owned by Earl and Mary Kite, who ran a numbers or bolita game. The kingpin of bolita in Florida was Santo Trafficante, Sr. and then Jr. of Tampa. The Tax Court of the U.S. penalized the Kites, equal business partners, for underpayment of taxes in 1943, 1944, 1945, and 1946 and they appealed. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against them for each year except 1946 in its February 4, 1955 decision. “They operated a retail whiskey business under the name of Kite's Bar, an illegal gambling operation, an apartment house, a riding stable and a fishing boat.” The Court ruled that they owed $29,367.94 in back taxes plus another $ 13,152.50 in penalties for a total of $42,520.44. The bar was raided on July 1, 1950 as part of a State Beverage Department push to stop the bolita industry in Duval County, The Havana Nite Club and Mac's Bar and Package Store in Jacksonville were also hit. Bill Foley reported that “fifty-five persons were arrested and between $30,000 and $50,000 [were] seized.” [53]

That was not the end of troubles, for Duval County Sheriff Rex Sweat, at the urging of Governor Fuller Warren, closed the games on the boardwalk just before the second busiest weekend of the season, Labor Day, September 1-4, 1950. The sledgehammer approach threatened the livelihood of hundreds or more and the fun of thousands. Most of the games were hardly gambling since one always or almost always got a prize or required some degree of skill such as Pull-the String, darts, shooting ranges, throwing a ball at dolls, and the like. Bingo, if played in hopes of winning a prize was gambling. So, too, was Art Alexander’s mouse games where patrons bet on the hole a mouse would dart into. Betting on cockroach racing was as well. Club 21, above the mouse game after The Flag burned, was a pool hall and gambling place; some assert it was a horse parlor. Herb Shelley, H. A. Prather and Martin G. Williams, president of the Beaches Chamber of Commerce, appealed to Florida Attorney General Richard Ervin who ruled that games which involved some skill in order to win a prize were not gambling and could reopen Labor Day weekend was saved, but then the rain came. Operating a giant amusement park was a gamble itself.[54]


The year 1949 was a turning point for the boardwalk although few realized it at the time. It lost its most distinctive ride, the roller coaster, which was torn down after the 1949 season in 1950, the roller coaster. The Wild Mouse which eventually replaced it paled by comparison; small amusement parks could have one. Any amusement park could have such rides as Ferris wheels, Tilt-a-Whirl, bumper cars, The Bullet or Roll-O-Plane (pictured), carousels, and children’s rides, but Jacksonville Beach’s boardwalk was distinctive because it had a huge coaster.
Figure 57 Bullet or Roll-o-Plane Source: BAHS

The opening of Beach Boulevard in late 1949 changed the beaches even more profoundly. It was constructed on the roadbed of the defunct Florida East Coast Railway as a four-lane, divided highway allowed motorist to speed to Jacksonville Beach, cutting the travel time between south Jacksonville to the beach in half. Moreover, it ended at the ocean once B. B. McCormick extended from Third Street North. The American Red Cross Life Saving station was the north side of the ramp to the beach. Visitors could drive onto the beach as long as the tide was not high and drive for miles or park on the sand. Beach Boulevard delivered customers of the boardwalk to its door.

With a fast, easy means of getting to Jacksonville Beach, the little city grew as did its neighbors, so much so, that Third Street had to be widened in less than a decade to accommodate the increased traffic. The new highway had its downside as well. More people could commute to jobs in Jacksonville, making them independent upon the Jacksonville Beach entertainment industry. South Jacksonville Beach and Ponte Vedra Beach quickly lost their relative isolation created by the long trip to Jacksonville via the curvy Atlantic Boulevard. Prudential Insurance Company management employees who came from New Jersey in 1953 to work in the South Central home office on the south bank of the St. Johns could live at the beach and work “in town,” thus importing persons with higher salaries and a different cultural norm. Within fifteen years, the beaches were bedroom communities which depended upon commuters for income rather than laid-back, small, relatively poor places whose chief livelihood was seasonal and dependent upon visitors.

For the last decade of the height of its existence (the fifties and until the Coaster Block burned down in 1961, the businesses remained essentially the same although their owners may not have. The boardwalk, bounded on the west by 1st Street North, stretched along the oceanfront for five/six blocks beginning at Pablo Avenue and going north to the Casa Marina Hotel at Sixth Avenue North.[55]

The southernmost section between Pablo Avenue and First Avenue North was the Coaster block (once called the Ocean View Pavilion since it was owned by W. H. Adams, Jr.). Entering from the south, one first came upon Howards Restaurant followed immediately by the entrance to Coaster Park and its rides—The Wild Mouse, the Bullet, a merry-go-round—as well as Ring the Bell and Guess your Age or Weight. Next were Paul’s Restaurant, Pitch Until You Win, the Coaster Bath House and Raft rental, Beach Kiddie Land, Balloon Dart Game, Chinese String Gallery, Shooting Gallery, and, at the end, The Hitching Post Restaurant, famous for its “steam burgers, hamburger meat cooked loosely instead of in a patty and with a little pepper added. On the backside or the First Street North side were shops and restaurants.

Going north one block, there was another amusement park and masonry buildings. The amusement park, called Playland Park, featured a Ferris wheel, Dodgem or bumper cars, boat ride, Tilt-A-Whirl, and merry-go-round. Next was Pee-Wee’s Restaurant and Bar where local icon, John “Wimpy” Sutton worked in the summer as an adolescent; his great grandmother was Anna Perkins, who founded Perkins Bath House and Perkins Hotel north of Pee-Wee’s. A gift shop, Bud’s Cat House ballgame, Bud’s Juice Bar, Cup and Saucer Restaurant, Martin G. Williams 15’ by 30” Shooting Gallery, and the Playland Arcade operated by Gus Leisengang. This “penny arcade” was filled with machines. Pinball machines lined its north side; the older machines were priced at a lowly two cents but their tilt triggers were set to react quickly. One of the most notable machines was the Gypsy Fortune Teller whom some found scary. One could shoot a .22 rifle at a target, test one’s ability to endure an electrical current, discover one’s “love appeal” and other nonsensical but fun attributes, and other games/devices typical of such places. To facilitate people putting money into the machines, there was not only a person in a change booth at the front but also boys patrolling the arcade with change aprons and saying “change, here, change.” Prior to being a game room, it had been Martin’s Grill, then Jimmy Trotter’s Dance Hall, and the Lucky Game for bingo. Behind the arcade was Williams’ ice house.

  Figure 58 Juice Stand Source: BAHS

Crossing Second Avenue North, one entered the pier block with the Griffin Amusement Park, Tastee Freeze, the entrance to the pier, Tradewinds Restaurant, Maybelline’s Gifts, and various games. In 1940, Williams moved Lucky Game adjacent to Griffin’s Amusement Park. Adjoining on the north was the Martin G. Williams property, a 2-story bowling alley building (18 lanes) built in 1939. In 1940 the end store became the famous Art’s Mouse Game, run by Art Alexander.

Across Third Avenue North were the Tropical Gift Shop, a ball game, Dave's Beer Garden, Ski Ball, Williams Photography, the Pantry Restaurant, White House Rooms, and Nicks’ Shooting Gallery, and a Salt Water Taffy store. The famous Mermaid Tavern and restaurant were on 1st Street and 3rd Avenue.

Figure 59 Pantry, 1962 Source: Vicki Wright  Shattles and  Mike Wright
Figure 60 Booths in the Pantry. View to 1st St, N. Source: Vicki Wright  Shattles and  Mike Wright
Figure 61 Wrights and Employess Working Source: Vicki Wright  Shattles and  Mike Wright

Figure 62 Shooting Gallery Source: BAHS

Figure 63 Fascination Source: BAHS

Between 4th and 5th, where The Flag had been , Fred M. “Frenchy” LeGrand operated rides and amusements rides.[56] Buddy’s Bar at 1st Street North and 4th Avenue North, owned by W. A. Albury provided thirst quenchers. The Sandpiper Hotel with its bathhouse and pool open to the public was the northernmost boundary of the boardwalk. Vendors also sold suntan oil and rented rafts.

Hotels - Sandpiper
Figure 64 Postcard, Sandpiper Hotel Source: Andrew Bachman

Downtown businesses, besides those of the boardwalk, served the needs of tourists and residents within three blocks east and west and six blocks north and south. First Street North edged the boardwalk on the west and was a mix of ordinary main street shops and places to have fun. What made it different from other small towns were the number of bars, liquor stores, tourist shops, places to rent rooms, and, of course, a carnival on the beach front.

Businesses at the beach were family-owned; A&P and Winn-Dixie supermarkets were two exceptions but non-chain food stores coexisted. A&W Root Beer had a stand on Beach Boulevard. There were no chain-owned motels, hotels, rooming houses, apartment complexes, fast food restaurants, amusement rides, boardwalk amusements, and bars. Owners not uncommonly lived in the motels, which might have only six rooms. People rented rooms in their homes to tourists. Many times the employees were family members; many children or their friends or schoolmates worked in the stores. Non-family members were also employed, of course. Some boardwalk employees were seasonal, leaving after the rides were stored for the off-season and the stores shuttered. Often those who stayed made repairs, cast the plaster dolls given as prizes, or found other employment.

Downtown Jacksonville offered things which could not be purchased at the beach because they were not in stock or not priced competitively. A bus ride on Atlantic Boulevard or, increasingly, an automobile jaunt on either Atlantic or the much faster Beach Boulevard solved the problem. The new St Johns River bridges in the early 1950s expedited traffic. People “dressed” to go to Jacksonville’s downtown for it did not practice the informality of the beach.

To the white residents of the beaches were insular in several ways. Their lives were idyllic. New money improved the infrastructure of schools, roads, water and sewage system, telephones, and electrical service. More and more people built or bought houses, stimulating a real estate boom and the need for more and different businesses. The small African American population seemed content, unlike those if other places including Jacksonville. The beaches communities—Ponte Vedra and Palm Valley in St. Johns County, Jacksonville Beach, Neptune Beach, and Atlantic Beach—and the village of Mayport and the adjacent Navy Base cooperated on most matters, partly because they shared a common high school. This good will extended to those just west of the island on San Pablo Road and in the Isle of Palms subdivision. Social change, be it the advent of chain stores and motels, shopping centers, much stronger competition for the Florida tourist dollar, or racial integration, seemed something that happened to others.

Krystal Hamburgers, the Chattanooga chain, set up shop on North 3rd Street a few blocks from the high school, breaching the food bulkhead. A Chattanooga chain founded in 1932, it had long existed in Jacksonville but its little square hamburgers served in boxes might satisfy downtown workers and shoppers but beach adolescents preferred Bill’s Drive-In and then the Surf Maid. Still Krystal proved that could survive on the beach. More ominous were the Burger King and McDonald’s fast food restaurants which opened in southside Jacksonville.

Small family-owned businesses lacked investment capital. Commonly, they earned enough income to support a famous modestly but not enough to enable the owners to build the kinds of tourist facilities Americans began demanding by the mid-1950s. Americans wanted more luxury and convenience and wanted it immediately.

The worst part of the boardwalk was the Coaster block. Its wooden structure needed replacement because it was becoming a firetrap and seemed seedy. The masonry structures were in better shape but needed refurbishing. The hamburger and hot dog stands paled in comparison to fast food restaurants such as Burger King and McDonald’s which had made their appearance in south Jacksonville by the mid-1950s.

In 1960, there were thirty-seven family-owned motels that belonged to the Beaches Chamber of Commerce, none of which belonged to a regional or national chain. They varied in cost and quality. Some had no air conditioning or inefficient window units added after the fact. Investors who wanted to build a modern motel or hotel had to decide whether the millions invested would yield a good return in the face of such competition. Howard Johnson and the Holiday Inn had motels in Jacksonville but avoided the beach for years. As prosperity increased so, too, did consumer demand for better accommodations. In a short time, travelers to Jacksonville Beach demanded the upscale, modern facilities they found elsewhere. The first modern chain hotel was a Holiday Inn which opened in 1969.[57]

Figure 65 Beaches Motel Map, 1960 Source: Pat Carlton Sanders

Air conditioning in the 1960s became a “necessity” in Florida because rising prosperity gave people the means to cool their homes and cars, stores, and restaurants. The opening of Regency Square Mall in Arlington in 1967 marked the beginning of the end for downtown Jacksonville and for downtown Jacksonville Beach. Shopping in a mall with its free parking, climate control, wide variety of stores, and wonderful lighting was easier than paying to park and trudging in the weather from store to store. So shoppers quit going downtown. The city centers, both in Jacksonville and in Jacksonville Beach, became hollow. Cool breezes on the boardwalk were not as cool as air conditioning. Along with television broadcasts, it helped kill most outdoor entertainment including the boardwalk.[58]

Television also helped destroy the boardwalk as it revolutionized the entertainment industry. It was free except for the receiver. It promoted the cultural values that generated profits for business; TV was, after all, a business itself. Unlike the movies, TV taught that one should buy and buy and buy. Television sets became the idols that people worshipped, almost always having the prominent place in the home. The commercials were often better than the programs. They were more important. Commercials promised that “Article X” would bring love, pain relief, respect, sexual fulfillment, or happiness or some combination thereof. As the decades marched relentlessly on, TV broadcast in living color and received by cheaper and cheaper sets. To attract viewers, TV taught self indulgence and instant gratification, the efficacy of violence, the supremacy of the U.S., tolerance of divorce and adultery, and that any and all life's problems could be solved in less than half an hour. Serious, complicated information could be reduced to a sound bite or two.[59]

The expansion of the Naval base at Mayport during the Korean War and then the Vietnam War helped the beaches economy in general but began moving the tourist industry away from being family-oriented. Some sailors, often officers, brought families to live at the beaches but most sailors were young, single, enlisted men. When an aircraft carrier came into port with its flotilla, thousands of these young men got liberty and headed for Jacksonville Beach and the pleasures it offered. Sailors came from all over the United States. When on shore leave, they tended to act the way adolescent and young adult males away from home commonly acted. Some got inebriated. The Shore Patrol tried to keep order. Others sought sex.

So, too, did some locals, for the rock ‘n’ roll revolution had struck full force by the mid-1950s and some adults were threatened by the music and its sexuality. Although school and church dances were restrained, those who went to the pier sometimes danced the “dirty boogie.” Not often but parents and other community adults tended to associate the pier with licentiousness. The scene of sailors and/or adolescents dancing to black music or rock ‘n roll alarmed some. Gone were the days of ballroom dancing to Tin Pan Alley tunes.[60]

Many deplored the condition of downtown Jacksonville Beach, including the boardwalk, but the road to redevelopment twisted through issues of what to do about the Coaster block and the pier, sharp political differences within the City Council, and fear of change and its costs. Some people had begun to object to the numerous bars in the entertainment district centered on 1st Street North and neighboring streets even though they were decades old. Many of the drinkers were young sailors. Downtown merchants found competing with Jacksonville increasing difficult when shoppers could speed at 65 miles per hour for most of the trip. People had to be enticed to the beaches. Boardwalk merchants, of course, earned their money from visitors not locals who rejected the tone established by young people, including sailors; the adults seldom went there and more and more commuted to Jacksonville to work and felt little loyalty to the boardwalk. Further complicating the issues was race, for some city councilmen and prominent people were strongly opposed to desegregation. So we must weave in and out to get the story.

By May 1960, city leaders planned to renovate the oceanfront back to Third Street with a $2.5 million but only managed to get it passed by a 4-3 vote. The Council had a long history of contentiousness and tackling the issue of redevelopment would bring it to the fore. Some thought the city was doing well without spending money. Some wanted a civic center. Some thought the boardwalk was in good shape; others thought it, including the pier, were ratty or decadent and wanted them gone and said so in September, 1960. The City Council, the Jacksonville Beach Advisory Planning Board, and the Chamber of Commerce (which shared some members) wanted downtown to look better, to be modern, and make other needed civic improvements. In January, 1961, the Council and Planning Board began studying a new Master Plan. In February, the city bought the Beach Bank building and approved plans for a new police station. IOn May 5, the Council nixed former Councilman T. N. Abood’s plan for redevelopment referendum.[61]

Fire came to the rescue, forcing the issue of the boardwalk. City Manager Walter F. Johnson as early as November, 1959, recommended that the Coaster Block be condemned. In November, 1960, the City Council said conditions on the boardwalk were deplorable and demanded that inspectors go to work. Then, in December, 1960, Johnson said he would recommend to the city council that the Coaster Block be condemned as a fire hazard because of debris, butane tanks, paint cans, bare wires, and rotted roofs. This came a week before downtown redevelopment plans were announced, plans that generated controversy. On March 9, 1961, most of the wooden Coaster block burned for three hours, wiping out decades of history in the process. Frenchy LeGrand suffered heavy losses when his amusement rides were damaged. At the north end, the shooting gallery and The Hitching Post restaurant survived with minimal damage but Councilman Franklin Left wanted them condemned so the entire block would become available for development.[62]

The Jacksonville Beach Advisory Planning Board unanimously urged the City Council to buy or lease the property which was owned by W. H. Adams, Jr. but leased to Adwolf Amusements Corporation owned by the Sam W. Wolfson, a successful Jacksonville businessman and philanthropist.

Demolishing the old pier turned out to be a difficult decision. The city owned the pier as of May 1 and had let bids to have it destroyed. The Council voted 5-2 in May to continue plans to demolish it even though Councilmen Bryant and Stormes and some merchants wanted the city to delay until September so the demolition process would not interfere with the tourists enjoying the beach. Demolition would be expensive and Stormes joked that it should be burned because it would only take 3 days—one to burn, two to clean up .When the bids were opened on June 5, the low bid by P. L. Burkhalter Company was $16,723. City manager Walter F. Johnson got the Council to reject all bids asserting that city crews could do it more cheaply. Later, the Council decided that Johnson should study the issue further because demolition would be dangerous.[63]
In June, pier demolition bids were sent back to the city manager for further study. July, 1961, the Chamber wanted a $1,350,000 municipal improvement plan for off-street parking, a new civic center, a new city hall building to house all city departments, and a new police headquarters and jail. It proposed financing the revenue bonds with cigarette tax rebates. That month, the City Council voted to have plans drawn but Mayor Ira D. Sams opposed building a civic center. After municipal elections the new city council in late October began considering a one million dollar bond issue but insisted on the construction of a new city hall be the first priority. By December, 1962, the bond issue of $1.2 million passed and the city could spend 1962 acquiring property and planning the new city hall. It bought the lot on the south side of 1st Ave N between 1st and 2nd Streets for the city hall project and, in March, the oceanfront lot on the north side of 1st Avenue from the sea wall to 1st Street North, thus beginning acquisition of the boardwalk.

Wolfson had the ruins cleared but noted that Adwolf had no plans to make improvements. The City Council persisted, however, encouraging Wolfson to build a modern, large motel on the site but Wolfson finally said no in September, 1962 when he could not get Adams to subordinate his ownership to Wolfson. The Council was determined not to let anything stand in its way; in June, 1961, it rejected an application for a walk-up lunch stand in Coaster block because it wanted to change is usage. Adams dug his feet and the city threatened to condemn the property and seize it. Adams won; he received an out-of-court settlement from the City of $265,000, which included $15,000 in attorney fees and court costs, in October, 1963. Subsequently, the entire block was cleared. Obviously, the owners decided rebuilding was not profitable. [64]

The old pier, the dancing-fishing pier between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, came under scrutiny by the City Council because it was old and a bit rickety. The structure had been leased to Curtis Amerson for one and one-half years by W. E. Montgomery, uncle of Mayor Justin C. Montgomery. At the end of Amerson’s lease, the pier would revert to the city. Amerson agreed to make repairs within 30 days, including 40-50 pilings, the sewer system, and the electrical system, facets of the pier that fell into disrepair under the last lessee, Paul Ward. City manager Buford McRae had had to close the pier when Ward didn’t fix things. The Beach News & Advertiser featured three photos of the pier’s understructure to illustrate damage. The Chamber of Commerce, who had many boardwalk business owners, wanted the city to repair the pier and assume the lease of the present defunct operator, former mayor W. A. “Monty” Montgomery. Chamber president, Frank A. Griffen, who owned one of the amusement parks, argued that the pier could be made operational for two thousand dollars. Others estimated the cost could go as high as eighteen thousand dollars. The difficulty was that private enterprise had failed to modernize, much less maintain, the pier. [65]

Then, on Friday, October 13, 1962, one day before the city council was going to condemn it, the dancing pavilion and much of the rest of the pier was consumed by fire. The fire was fortuitous because the city council had been discussing the demolition of the pier since May, 1961; city firemen watched it burn. Nevertheless, it had been fine for parents’ to host the annual post-Junior-Senior Prom of Fletcher Junior-Senior High School as late as June 1960.


Figure 66 No Coaster Block nor Pier, 1962 Source: Florida Memory

The demise of the pier and the Coaster Block seemed to provide an opportunity to modernize the boardwalk. One proposal was to build a new pier with a waterfront coliseum between Pablo Avenue and 1st Avenue North, the former Coaster Block. The Chamber supported the idea since having a vacant block on Boardwalk was bad for business. By late November, a little over a month since the pier fire, the City Council approved a plan to redevelop the Coaster Block, voted to hire a design firm, and began negotiations to buy the property from Bill Adams, Jr.[66] Life, however, rarely proceeds in a straight line. Nothing could built until the property was the city’s; disagreements about plans and costs grew heated; and the issue of fair play among citizens delayed resolution.


The Civil Rights movement finally came to the beaches although it had been active in Jacksonville where it had been met by violence. When Rutledge Pearson led demonstrations in August, 1960 against segregated lunch counters at the downtown Woolworth's, McCrorys, and Kress stores. One day, two black youths accidentally knocked a white woman into a plate glass window. Then on another day two women got into a fight. On August 27th, hundreds of Klansmen and other bigots demonstrated in downtown Jacksonville with the police watching. When some young African Americans tried to get lunch counter service at the Grant's store and were refused, they were attacked by the white demonstrators who used ax handles and other weapons. They chased the teenagers into a black section of town but were run out by a black gang. Police intervention stopped the riot. More "blacks" than "whites" were arrested, of course.

The city government of Haydon Burns, even though African-American votes put him in office, was racist. He was a powerful force in Jacksonville affairs as mayor from 1949-1965, when he became governor. Burns was a segregationist so he refused to create a biracial commission to resolve the issues. He was a determined conservative mayor of a conservative city. African-Americans threatened an economic boycott and white businessmen, fearing loss of profits, agreed to meet with African-American leaders and work out compromises. Desegregation began. "Green" was a more powerful color than white and "black."

Jacksonville had a large African American population, potential customers for the boardwalk; it had once been a majority black city but annexations of suburbs changed that. In 1960, the city of 372,569 was 26.9% African American (100,169 persons); the Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area population was 455,411 was 23.2% African American (105,843 persons). However, the tradition of racial segregation meant that Beach business owner did not want the patronage of a quarter of the population of the county. This was not a Duval County phenomenon; racial bigotry was common throughout the United States.

Not many African Americans, either in absolute numbers or as a percentage of the total population lived on the beaches and the periodic influx of white tourists, civilian or military, shrank both numbers. The 1960 Census is instructive. Of the 12,049 persons living in Jacksonville Beach, 1,111 (9.2%) were African American; since Jacksonville provided most of the jobs at the beaches, it is not surprising. Atlantic Beach, a wealthier community of 3,125 persons, was home to 605 (19.4%) African Americans. The high percentage surely reflects the legacy of the fishing and U. S. Naval industries of Mayport, the Atlantic Beach Hotel, and the Florida East Coast Railway. Neptune Beach has three African Americans out of a population of 2,868., probably live-in servants.

The Census also had Division categories. The Jacksonville Beach Division of Duval County (covering more than the political boundaries) had 23,823 of whom 2,366 (9.9%) persons were African American. Palm Valley and Ponte Vedra Beach were small, unincorporated areas of the Northern St. Johns County Division, an area larger than these two tiny communities. This Division contained 5,020 persons of whom 391 (7.8%) were African Americans. Ponte Vedra Beach had been founded as an upper-income, private settlement and it was exclusive and wealthy. [67]

There were so few African Americans at the beaches and the adults were so well known meant that retaliation for any efforts to acquire access to the public beaches or to use the public accommodations of the boardwalk seemed highly likely. Councilman Moses Stormes, President of the newly-chartered Organization of American Rights, Inc., Franklin J. Left, Vice President , and Robert J. Taylor, Secretary Treasurer, were its officers; the Board of Directors included Chuck Franks, Chief of the Jacksonville Beach Police, A. W. Sands, Lieutenant of Police, Robert R. Craig, Sergeant of Police, Harry E. Burns, architect, James D. Smith, electrician, and Fred Downs, painter. The OAR sent a scurrilous letter in the Fall of 1960 saying that integration meant African Americans (the letter used a different word) would be raping white girls and other similar comments. It also issue a membership recruitment flyer (pictured). The members position on race and segregation was clear; it was to be maintained at all costs.

The OAR leaders went too far and most had to repudiate the letter and resign from the OAR. Left, Franks, Sands, Craig, and Downs resigned. Burns said he was never a member and condemned the letter. Taylor admitted that some of the language was objectionable and then resigned. Stormes, on the other hand, defended the letter. At a Council meeting in October, two different citizens rose to demand that Stormes resign. The Council members ignored them, perhaps indicating that they were segregationists.[68]

Figure 67 OAR Flyer Source: Austin Smith

The views of Stormes and his ilk did not reflect the views of others or, perhaps, others were practical. In my research in beaches newspapers, I found nothing about desegregation. My sense is that the local media cooperated to keep it from being an issue. The available accounts differ but the essential facts are the same.

Contemporaries described the events in an oral history session recorded at the Beaches Area Historical Society and Museum in Jacksonville Beach in early 2007. They noted that the integration drove whites away from the boardwalk but there was no violence. Because of the danger of retaliation, the 1,111 Jacksonville Beach African Americans tended not to pioneer. White tourists had come from north Florida towns as well as Georgia; the Chamber of Commerce had done everything it could to promote it. However, they expected a whites-only situation. With the beach and boardwalk being opened to all, many whites stayed away. Martin G. Williams, Jr. in a message to the author in June, 2009 believed that the boardwalk as he knew was dying in the 1960’s for several reasons. Many blamed integration in 1961 or 1962, a difficult situation that Mayor Justin Montgomery handled very well. Bus loads of blacks were brought to the Beach and Boardwalk by the NAACP. White families stayed away. By 1970, the number of rides and amusements were sparse because business had declined. He noted “there was much competition from Daytona Beach, Myrtle Beach, Panama Beach, other vacation attractions and travel had gotten much easier. Disney and the Mouse arrived in Orlando, air conditioned hotels were common and golf and boating had become very popular. The family visitors from South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama were gone.”[69]

A quite different view emerges from an anonymous typed document possessed by the Beaches Area Historical Society, the view that civic leaders were progressive and quietly took the lead to achieve integration. This six-page document is unsigned and undated although may have been written in the late 1960s. It says the true story of what happened was revealed to a reporter of The Beaches Leader and that a member of the “black community” wanted it known. Some fifteen years before this essay was written, the City Council completed the Carver Recreation Center and swimming pool and began tackling the problem of substandard housing in 1955 in the African American section of town called “the Hill.” It took five years to complete the application process and begin construction but the City demonstrated that the government was not just for whites. They had integrated the city golf course, built 1963, without incident and it turned a huge profit in 1965.

In 1963, the mayor, W. S. Wilson, the City Council, and City Manager and other civic leaders such as Justin C. Montgomery, a former mayor and nephew a former mayor and city councilman, , decided that the time for change had come. They did not want the violence they had seen in Jacksonville or the demonstrations occurring in St Augustine in 1964 under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They desegregated the beach or waterfront by quietly arranging for African American sailors, dressed in civilian clothes, to drive onto the strand on a busy Saturday afternoon and go into the surf. Law enforcement officers were hidden but acted quickly to disperse any hostile crowds. They would use the tactic of a fait accompli to desegregate further.

Before the Civil Rights Act of July 4, 1964 was passed Jacksonville Beach had desegregated its public accommodations. The Council asked the Chamber of Commerce to meet with local motel and restaurant owners and ask them to desegregate; ninety percent complied. On early June, 1969, the Chamber cooperated to desegregate the bars.[70]

Desegregation occurred in other important ways. African American citizens were not allowed at City Council meetings. Instead, the City Council came to them at the Carver Center. In the Spring, 1965, at an outdoor ceremony for Beaches Welcome Day, invited groups were announced, applauded, and seat on the platform. Then came the group of African American invitees. They were announced, vigorously applauded and seated. Then there was the desegregation of the local high school, Duncan U. Fletcher in 1967. Again, the acceptance of a fait accompli was the strategy. During the last week of the school year, an African American student attended and graduated.

Had not national policy and practice changed, whether Jacksonville Beach and its entertainment industry cannot be known. Certainly respect for the law and a more tolerant attitude in a resort community made a difference. Increasing dependence on the Navy at Mayport surely did. The armed forces had desegregated decades before. As the naval base at Mayport grew, its sailors had to have recreational place.


The carnival on the boardwalk continued for a few more years as the unburned businesses continued to serve the thousands who flocked to Jacksonville Beach. Dancing, fishing, and gawking on the pier survived the Coaster block fire for more than a year but the combined demise marked a demarcation line in boardwalk history. Frenchy LeGrand maintained rides until the late 1960s. Hurricane Dora also damaged what was left of the boardwalk in September, 1964 but did not end it. The Seven Seas Drive-In and other Boardwalk businesses were damaged. That same year the 1964—Pablo Avenue ramp to the beach was removed. The Civil Rights movement kept some people away.

The boardwalk and its surrounding businesses failed to modernize and appeared shabby to contemporary ideas. Shiny, colorful plastics dazzled the brain unlike old painted wood and masonry. Shopping centers and then air conditioned malls sucked customers away from main street because they offered more. Better roads made them easily accessible. That was the opinion of Martin G. Williams, Sr.

The United States had been going through an economic boom since 1946 Americans sought to overcome the relative deprivation of the Great Depression and World War II by buying what they wanted. Money was pumped into the economy to fight WWII and then the Cold War encouraged consumer spending. People had more discretionary income and used it for themselves and the children of the Baby Boom. They bought TV sets, air conditioning units or centrally air conditioned homes, shopped and went to movies and restaurants in air conditioning. They stayed in air conditioned hotels and motels. The Interstate Highway system, begun in the 1950s, gave them faster, safer, and easier access to different places. They could speed through Jacksonville on I-95, passing nowhere near the beach, as they sought Daytona Beach, Orlando, Saint Petersburg, Tampa, Ft. Lauderdale, and Miami.

Carnival-like entertainment was dying in general. Coney Island, the prototype, declined and ran into trouble in 1963-64. In 1963, fire destroyed six amusement places; parts of it. The 1964 season was the worst in 25 years, partly because the nearby World’s Fair enticed millions to view its very modern exhibitions and facilities, upping the ante for amusement venues. Concessionaires blamed other variables—the influx of African American customers, weather, gangs, inadequate parking, and unsafe subways, Steeplechase Park shut its door in September. Over the next two years, Coney Island’s reputation went into steep decline.[71]


What happened to Coney Island and to the amusements parks on the Jacksonville Beach boardwalk was common in the 1960s; people had better opportunities for amusement when entrepreneurs built prettier, more sophisticated venues. Disneyland, built in southern California in 1955, became the standard by which all other amusement parks would be judged. It was clean, sleek, and appealing. Its world famous cartoon and movie characters gave it a cache that no other amusement park could muster. Its sister Florida park, Disney World south of Orlando, was even more sophisticated, aided by the fact that the state of Florida gave almost carte blanche to the company to do what it wanted. Disney tested his ideas at the World’s Fair in 1964 and began secretly buying property in Florida that same year. He would transplant some of the World’s Fair attractions to Disneyland and Disney World. Other themed amusement parks were soon built. Tampa’s Busch Gardens opened in 1959 as a free bird sanctuary and hospitality center for those who visited the Anheuser-Busch brewery. By 1962, the process of converting it to an African-themed park began with the creation of the Serengeti Plain. Then, Anheuser-Busch started charging admission in 1970 in order to support and expand the park. Six Flags Over Texas opened in 1961 in Dallas and subsequent similar parks were opened in Atlanta and St. Louis.

Were there enough money to be earned by modernizing the oceanfront carnival in Jacksonville Beach, to make it a more attractive area which provided both cheap and moderately-priced entertainment and air conditioning, the “carnival” would have not only survived but would have blossomed. However, the cost would have been in the millions, way beyond the means of the “mom and pop” entrepreneurs who owned it. So the carnival atrophied until death.

Jacksonville sped this change in 1968 when it absorbed all of Duval Country in a complicated governmental structure which allowed Atlantic Beach, Neptune Beach, Jacksonville Beach, and the west Duval County town of Baldwin to remain independent municipalities and part of Jacksonville. This confusing arrangement was invented in April, 1967 because the beach communities could have been abolished under a 1934 law that the pro-consolidators were avoiding because it would mean years of court fights. They knew that the beach cities were likely to vote against consolidating Duval County into one government called Jacksonville. Some prominent beach leaders—Joseph Van Dyke a Neptune Beach Councilman, Maxwell Dickinson of Atlantic Beach, Mayor W. S. Wilson of Jacksonville Beach—were among those opposing consolidation. State Representative George Stallings and Richard Featheringill, President of the Duval County Young Republican Club led much of the anti-consolidation forces at the beaches. Featheringill headed Citizens for Better Government even asserted that consolidation would bring dictatorship and communism. Justin Montgomery led a strong coalition that spoke repeatedly for the compromise consolidation plan. They and others had tired of Jacksonville and Duval County corruption and/or inefficiency so they took the compromise of being part of Jacksonville (Duval County) and self-governing municipalities.

When the smoke of battle cleared, the beaches voted 2,173 to 2,003 for consolidation. They also voted 2,548 to 1,534 for retaining their existing governments. That Florida county governments had some power over the municipalities in them was nothing new. All of this would have been easier to understand had Duval County been renamed Jacksonville instead of keeping both names. Although the Duval County beach communities kept some autonomy, they could not compete against the fiscal and personnel resources of Jacksonville. For most purposes, they had been absorbed.[72]

Jacksonville not beach politicians made the decisions which influenced beach growth. They had refurbished the 6th Avenue South pier; they would fund the 5th Avenue North pier. They funded the social services at the beach including the beach branch of the public library. Off the barrier island, they determined where, when, and why roads would be repaired or built. The roads largely determined settlement patterns. When the J. Turner Butler Boulevard (FL 202) multi-lane highway was built in 1997 from US 1 and I-95 to southern Jacksonville Beach, so many businesses and housing developments sprang up along the route and in bordering St. Johns County that it had to be extended a little more than a decade later. The St. Johns County community of Ponte Vedra Beach grew rapidly and effectively absorbed Palm Valley, funneling more prosperous families out of Jacksonville Beach.

As the old downtown of Jacksonville Beach changed, the city government tried various schemes to reverse what it saw as decline. Beautification, park improvements, better parking, the Flag Pavilion, decorative paving of the “boardwalk,” and the Sea Walk Pavilion were created. Nothing worked immediately. The entertainment center shifted to Town Center where Atlantic and Neptune Beaches faced each across the eastern terminus of Atlantic Boulevard.

The boardwalk survived, however, and even acquired a fishing pier in time. After all, people flock to the sun and surf, play, eat, and spend the night. Driving and parking on the beach ended in 1979. The concrete bulkhead was encased in sand and sea oats grown to restore the shore to a more natural state. The boardwalk itself changed to accommodate a different, more prosperous clientele. Some older buildings remained but private enterprise built high rise hotels and condominiums by the late 20th century. Old-time residents complained about the view being blocked but could not stop construction. The boardwalk became more attractive so a fishing pier reappeared in the 21st century.

The abandonment of the carnival aspect of the boardwalk began in 1960 when a 1,200 foot fishing pier was built at 6th Avenue South, then blocks south of the business district. R.L Williams, owner of the new pier, wanted it to be much like the old pier with dancing and beer sales. At first, the City Council balked because it seemed to be replicating what some thought was undesirable about the old pier. It agreed later that May to allow the sale of alcoholic beverages. Lewis Stewart awarded a beer license so he could have a tavern. [73] After all, such had been sold since the city had been founded as Ruby Beach. It suffered storm damage more than once, losing 400 feet to Hurricane Dora on September 9, 1964, and then collapsed into the ocean because of the 1999 storm created by Hurricane Floyd. The City of Jacksonville spent a million dollars on June 16, 2000 to restore the pier and its restaurant. An arsonist destroyed the Pier Point restaurant at the foot of this pier on June 17, 2002.

Figure 68 6th Avenue South Pier, 2001 Photo by Don Mabry

Hotels built on the boardwalk encouraged the building of a 1,300 foot fishing pier at the end of 5th Avenue North, the northern limit of the old boardwalk. Sturdier than previous piers, it opened in December, 2004 and instantly became a favorite of fishermen and strollers. Its length allowed one to enjoy a panoramic view of downtown Jacksonville Beach. Pelicans, hoping for a free meal, loiter. Few, if any, miss a place to dance since dancing declined precipitously with the advent of rock concerts in the 1960s; clubs along First Street North meet the demand. Although a storm damaged some of the flooring which was quickly replaced, the pier became a beach icon. See the photos below.

bahs 022
Figure 69 2004 Pier. Photo by Don Mabry
Figure 70 Pier Pelican. Photo by Don Mabry
Figure 71 Jacksonville Beach From the Pier Photo by Don Mabry

People of all hues and ages flock to Jacksonville Beach to enjoy its sand, surf, bars, clubs, and boardwalk. They watch free movies and attend festivals and concerts at the Seawalk Pavilion by the ocean and see spectacular fireworks exploding over the ocean. Those who spend the night do so in comfort and luxury whether at the historic Casa Marina or the Quality Suites on the old roller coaster site. Driving on the beach was forbidden in 1979. The bulkhead is covered with sand so that sea oats and other natural vegetation can grow, making the shoreline more like its 1880 status. The concrete boardwalk is now prettified.

Only five buildings from the carnival days remain. At the southern end, the iconic American Red Cross Volunteer Life Saving Corps Station (1946) stands guard where a station has stood since 1913. The Guards still use the Walker torpedo buoy and the high orange guard stand with its banner flying, a banner the guard waves to signal for help before racing to the surf to the rescue. Going north, the public toilets at the foot of First Avenue North have been refurbished a bit. The Perkins Bath House and Hotel Building contains a restaurant and souvenir shop; the hotel and bathhouse are closed, made redundant by modern facilities and automobiles. The former Playland Arcade, the “penny arcade” of yesteryear now sells seashells, coral bits, T-shirts, and beach supplies business. The Casa Marina grandly anchors the northern boundary. All the rest exist in memory and photographs.

Figure 72 ARC Life Saving Corps. Photo by Don Mabry
Figure 73 Public Toilets, First Avenue North. Photo by Don Mabry
Figure 74 Perkins Bathhouse & Williams Buildings Photo by Don Mabry
Figure 75 Perkins Bathhouse Building, June 2009 Photo: Don Mabry
boardwlk2    Figure 76 Hotels and Condominiums on the Boardwalk Photo: Don Mabry

The boardwalk of 2009 more closely resembles the vision of the founders of Pablo Beach in 1885, for it caters to those who afford to live on the shore in a condominium either as primary or secondary home or afford a nice hotel room. The little area serves day trippers as it did in the beginning but they travel by automobile not train. It exists for an affluent society with a strong business sector and with a very large military presence now instead of a small frontier city that grew into a large metropolitan area.

Why bother? Why spend time, effort, and money on this microhistory, this tiny little area of Jacksonville-Duval County, Florida? The Jacksonville Beach boardwalk, the appellation the locals gave the carnival, was never as big or influential as its New York and New Jersey counterparts. After all, they served New York City and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and their hinterlands not Jacksonville and its feeder area. Such a history illustrates the larger historical understanding. Going from the particular to the general is more accurate than deducing the particular from the general, the way history is generally written. Besides, it is fun.



This sweeping outline would not have been possible without the aid of many people. Thanks to my wife Paula C. Mabry, a magnificent person who has been supportive of my fascination with “home.” Harley Henry, a fellow alum of both Fletcher High School and Kenyon College and a avid supporter of beaches history. Without the extraordinarily valuable Beaches Area Historical Society & Museum studies such as this could not be done. BAHS deserves more support than it gets. Dwight Wilson, former archivist, carries so much beaches history in his head and is willing to share. Taryn Rodrguez-Boette, BAHS archivist, is talented, helpful, and knowledgeable; I consider her a friend. Austin Smith of Neptune Beach, Tom Ravoo of Orlando, Paul Marino of Jacksonville always answered when I called upon them for help. One family-- E.J. MacDonell Taylor, Bobbie MacDonell Sutton, John “Wimpy” Sutton, Janet MacDonell, and Anne MacDonell Reilly—is special; the members gave me insights unavailable elsewhere. Maxwell Dickinson still owns part of the boardwalk; he has been a president of BAHS. Martin G. Williams, Jr. was a prominent beaches leader and the son of the most important owner on the boardwalk. Leigh Callahan proofread the manuscript. George Hapsis, historian of the American Red Cross Volunteer Life Saving Corps, helped both with the Corps and as a volunteer staff member of BAHS. Leigh K. Callahan proofread the manuscript.My beaches friends of more than half a century--Ron and Diane Wingate and Hazel Wern Dalton—encouraged me. Vicki Wright Shattles and Mike Shattles supplied photos of the family business on the boardwalk, “The Pantry, “and regaled me with stories. My widowed grandmother and her children moved to Jacksonville in 1916. My mother was raised there and went back intermittently until she finally moved to the area. I went to school in Jacksonville Beach at various times in elementary school and then six years at Fletcher Junior-Senior High School. Fletcher alumni contributed their memories to the project. So many people have made this and my other studies of the beaches possible and fun. Thanks.


[1] Jeffrey Stanton, “Coney Island History Articles.” the list of rides can be found at


[3] George W. Simons, Jr., Report for Jacksonville Beaches Chamber of Commerce, 1944, p.10 comments on the very small lots in Pablo/Jacksonville Beach. T. Frederick Davis, History of Jacksonville Florida and Vicinity 1513 to 1924 . (Jacksonville, 1925), p. 350, writes of the railroad and real estate.

[4] “Ancient History at Beaches Is Recalled As Landmark Will Be Razed for Modern Buildings,” Florida Times-Union, 1935; S. Paul Brown, Book of Jacksonville: A History,(Poughkeepsie, NY: A. V. Haight, 1895). p. 144.

[5] The Statistical History of the United States: From Colonial Times to the Present. (New York: Basic Books, 1976), 8, 716-17. Burton Parker, “Value Of Autos Shown At Garden; Expert Estimates That 350,000 Motor Cars Are Now in Use in the United States,” New York Times, January 9, 1911, P. 10.

[6] October 29, 1885, Florida Times-Union; Jacksonville & A. R. Co. v. Woodworth. (Supreme Court of Florida. Aug. 18, 1890).

[7] Richard’s Jacksonville City Directory 1887. Webb’s Jacksonville & Consolidated Directory, 1887

[8] James C. Craig, “Murray Hall,” Jacksonville Historical Society Papers, Vol. III, 1954. Dwight Wilson, drawing heavily upon Craig’s work, provides an account of the attempts to create luxury hotels on the ocean shore. See “The Murray Hall and the Continental: Our World-Famous Hotels of Yesteryear,” Tidings Vol. 13, no. 1 Winter 1992; “A Jacksonville Hotel Burned,” New York Times, August 8, 1890.

[9]Robert Hawk, “Florida's Militia and State Troops 1865 – 1898,” Florida Guard Online.

[10] Winefred , Lady Howard of Glossop, Journal of a tour in the United States, Canada and Mexico. (London: S. Low, Marston, 1897), pp. 230-2.

[11] J. M. Hawks ,The East Coast of Florida: A Descriptive Narrative (Lynn, Massachusetts: Lewis & Winship, 1887), p. 53,

[12] It is not clear when the hotel was built. Bill Foley, “What Next After Fire? Beaches Parties On,” Florida Times-Union, August 15, 1997, says that the Ocean View was 30 when it burned in 1926. That would date it from 1896. Sidney Johnston, The Historic Architectural Resources of the Beaches Area: A Study of Atlantic Beach, Jacksonville Beach, and Neptune Beach, Florida. Jacksonville, FL: Environmental Services, Inc., July, 2003, p. 52.

[13] Clara Barton, The Red Cross in Peace and War (American Historical Press, 1898), pp. 461ff.

[14] New York Times, September 25, 1898.

[15] David Ott, “Remember the Maine! Adam County’s Involvement in the Spanish-American War.

[16] H. W. Bolton, ed., History of the Second Regiment Illinois Voluntary Infantry (Chicago: R. R. Donnelley, 1899), pp.328-9.

[17]Glenn Emery, “Cora Crane’s Palmetto House,” The Jacksonville Story,

[18] Manhattan Beach was provided by Flagler’s Florida East Coast railroad for its African American workers. The Atlantic Beach Corporation acquired it from the FEC and then Harcourt Bull took over. Bull leased land to business people and resisted pressure for years from white to drive blacks away. Eventually, the state bought the land to make it a state park. Letter of J. H. Payne, Atlantic Beach Corporation to FEC vice president J. P. Beckwith. October 24, 1914. Letter of Harcourt Bull to Lucy Bunch, June 6, 1917. Letter of Harcourt Bull to David Mayfield, February 17, 1920, turning down an offer to buy the pavilions and promising to keep the beach a resort for African Americans. Harcourt Bull to Joseph W. Davin letter, November 24, 1932; Rogers & Towers letter to Harcourt Bull, January 27, 1933. work s Marsha Dean Phelts, An American Beach for African Americans (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1997), 3-8 devotes a few pages to Manhattan Beach and has some good photos. However, her chronology does not always jibe with my research in original sources.

New York Times, August 9, 1911. Randal L. Hall, “Before NASCAR: the corporate and civic promotion of automobile racing in the American South, 1903-1927, “Journal of Southern History, August, 2002.

[20] Maggie FitzRoy, “Lifeguards Going Strong,” Shorelines, Saturday, August 3, 2002.

[21] The Southern Reporter, Vol. 66, (St. Paul: West Publishing Company, 1915),p. 990.

[22] “Torpedolike Buoy Is Efficient Life-Saver,” Popular Mechanics, Vol. 35, No. 3 (March, 1921).

[23] This may have been Duncan U. Fletcher; there is no D. E. Fletcher in the Jacksonville city directory in that era.

[24] “Charles Henry Mann,” Makers of America: An Historical and Biographical Work by an Able Corps of Writers. By Florida Historical Society (Jacksonville, Fla.). Published by A. B. Caldwell., 1909., pp. 399-400.

[25] Johnston, p. 53.

[26] “Coney Island Building Condemned,” Beach News & Advertiser, January 26, 1924; “Contract For Razing Coney Island Building,” Beach New & Advertiser, March 29, 1924; “Coney Island Building Changes Hands,” Beach New & Advertiser, January, 24, 1925; and “Coney Island Building Razed,” Pablo Beach News, January 25, 1926.

[27] Pablo Beach News, May 2, 1925; September 26, 1925; March 15, 1926; and April 11, 1927.

[28] John “Wimpy” Sutton, Papa’s Memoirs. (Jacksonville Beach, FL, privately printed, 2005).

[29] Mike Leavitt, “Florida State Summit. “Opening Remarks Prepared for Delivery By the Honorable Mike Leavitt
Secretary of Health and Human Services.” The Great Pandemic of 1918: State by State.

[30] Historical Inflation Rates, 1914-2009,

[31] Johnny Woodhouse, "Doolittle Took Up Challenge After Coney Died,” Times to Remember: A Calendar for 2005. The Beaches Leader, 2004; Davis, 279- 282.

[32] Davis, 324, 330; Johnston, p. 59; Bill Foley, “Tough Decision: Boxing or Swimsuits,? “ Florida Times-Union, June 3, 1998; Johnston, pp. 60-62. The school was Jacksonville Beach Elementary School which was eventually demolished. What was the elementary school for African-Americans then was named Jacksonville Beach Elementary School.

[33] Johnston, p. 59;

[34] Bill Foley. “Millennium Moment: June 2, 1920: Vexing vixen's shimmy shocks Pablo Beach,” Florida Times-Union (June 2, 1999). Jack Pate, “It’s the Law!,” in Beaches Area Historical Society archive, dated 1993-2004.

[35] Bill Foley, “Prelude to history at Pablo on a sober Labor Day, 1922,” Florida Times Union (September 2, 1999).

[36] Bill Foley, “Dancing was so big some refused to stop,” Florida Time-Union (June 15, 1999) found at

[37] David Chalmers, “The Ku Klux Klan in the Sunshine State: The 1920's ,” Florida Historical Quarterly 42:3, 210-216.

[38] Michel Oesterreicher, Pioneer Family: Life on Florida's Twentieth-Century Frontier. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 1996. pp. 91-95.

[39] United States. Patent Office, Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office. Patent Office Published by The Office, 1919. v. 268, pp. 512. #1,322,466; Martin G. Williams, Jr., “Jacksonville Beach Boardwalk,” typescript sent to Donald J. Mabry. June, 2009. Beach News, December 16, 1922. Stone & Webster Journal, Vol. 30 (January, 1922) p. 255. Trina Polkey, “Jacksonville Beach Pier,” GAFF Magazine, 2008.; Jack Pate, “The Old Pier, “ Tidings, 20 No. 1 (January 1999).

[40] “Pier Burned In Less Than An Hour,” Ocean Beach Reporter, November 4, 1938.

[41] Letter, President, United Amusement Company, April 16, 1923 to Mayor of Pablo Beach, BAHS collection.

[42] Bill Foley, “Millennium Moment: July 28, 1926” Florida Times-Union, July 28, 1999.

[43] Beach News & Advertiser, August 9, 126; Rollercoaster database.

[44] The Statistical History of the United States: From Colonial Times to the Present (NY, Basic Books,1976 ), 1114-1117.

[45] Montgomery was mayor again in 1937 to 1939, Councilman and Mayor Pro Tempore from 1943 to 1945; Councilman from 1945 to 1947 and Councilman and Mayor Pro Tempore from 1947 to 1949. His nephew, Justin Montgomery, would be mayor in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He would be president of the Beaches Chamber of Commerce in 1968. He died in January, 1960.

[46] Martin G. Williams, Jr. to the author; The Beaches Leader (March 6, 1969). Williams died on August 20, 1977, a week before his ninetieth birthday.

[47] “The Leader Salutes: Martin G. Williams, Sr.: Grand Old Man of the Boardwalk, “The Beaches Leader (March 6, 1969). Steve Crosby, “He Was ‘King of the Boardwalk,’” Florida Times-Union, 1977.

[48] “Florida Slot Machine Owner Withdraws Test Case, “St. Petersburg Times, October 22, 1937. He withdrew the suit, however.

[49] “The Military Zone.; “Everyone Pitched in For War Effort, “The Beaches Leader, June 29, 2001

[50]Leon O. Prior,” Nazi Invasion of Florida!” Florida Historical Quarterly 49:2 ( October 1970 ),129-140; Stan Cohen and Don DeNevi with Richard Gay, They Came to Destroy America: The FBI Goes to War against Nazi Spies and Saboteurs before and during World War IIMissoula, MT: Pictorial Histories, 2003; see also Michael Gannon, Florida, A Short History. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1993, pp. 105-107.

[51] BAHS Tidings, Vol. 24, No2,,May 2002

[52] Billboard, September 1, 1945.

[53] Steve Crosby, “He Was ‘King of the Boardwalk,’” Florida Times-Union, 1977. Chauncey Holt, a shady character, said he was sent to the bar to monitor the books and found that Earl Kite was skimming: “Their business was dropping off about $15,000 a week and they figured that Mr. Kite probably had his hand in the till. So we went down there and I stayed there about a month as a book keeper, numbers writer, that sort of thing. And as soon as we found out that, yeah, he was stealing, I moved on.” Holt asserted that Earl Kite was found floating in the surf with a bullet in his brain. “Interview With Chauncey Holt,” However, Earl Kite died in March 1967 at age 70; 217 F.2d 585, 55-1 USTC P 9199. Earl KITE, Petitioner, v. COMMISSIONER OF INTERNAL REVENUE, Respondent. Mary B. KITE, Petitioner, v. COMMISSIONER OR INTERNAL REVENUE, Respondent. No. 14936. United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit. Feb. 4, 1955, found at; Bill Foley, “Bolita just didn't have lottery's Respectability,” Florida Times-Union, July 3, 1999, found at

[54] .Bill Foley, “Beaches bet against law and lose,” Florida Times-Union, August 29, 1999.

[55] My comments are based on the Polk City Directories for 1948, 1954, 1956, 1958, and 1960. They are available at the Beaches Area Historical Society. In addition, Martin G. Williams has been very kind in providing me with his recollections. So, too, have a number of persons I know from Duncan U. Fletcher Junior-Senior High School.

[56] This colorful character He had begun as a carny in 1925 at age 15 after he left his Detroit, Michigan birthplace. Although the March 9, 1962 boardwalk fire damaged his business, he started over, continued after Hurricane Dora in 1964, and, when the carnival parts of the boardwalk disappeared, he continued being active in the field elsewhere in Duval County. He died August 22, 1993. “Boardwalk Used To Have A Carnival Flavor,” The Beaches Leader, September 3, 1993.

[57] “Holiday Inn Completed,” Beaches Leader, April 3, 1969.

[58] “Stay Cool! Air Conditioning America;“ Susanna Robbins, “Keeping Things Cool: Air-Conditioning in the Modern World,” OAH Magazine of History, 18 (October, 2003); "Interview with Marsha Ackerman on Talking History; U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Census of Population: 1960, Vol. 1. Florida (Washington, US Government Printing Office), 1961.

[59] See Bob Garfield, " Top 100 Advertising Campaigns of the Century; Randall Rothenberg, "The Advertising Century," gives a quick overview of the power of television advertising.

[60] Donald J. Mabry, “Rock ‘n Roll: the Beginnings,” HTA Press, April 30, 2004. I worked on the boardwalk and hung out on the pier. The fears were unfounded.

[61] Beach News & Advertiser, July 29, 1960 says the Council took initial steps on the new jail and planned to use a federal loan to cover costs.

[62] “City manager to recommend that Boardwalk block be condemned,” Beaches News, November 6, 1959; “Boardwalk Used to Have Carnival Flavor,” The Beaches Leader, September 3, 1993.

[63] Beach News & Advertiser 5-12-1961; Beach News & Advertiser 5-19-1961; Beach News & Advertiser, June 9, 1961

[64] “Boardwalk Used to Have Carnival Flavor,” Beaches Leader, September 3, 1993 says the fire occurred on March 9, 1962.

[65] Beach News & Advertiser, August 7, 1959; Beach News and Advertiser, 7-24-1959; Beach News & Advertiser, 8-7-1959

[66] Beach News & Advertiser , November2, 1962; Beach News & Advertiser , November 9, 1962; and Beach News & Advertiser , November 23, 1962.

[67] U.S. Bureau of Census, Census of Population: 1960 Florida-Volume I Part 11: Characteristics of the Population. Atlantic Beach had a median family income of $ 6,053; the Jacksonville SMSA, had $4,433; Jacksonville Beach, had $5,077; and Neptune Beach had $ 5,833.

[68] Beach News & Advertiser, Friday, September 30, 1960; Beach News & Advertiser, October 21, 1960. Smith, according to his son Austin, was not only not a member but a civil rights advocate. His sister, Lillian, had written Forbidden Fruit.

[69] Martin G. Williams, Jr. , Jacksonville Beach Boardwalk,” email attachment, June, 2009.

[70] See Jacksonville Journal, June 12, 1969 for the desegregation of bars.

[71] Coney Island Timeline.

[72] Richard Martin, Consolidation: Jacksonville-Duval County;: The Dynamics of Urban Political Reform. (Jacksonville, Crawford Publishing Company, 1988) is an account by a Florida Times-Union reporter who was an ardent supporter of consolidation. James B. Crooks, The Consolidation Story From Civil Rights To The Jaguars. (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2004) is a more sweeping book without much detail on consolidation. The Beaches Leader was opposed to consolidation.

[73] Beach News & Advertiser, May 6, 1960; Beach News & Advertiser, May 20, 1960.



Beaches Leader
Beach News

Beach News & Advertiser
Beach Outlook

Ocean Beach Reporter
Pablo Beach News
Florida Times-Union
Jacksonville Journal

New York Times
Saint Petersburg Times


“Reminiscence Session,” Oral History DVDs , February 17, 2007 morning and afternoon sessions. Beaches Area Historical Society archives.


Andrew Bachman Postcard Collection
Beaches Area Historical Society
H. W. Bolton
Coveman on Flickr

Laurie Adams Crowson
Florida Memory Project
Florida Times-Union
Jacksonville Public Library, Florida Collection
Don Keller
Mabry Archive
Makers of America
Pablo Improvement Company
Popular Mechanics
Sanborn Fire Insurance Company via University of Florida
Patricia Carleton Sanders
Vicki Wright Shattles and Mike Shattles
Austin Smith
Clint Sykes

Emery, Glenn. “Cora Crane’s Palmetto House,” The Jacksonville Story,
“Interview With Chauncey Holt,”
“The Military Zone.
Coney Island Timeline.
Garfield, Bob. "Top 100 Advertising Campaigns of the Century; Randall Rothenberg, "The Advertising Century,"
Hawk, Robert, “Florida's Militia and State Troops 1865 – 1898,” Florida Guard Online.
Historical Inflation Rates, 1914-2009,
Mike Leavitt, “Florida State Summit. “Opening Remarks Prepared for Delivery By the Honorable Mike Leavitt
Secretary of Health and Human Services.” The Great Pandemic of 1918: State by State.
Mabry, Donald J. “Rock ‘n Roll: the Beginnings,” HTA Press, April 30, 2004.
Ott, David. “Remember the Maine! Adam County’s Involvement in the Spanish-American War.
Rollercoaster database.
Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps.
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BEACHES HISTORY BY DONALD J. MABRY  (Published by and Hyperlinked to the HTA Press)
Book: World's Finest Beach (February, 2006)
1. A Man and Three Hotels (March 16, 2006)
2. Neptune Beach Before 1931 (October 10, 2006)
3. Harcourt Bull's Atlantic Beach (February 8, 2007)
4. Beaches Veterans in WWI (March 3, 2007)
5. Mighty Mayport (February, 2008)
6. Florida's Napoleon (May 8, 2008)
7. Baseball on the Beach, Sea Birds, 1952-54 (September 24, 2008)