By Hilda Mitrani
It was the bridges that first intrigued me while driving through Jacksonville, considered the architectural gem of the South in the early 20th Century. Today the city's storied past enhances its position as a vibrant metropolis.
The City of Seven Bridges, as it’s sometimes called, was already a significant business and tourism center in the 19th Century. Jacksonville was then transformed by the Great Fire of 1901 that destroyed the downtown business district.
I learned this and other details while guided by Gary Sass, founder of AdLib Walking Tours. Ambling along the St. Johns River downtown up to Hemming Plaza, Gary affably told stories from the time of Florida's first military Governor Andrew Jackson, after whom the city is named, to Henry John Klutho, famed architect and urban planner. Jackson later served as the seventh president of the United States.
After the fire, great architects were drawn to contribute to the city's reconstruction, and the variety of styles in the historic structures is impressive. Here is a synopsis of just a few of the architects that helped shape the city and the striking buildings they designed:
Henry John Klutho - Jacksonville's most significant architect during the period between the Great Fire of 1901 and World War 1. He was Florida's foremost authority on the Prairie School style and designed many of Jacksonville's most prominent landmarks, including the Jacksonville Free Public Library and the St. James Building, both of which are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Roy A. Benjamin - Credited with the design of many notable theaters including the Riverside Theatre, the San Marco Theatre and the Arcade Theater.
Henrietta Cuttino Dozier - Designer of the Old Federal Reserve Bank Building in association with Atlanta architect, A. Ten Eyck Brown.
Harold Frederick Saxelbye - Partner in Marsh & Saxelbye, the most prolific architectural firm in Jacksonville between 1919 and 1946. He designed the stunning Levy Building on West Adams Street downtown and many residential structures.
After taking Gary's in-depth tour, I'm not surprised to learn that AdLib's guides have been featured on television’s History Channel. Gary certainly combines knowledge with humor and rarely-known anecdotes.
And those seven bridges? I'd like to drive across all of them, and then walk the miniature versions at the inspirational Cancer Survivor's Park, located on the campus of Florida State College.