5: After WWII
<< 4: The World's Finest Beach, 1925-45 || 6: The Sixties >>
Winter storms sent waves crashing against the concrete
bulkheads built in the 1930s, shooting spray thirty or more feet into the air.
The water pounded against the reinforced concrete and eroded its support. Fierce
winds swept towards shore. Battering. Battering. Building bulkheads to contain
the sea and give the Beaches a more orderly appearance seemed a good idea.
Although they varied in style (those in much of Atlantic Beach were curved), they
stretched from south Jacksonville Beach to north Atlantic Beach. The
Boardwalk became concrete so people could walk on it or rest on the benches
provided, watching sandpipers scurrying, gulls flying, girls and guys cavorting,
and the ceaseless actions of the sea. Their very existence, however, caused
waves to flow differently, undermining the cement slabs. Nature subverted human
intentions. Over the years, after a particularly bad storm, the seawall would
collapse and the sea would reclaim the sand for its own. Forces of nature,
humanity, dominated the Beaches.
Figure 5-1 Erosion Caused by Storms
Figure 5-2 Storm Damage, 1956
One of those forces was the national economy. Between December, 1945 and December, 1947, prices in the
United States rose about 33% or one-third as people bid up prices for the scarce available consumer goods.
Rationing and the production of war goods meant consumer goods such as
appliances and automobiles were almost impossible to buy; people saved. Wages
rose and price controls prevented a cost explosion. Congress, over Truman's objections , ended them in the summer and fall of 1946. Whereas people assumed that there would be a post-war depression, there was a post-war boom.
People bought and bought.
The US had grown even richer. The Gross National Product (the value of all goods and services) in 1929 had been a little over $100
billion; it fell to $70 billion in the Great Depression but had risen above $174 billion in 1948. Prosperity was stimulated by pent-up demand and by massive federal spending. In 1945, the US government had spent $98 billion dollars as opposed to the normal
$3 billion in the 1920s. Although the budget was cut to $33 billion by 1948, the explosion in consumer spending more than made up the slack. New Deal and wartime policies of high taxes and high wages had redistributed incomes, giving the average person the wherewithal to buy.
All businesses had grown, contrary to the dire predictions of conservatives that the New Deal would destroy business. Competition was very much alive.
The Beaches benefited because its economy was based on the
pursuit of pleasure, on discretionary spending. When people begin spending,
particularly after a long period of relative deprivation, part of the money
is spent to make them feel good. Advertisers figured this out long ago and
concentrated on confusing people about need and desire. Going to the beach;
playing in the ocean; drinking alcohol; playing games; getting thrills from
rides; and other sensual pleasures was what the Beaches were about. Tourism
ruled and many, if not most, of the people who lived at the Beaches in the
immediate post-WWII period, lived off tourists, directly or indirectly.
There were commuters to jobs in Jacksonville and the number
had grown. Once a paved highway was completed, the trip took less than two
hours (the time necessary before 1925) and more people had automobiles commuting
became feasible. In the post-war period, the number of automobiles increased
dramatically and, with that increase, the number of commuters. Atlantic
Boulevard, a two-lane highway, became more and more crowded. The
city bus which connected downtown Jacksonville with the Beaches via Atlantic
became indispensable to those who worked downtown but could not afford a car. One could enjoy
the pleasure of living on a beach and be in the city half an hour later.
The Cold War and then the Korean War
(1950-53) changed the Beaches. The Mayport Navy base was reactivated in June 1948 as a Naval
Outlying Landing Field, a satellite of Jacksonville NAS, then as an Auxiliary
Field. In October,1952, the aircraft carrier USS Tarawa (CVS 40) used
the new carrier basin which had been built at Ribault Bay. In 1955, Commander
Carrier Division Two moved there. In 1956, the carrier, the USS Franklin D.
Roosevelt was home ported there. Capital ships brought other ships with them
and people and money and attitudes. Sailors and civilians working for the
military—whether at Mayport or on of the three other Naval bases in the
vicinity—not only spent money but also relocated permanently there. Because of
the lengthy deployment os a carrier group, some married Navy personnel moved
their families to the base or near it. Sailors—white hats—swarmed when on
leave, looking for fun in the sun. Liquor stores and bars boomed as did the
Boardwalk, restaurants, clothing stores, and the like. The female population of
the beaches increased for a time. Navy police, the Shore Patrol, kept order and
tried not to bother civilians.
Nationally, the number of babies being born boomed. Those born in
the years 1946-1964 have been immortalized by the sobriquet
"baby boomers." The population boom meant new and bigger houses, new schools, more
government workers such as teachers, firemen, policemen, garbage collectors, and
clerks, more food and drink and dispensers thereof, more clothes, more repair
shops, more entertainment, and so forth. Parents were so determined to give
their children a better material life and to make sure that they did not suffer
deprivation that they empowered children. Some would say they were spoiled;
others rejoiced that the US economic system produced such abundance. The baby
boomers moved through U.S. history like a tidal wave, sweeping long established
traditions, morality, and patterns aside. The first of them turned 18 in 1964,
portending student rebellion. This demographic phenomenon was not apparent,
however, as women bore baby after baby and families moved to suburbs and to the
shore, possible because of more and better highways.
Getting onto the Beaches' island was critical for being
a tourist destination and a bedroom community. The railroad which existed from
1886 until 1931 had been essential. The rise of the automobile age created
Atlantic Boulevard in 1910; Atlantic then received massive improvements in 1925. When first built,
the prestige of the Flagler interests, particularly the Continental Hotel, made
it seem that Atlantic Beach was the future but Jacksonville Beach became the
locus of power at the Beaches. As Pablo/ Jacksonville Beach became more
powerful, its leaders began lobbying for a highway directly from South
Jacksonville to Jacksonville Beach. In 1925, a group, which included contractor
and developer B. B. McCormick, tried to
get a new beach boulevard that would have come into the beach at 37th Avenue
South. The county commission was finishing work on Atlantic Boulevard and not
interested. The Jacksonville Beach group persisted and, in November and
December,1929, had the county government to survey a route from San Nicholas in
South Jacksonville through Hogan Avenue and then parallel to the FEC tracks to 12th Avenue South.
Nothing came of this effort because the Great Depression and World War II
intervened. Work began in 1941 by the
State Highway Department as Works Progress Administration project but US entry into WWII
on December 8th killed it after 6-8
months. But the seed that the FEC railroad right-of-way should be used was
Serious road construction began after WWII. On December 7, 1945, four
years after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, construction began from
Atlantic Boulevard to Love Grove Road with a 140-foot bridge across Little Pottsburg Creek.
On June 24, 1946, a paved road was opened from Love
Grove Road to one mile east. By September, 1947, the project had begun to go 9.15 miles
east, bridging Big Pottsburg Creek, a creek the size of many rivers.
Construction also went from east to west. In 1946, B. B. McCormick & Sons got a $335,189.56 contract
to build Beach Boulevard from 3rd street west to the bridge over
Pablo Creek/Intracoastal Waterway. The next year, construction of a concrete
drawbridge was begun. This, the B. B. McCormick Bridge, opened in 1949.
The McCormick Bridge, begun May 25, 1948 cost $652,523. On December 17,1949, Beach
Boulevard was dedicated.1 Because the State and Duval County refused to extend Beach Boulevard from 3rd Street down Mundy Avenue to the ocean,
B. B. McCormick did at his own expense.
Figure 5-3 McCormick
Bridge on Pablo Creek/Intracoastal Waterway, 1972
Benjamin B. McCormick, B.
B. McCormick, shaped the Beaches as much or more than anyone else. Born near Fulton on the St.
Johns River on April 13, 1877, his family struggled to earn a living. McCormick
had little formal education; he had to work instead of going to school. In 1894, he got the job as the U.S.
between Fulton and Cosmos, both tiny settlements on the river but on the
railroad line. He earned $15 a month or $180 a year; the average working man
earned between $400-500 a year in 1900. In 1898, he was
hired to survey and cut the right of way from Mayport to Pablo Beach, a distance
of approximately nine miles, for the FEC route from Pablo to Mayport. He was
paid $1.25 a day, a rate which would have meant $7.50 a week if he worked the
normal 6 days a week or $390 for the year if he worked all 52 weeks. It is
unlikely that he did but he had improved his economic status. Then he began building lumber mills
for a living, learning valuable construction techniques and making contacts.
This he did until 1916.
Creating his own family was delayed until June 1, 1904,
when, at age 27, he married Dora Elizabeth
Oesterreicher, the oldest of nine children. The Oesterreicher family lived in
Palm Valley; his ties to that family and to the Beaches would remain strong even
though, in 1911, he moved to Jacksonville and built a home with his own labor.
To earn the extra money needed for building supplies, he gardened at night,
straining his health. When the US joined WWI in 1917, he worked in a shipyard which built wooden ships.
In 1918, he began
logging for some of the mills. He was doing well enough financially to buy a tract of timber just west of
He moved to the Beaches under inauspicious circumstances. His
children were sick too often, so he decided to take the four boys and three
girls to the beach for a month, hoping to improve their health. Disaster struck.
Their house burned down the night of the
morning they would leave. Having nothing but a few articles they had managed to
save, they moved to the Beaches, arriving about midnight at Atlantic Beach. The
friend turned his wagon around to head back to Jacksonville. The family walked on the
to south Pablo Beach, the adults carrying the children. Once they reached their
destination at 12th Avenue South, they camped out until McCormick could obtain
lodgings in a rooming house called The Owl. Dora McCormick had to wash clothes
and cook in the yard and there was no plumbing. One of their granddaughters says
that " All they had were the clothes on their
backs and those had been donated after the fire by Mr. Mayerheim who owned
Furchgott's, a major department store in Jacksonville.
In 1919, McCormick created a development and
construction company as a sideline to his timber business. In time, B. B. McCormick
& Sons, as the company became, would make his fortune. He contracted with
neighboring St. Johns County to clear its portion of state highway A1A to St
Augustine, a road running a few yards from the ocean. This scenic coastal road
opened up Mineral City/Ponte Vedra Beach to settlement and also funneled
tourists through the Beaches to the nation's oldest city. Then he was paid to grade
A1A from the Duval County line to Jacksonville Beach. He often he bartered work for
land. In 1922, he built the family home at 225 First Avenue South, a few blocks
south of town center. From 1938 to 1946, he was a jury commissioner. During WWII, his company profited from US government
wartime expenditures by building such military necessities as barracks and
airfields in Florida. Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and northeast Brazil.
To meet the demands of expanding population, he and his sons began constructing
the McCormick Apartments in 1943 and would continue until there were
containing 354 apartments stretched from south Jacksonville Beach to 17 blocks
into north Jacksonville Beach. New Deal money helped finance the project and Ben
McCormick had done a barter deal with the city of Jacksonville Beach to acquire
vacant land. Some of it he had to fill because it was under water. And he built. After the war, in 1947-48, McCormick & Sons began developing the Beaches
Homesites subdivision on ten acres bounded by 5th Street North, 9th
Avenue North, 10th Street North, and 13th Avenue
In 1951, the subdivision was
turned over the Shad investment Company which managed to get houses built,
sometimes through a third party.2
Ben McCormick was a devoted family man who tried to improve
the Beaches. In October, 1922, his wife died, leaving him with seven children to
raise. Although he relied upon relatives and domestic help, the task was
daunting. Finally, in March, 1926 ,he married Maude
Oesterreicher, the youngest of his wife’s
siblings. There were few eligible women available in such a small place and very
little opportunity for a busy man to meet them. He sired a boy and a girl by
He had little education and was determined that his children
would. The Beaches had only a three-room school building with forty-one students
in 1920. The building sat with water around it, creating an unhealthy situation.
McCormick drained and filled the site for free. Over and over, he
would he would improve the
grounds of schools at own expense. In March 7, 1923, he got the Duval County school
board to seek a special tax district for the Beaches, a move that passed in the
election of May 1, 1923. The school board was asked on June 2nd to issue bonds to build a new
school; Jacksonville Beach Elementary School was the result. In 1925, he was elected a
trustee and served until 1947, stopped by failing health. He was honored that
year when he was made an honorary member of the Fletcher High School graduating
He was worn out. The family, with the help of retainers, had
to help. When he cut the ribbon to open the B. B. McCormick Bridge, he was
in a wheelchair. He died in October 15, 1953, having been sick for years.
"Uncle Benny" had helped schools, civic organizations, youth groups,
and the Beaches for decades.3
Figure 5-4 Advertisement for McCormick
Figure 5-5 McCormick Apartments at 9th Avenue N.
African-Americans made progress in Atlantic Beach. In 1946,
the Donner subdivision grew just off Mayport Road in Atlantic
Beach. The subdivision was platted in 1921 and replatted in 1946 by E. H. Donner of Jacksonville Beach.
He was a European-American real estate developer who saw the opportunity to earn
a profit. The land sold for
an acre but had no public
utilities. Donner deeded a lot for a playground in 1948. The people who lived
there created businesses. The Palmetto Garden was a
restaurant, dance hall, and motel for "blacks." There was also the
Bluebird Nightclub. Tony’s Seafood Shack served food but also had
rooms on the second floor. Since motels and restaurants were segregated, these
businesses provided a real service. There was the Negro Chamber of Commerce.4
Racial segregation damaged all peoples, of course, since it
countered free enterprise as well as fairness but it hurt African-Americans more
than other groups. Education made little difference. Of the 95 black teachers in
Duval County in 1945-46, 91 of
them “holding the Bachelor’s degree and having maximum experience” received $189
a month, the minimum. By contrast, 71 of 83 white teachers in the same category
received $233 a month, 23.8% more. Black substitute teachers earned $4 a day whereas white substitute
teachers only $5 a day, a 25% difference. The African-American schools in the county also
got left-over textbooks.5
No wonder that African-Americans began suing for equal
treatment after the Second World War; after all they had sacrificed, bled, and
died in a war against German and Japanese racism. There were many successful
lawsuits but the one that shook the nation was Brown v. Topeka Board of
Education in 1954 which ruled that segregation was inherently unequal and,
therefore, unconstitutional. At Fletcher Junior-Senior High School, one heard mutterings that
African-Americans would be killed and stuffed in lockers if they tried to
integrate the school. The “perfect” world was threatened. It was not the case
that the “whites” would not accept another race or a mixed-race person. After
all, there were students of Asian ancestry as well as people who were part
American Indian. Segregation was keeping "blacks," African Americans, in "their
place," a place to which no Fletcher student aspired. Nothing happened for years
in terms of school integration but the civil rights movement picked up
momentum in the early 1960s.
Tourism boomed after World War Two.
Occupancy rates increased even as new motels were built. The post-WWII boom
meant spending to meet pent-up demand, a desire to enjoy life after the Great
Depression-World War II period of relative deprivation, more and better
advertising by the “World’s Finest Beach,” and military personnel availing
themselves of the “pleasure” of the Beaches. The amusements on the boardwalk
enjoyed unusual prosperity; perhaps a 100,000 persons would enjoy it on major
holiday weekends. The families who owned the concessions and rides would earn
almost all of their annual income in six months; those who owned bars and
motels had year round incomes for the bars closed at 4 AM and people used
motels for a variety of reasons.
Promotional efforts by the Beaches Chamber of Commerce
helped. Fireworks displays at the tourist center of Jacksonville Beach on the
Fourth of July and on Labor Day attracted many thousands. Bathing beauty
contests did likewise. Tourism meant improving the infrastructure. In 1948, a new Red Cross Life Guard Station
opened and soon became an local icon.
Figure 5-6 Life Guard Station
Figure 5-7 Bathing Beauties, 1946
In the 1946-64 era, the Beaches attracted hundreds of
thousands of tourists during the season, providing income for thousands of
residents. People from Jacksonville and Duval County, from military bases, from
neighboring counties and state, and from the East and Midwest came to enjoy the
surf and the amusements and to darken their skin, at least temporarily. They
ate, drank, gambled, fornicated, and chilled out. Hotels, motels, and rooming
houses were locally owned. So, too, were the restaurants, be they Boardwalk
hamburger stands on elegant ones such as Le Chateau, the Copper Kettle/Sea
Turtle, and the Atlantic Beach Hotel Fisherman's Net dining room, all in Atlantic Beach. A
rating from the American Automobile Association was the closest to a national chain that these
The money stayed home or in Jacksonville.
The Boardwalk and downtown Jacksonville Beach were the heart
of tourism. The pier between 2nd Avenue North and
3rd Avenue North was a landmark in downtown beach. Although not meant to be so,
it was a dividing line of the Boardwalk. The "action" occurred on the
pier and the area south of it. The stretch between the pier and the Sandpiper
Hotel with its very cold swimming pool was not as popular.
Downtown included such things as rides, shops, drugstores, a
tourist traps, bars, and a community
center with a tiny public library.
Figure 5-8 The Pier, Mid-1950s
As tourism increased and the Mayport Naval Base
expanded, the road into Mayport
had to be relocated the new A1A highway. In September,
1950, the ferries Manadock and Reliance docked at pilot town.6
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. 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 major US naval bases. In the 1950s. thousands
of sailors took liberty at the Beaches, primarily Jacksonville Beach. When the
bus from Mayport discharged its passengers at the terminal on 1st
Street North and 6th Avenue, it was a “sea of white hats,” as the
sailors headed for hotels and bath houses to change into civvies or to bars or
the boardwalk. One knew them even in civvies because $2 bills were included in the sailor’s pay
and they wore black dress shoes.
Figure 5-9 Downtown Jacksonville Beach, mid-1950s
Fishing was an important but risky
source of income in Mayport. Party fishing boats took the affluent out in the
river or the sea to try to catch big game fish. The shrimp industry
Portuguese fishermen, such as
the Perry and Roland families,
a spark and experience when they arrived in the 1920s. They joined other ethnic
groups in shrimping. African-Americans shrimped as well. It was a hard business
which required strong, patient men. The boats
ranged far and wide, often traveling hundreds of miles to catch enough.
Sometimes disaster struck. The Donald Ray sank in March, 1957 off the
coast of Ponte Vedra with Rhodes Wylie, Melvin “Sweet Pea” Singleton, and John
Gavagan being lost.7
Figure 5-10 Mayport Shrimp Boats
The Beaches were one, in fact, even though they comprised
Atlantic, Neptune, and Jacksonville Beaches in Duval County and Ponte Vedra Beach
and Palm Valley in St. Johns County. In many ways, it made little sense that there were so many
governments at the Beaches. Mayport
was not on the beach and had a very different history from the shore
communities. In a report commissioned by the Beaches Chamber of Commerce, Simons strongly recommended, insisted, that the three beaches become one
politically. In 1947, a consolidation vote was held and had a 1,252-699
result in favor of becoming one, but each beach had to agree. In Jacksonville Beach, it was 745-90
in favor but the Neptune
Beach vote was 322 against, 309 for; in Atlantic Beach the vote was 287 votes
against and 198 votes for. Ethnocentricity was alive and well. Neptune Beach had
"escaped" from Jacksonville Beach only sixteen years before. Atlantic
Beach saw itself as "different" from its southern brothers. 8
Fletcher Junior-Senior High School created the
unity needed by the Beaches for all the seventh through twelfth graders at
the Beaches attended except for African Americans and the few
"whites" who attended private schools. African-Americans children were
bused over twenty miles to attend junior or senior high school. Not many
"whites" attended Bishop Kenny, Bolles, or Bartram. Instead, they
attended Fletcher where they were united by cheering for the Senators in
athletic events, wars against other similar tribes in the region. School colors
(purple and white), a school song, and traditions promoted the sense of
belonging. Students from two counties (Duval and St. Johns) six
communities, various elementary schools, and even from the west side of Pablo
Creek were given a common identity. As more and more people moved to the
Beaches, transfer students were soon acclimated and indoctrinated in the Beaches
Although the age spread of six years was considerable for the
adolescent years, the mixture was beneficial. Younger students learned from
older students. Older students took care of younger siblings or their friends
without being intrusive. One's misdeeds were likely to be reported to one's
parents by someone, thus curtailing the incidence rate. Smallness meant that
students at least knew each other by sight, at least, and that teachers knew
their charges, often several years before they taught them in class. Although
the enrollment went from about 500 in 1946 to 1200 in 1960, the student
population remained small enough to be manageable.
Fletcher students succeeded. "Fletcher swim teams would go on to win 176 dual meets without a loss, 20 straight
conference championships, fifteen county championships, and two state
championships." 9 Students would win
championships in track, basketball, and cross country. Although the football
teams did not fare as well, they were competitive. In a small town, high school
athletics are not only important for students but also for the adults as well.
In an age when few athletic events, college or professional, were televised, high
school athletics filled a special need. In the Fall, the games provided
entertainment for locals and a place to show off clothes. Students did well in other competitions
as well such as forensics, journalism, art, and science. Its extracurricular
activities were an important part of its educational endeavors. A high percentage of
graduates went to college, some to the most prestigious institutions. Successful
careers in business, academia, the military, medicine, law, landscape
architecture, architecture, the arts, and other professions were common. Its
night school educated adults.
It was the only institution that almost all Beaches residents
had in common. Located on the Jacksonville Beach-Neptune Beach border (see
Figure 5-11), its large physical plant on many acres anchored the beach
communities. The school focused people of different locales and social classes;
it was democratic. Under the founding principal, Frank. E. Doggett, Fletcher
absorbed new students effortlessly.10
Figure 5-11 1946, Looking South. The Building in the center is
Fletcher Junior-Senior High School.
There was plenty of open space, even close to the shore as
the photos show. The Neptune Beach boundary is the street below Fletcher in
Figure 5-11. For miles, houses hugged the shore. In this photo,
Figure 5-12, looking south across Neptune Beach, the amount of vacant land is
astounding. Figure 5-13 shows Atlantic Boulevard separating Neptune Beach at the
bottom from Atlantic Beach at the top. The ocean is less than a block to the
right. The photo also shows the city bus about to turn left to go to Jacksonville.
Figure 5-12 Looking South in Neptune Beach Down 3rd Street, ca. 1950
Figure 5-13 Neptune and Atlantic Beaches Intersect
At the north end of the island was the jetties, the
huge boulders that channeled the St. Johns River as it entered the Atlantic
Ocean. In daylight hours, people fished there, from the rocks or from shore. Or
held picnics and swam or looked at the boats and ships in the river. Ribault
Bay, the carrier basin, with
its warships was a sight to behold. At
night, people used the sand dunes for parties, for weenie roasts or to dine on
the cold fried chicken which was a staple for a "hayride." Lovers
found the dunes convenient. The jetties provided isolation for those
who could get there by car.
Figure 5-14 Kelly's Fish Camp at the jetties
Life at the Beaches was seasonal but pleasant. In the late
Spring until almost Fall, hundreds of thousands of visitors swelled the coastal
communities. Many permanent residents had to earn their income in those few
months, which kept incomes lower than the might have been. Most permanent residents
ignored the Boardwalk and bars. They went to the Beach Theater or the
drive-in movie off Beach Boulevard. They listened
to radio from the big Jacksonville stations or the local AM station, known as WJVB and
then WZRO. In the late fifties, Bill Greenwood, Fletcher Class of
1960 and later ABC TV and Radio commentator, as the number one disk jockey in
the Jacksonville market. People watched WMBR-TV, the CBS affiliate, and, beginning in 1957, WFGA-TV,
the NBC affiliate. Few watched educational television, WJAX-TV. Teenagers
frequented drive-in restaurants, first Bill’s Drive-In and then the iconic Surf
Maid Drive-In on Beach Boulevard. Few teenagers listened to WKTX
FM on Atlantic Boulevard; it a "a good music station."
Whereas the beach, boardwalk, and bars were for the tourists,
residents could enjoy minor league baseball for three seasons, 1952 to 1954. A group of local businessmen,
led by H. A. Prather, H. M. Hatcher, and H. M. Shelley created the Jacksonville Beach Florida Sea Birds in 1952. Then Julian Jackson
and T. F. Cowart owned the team in 1953. In 1954, it was a Cleveland Indians farm team. The Sea Birds were only a Class D team, just barely
out of the amateur ranks, but still professional baseball. They played rival
small towns--Daytona Beach, Palatka, St. Augustine, Cocoa Beach, Leesburg,
Sanford, and Gainesville--in a 136 game season in a pleasant small ballpark a
few blocks south of the new Beach Boulevard. Baseball was still important to
Americans, especially in towns and the countryside. After all, most boys
and quite a few girls had played the game. So popular was baseball that leagues
were classified as Major Leagues, AAA, AA, A, B, C, and D. College football had
not become big business yet. Baseball was king for a few more year because the
average person still could afford, in time or money, to attend a game. Seabirds
games were a bonanza for the young boys who retrieved foul balls for a dime
each. Sometimes, they were given an old ball; sometimes they "couldn't
find" a new ball.
The team was competitive. For the first two seasons, Red
Treadway, who had a credible record with the New York Giants for two
seasons, 1944-1945, coached the Seabirds. This Florida State League
team finished second in 1952 with a 80-56 record. The team went 68-65 in the
second season and finished fifth in the league. Treadway left for the
Fitzgerald, Georgia team. Spuds
Chandler, a former New York Yankees pitcher for eleven years, took over and the
team became a farm club of the Cleveland Indians. Cleveland sent the Nixon
twins, Roy and Russ, who were outstanding. "Russ Nixon, only 20, led the Three-I League in batting (.387-5-77), 36 points ahead of runner-up Gordy Coleman, and hit safely in 32 consecutive
games ending July 11. It was his second consecutive batting title. In 1954, playing for Jacksonville Beach, he hit .387-6-96 to lead the Florida State
League." Russ became a major league player and manager of note. The Seabirds went 76-63, finished third, and was runner-up in the league finals.
Attendance was a problem, however. Players and others performed tricks and stunts before the game to draw crowds.
The son of Bobby Trump, one of its stars, reminisced
about this in 2006.
My father Bobby Trump played
baseball for the Seabirds during the 1952-1953 seasons. His starting position
for most of his time in Jacksonville was spent behind the plate. He was also
called on to pitch on several occasions. On June 23, 1953, he pitched the
Seabirds to a 6 to 5 victory for which he received the game ball. That was one of
many game balls he would receive throughout his stay with the team. My most
memorable story of those days to go along with the many game balls and newspaper
clippings I still have telling of his early life heroics was one where, before
many of the games started the organization would have the team members perform
different promotional stunts. The particular stunt that I recall the most was
one in which my father was ask to race a horse from home plate to first base. To
this day he will still not tell me whether he won or not.
Bobby Trump, Sr. reported in 2008 through an intermediary that he won the race.
Approximately 68 games were played at home to a surprisingly sparse crowd,
even considering the population of the beaches area. The following table shows the average
Even concession stand sales, which were limited to small quantities of food
and drink, could not have contributed to the team's finances. There was not
There were too much competition for the entertainment
dollar. People did not go to the beach to see minor league baseball. They played
on the beach or on the boardwalk or in bars or in rooms. Many of the residents
worked at night serving the tourist trade. Most stayed home at night, watching
television which, by 1952, was well on its way to becoming the dominant
entertainment in the country. Besides, one could watch the Jacksonville Tars/Braves Class A South Atlantic
Team at its ballpark and, on occasion, on television. Hank Aaron
along with Horace Garner and Felix Mantilla, integrated South Atlantic Leagues baseball in 1953 playing for the
Jacksonville Braves. Aaron won Most Valuable Players honors for the SAL and was
promoted to the Milwaukee Braves. His extraordinary talent helped him
survive in racist Jacksonville as did the solicitude of his manager Ben Geraghty
who visited him often in his segregated quarters.
Professional baseball did not disappear entirely. The Pittsburgh Pirates ran a
Spring training facility for its minor leagues teams at the Beaches
for three years according to Bill Foley, "Spring Training Dream Endures in N. Florida,"
Florida Times-Union, July 30, 1997. The City of Jacksonville Beach built four baseball diamonds south of the city baseball park; these became Little League facilities
and Wingate Park in time. African American ball players had to find their own accomodationds, this being the age of segregation. Strickland's Restaurant
provided a room where they could eat
Getting to and from Jacksonville became easier. For
those who did not want to travel that far to see live baseball, there was the
Fletcher High School team. Beach residents were insular. “Going to town,”
i.e. Jacksonville, required
dressing up, leaving shorts and pedal pushers behind. The city seemed far away because of open
spaces between the Intracoastal Waterway and south Jacksonville. Beach culture
was informal and friendly perhaps because so many people were not born there
and there were so many transients. People were accepted as they were until they
proved themselves different. Asking about
a person's religious beliefs or on which side an ancestor fought in the U.S.
Civil War was considered rude even though the Beaches were Southern and such
behavior is common among Southerners. On the other hand, the Fletcher yearbook put
whatever other high
school(s) a student had attended underneath the senior picture!
In the 1950s, the Beaches leaped in population. Jacksonville Beach had
6,430 people in 1950; in 1960, 12,053, an increase of 81%. Neptune Beach has
1,767 in 1950 but jumped to
2,868, an increase of over 62%. Atlantic Beach had the highest percentage
increase because it had a small base,
1,004 in 1950 and
2,868 in 1960. Because Palm Valley and Ponte Vedra Beach were
unincorporated areas of northern St. Johns County, population figures can be
harder to find. The 1960 US Census said that there were 5,020 people in the
northern St. Johns County division, a census area larger than these two
communities. We can see the growth from the table below which shows the number
of houses built. If apartments were included, the number of structures would be
much greater. From 1950 to 1960, Florida's population increased 79%—the fastest rate of
all the states—so the increases at the Beaches was par for the course. People had been moving into north Florida for decades but the
war sped up the process because people came as part of the military or to build
ships or any number of occupations necessary to have 16 million men in uniform.
Many stayed. The baby boom starting in 1946 was populating the Beaches but so,
too, was migration from other states and, most particularly, from Jacksonville.
After WWII, living on the Beaches and commuting to Jacksonville became easier
and easier because of better roads and more and better automobiles. Cheap air
conditioning for home and stores changed places like the Beaches and the
rest of the South, making them more tolerable. Air conditioning also made possible tract
housing and houses that did not required high ceilings and good ventilation. It,
along with television broadcasts, helped kill drive-in theatres for families no
longer used them for entertainment.11
|Palm Valley-Ponte Vedra
Figure 5-15 Houses Built Before 1970
To accommodate the children born or migrating to the Beaches,
the Duval Country school board built new schools or additions to existing ones. The African-American elementary school
in Jacksonville Beach elementary school, constructed in 1946 (with an addition
of a cafeteria and more classrooms in 1952) had 217 students served by 6 teachers
plus an itinerant music teacher. The building did not compare favorably with Atlantic
Beach and Jacksonville Beach.
the Duval County school board added to Beaches schools. For Fletcher, a new
gymnasium was built. The "black" elementary school had four classrooms
when it was built in 1946, but two more
classrooms and a cafeteria were added in 1952. It had six faculty plus an
itinerant music teacher. Atlantic Beach Elementary got an cafeteria-auditorium
and a class room building. San Pablo Elementary was begun behind Fletcher; it
would open for classes in January, 1953. Two more classroom buildings were
added to Fletcher in the 1950s and San Pablo received another classroom
building in 1958.12
Figure 5-16 Elementary School Patrol, Jacksonville Beach
Better roads meant population and economic growth. The Matthews Bridge
crossing the St. Johns River between Jacksonville and Arlington along with the
Arlington Expressway in 1953 meant quicker access down Atlantic Boulevard to the
Beaches; the Fuller Warren Bridge, opened in 1954, fed traffic from populous
west Jacksonville to Beach Boulevard. The Jacksonville Expressway, parts of which opened in
1953, connected many parts of Jacksonville to both Atlantic and Beach
Boulevards. Commuting to work or going to the Beaches became easier.
Because it was a State highway, A1A, in 1952, Jacksonville Beach had
asked the State government to resurface, curb and gutter Third Street through the city.
Then, in the late 1950s, Neptune and Jacksonville Beaches got the State to
convert Third Street between Atlantic and Beach Boulevards to four lanes in
the late 1950s, thus speeding traffic.
In Jacksonville, the riverfront became more vibrant with the
building of a development with Civic Auditorium, a City Hall, a coliseum, a new
courthouse, and a massive, deluxe Sears store. The docks were cleaned up and the
city got rid of rotten ones. A modern hotel was built downtown. The Prudential Insurance Company built its South Central
home office on the river. Jacksonville historian James B. Crooks aptly summarizes the changes:
Figure 5-17 Prudential Building on the south bank
Growth in Jacksonville meant growth at the Beaches which were becoming bedroom
Economic growth came in part
from the substantial expansion of the insurance industry following passage of
the Regional Home Office Law by the Florida legislature in 1956. The Prudential
Insurance Company of America established its Southeast (later to become South
Central) regional home office in Jacksonville, and the State Farm Group
substantially expanded its facilities there. Other insurance companies
establishing home offices in the city included Independent Life, Peninsula
Life, American Heritage Life, Gulf Life, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and the
Afro-American Life Insurance Company. By the end of the decade, Jacksonville
claimed the title of "Insurance Center of the Southeast" with
seventeen locally headquartered insurance companies, five regional home
offices, and twenty major general insurance agencies. The expansion of banking
facilities, the arrival of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad home office
(forerunner of CSX Transportation) from Wilmington, North Carolina, and later
the expansion of the United States naval presence during the Vietnam War
brought additional regional growth.13
One sees the growth of
the Beaches from the aerial photographs taken in October, 1960. The left side of
each photograph is the west. Pablo Creek, the west boundary of the island, is
clearly visible except for the Mayport photo which shows Ribault Bay And on the
upper left, the village of Mayport. Seminole Road runs near the shore from the
St. Johns River jetties south to Atlantic Beach. The photographs are shown from
north to south, that is, Mayport is the first one. Clicking on a photo will
retrieve a larger one. 14
5-18 Mayport and Seminole Road
Figure 5-19 Atlantic Beach
Figure 5-20 Neptune Beach
5-21 From Neptune Beach Through Jacksonville Beach Almost to Ponte Vedra Beach
Figure 5-22 South Jacksonville Beach and Ponte Vedra Beach
5-23 Ponte Vedra Beach
The face of the Boardwalk and, thus, downtown
Jacksonville Beach, changed in the early 1960s. This 1960 photo, looking west,
shows downtown Jacksonville Beach from Beach Boulevard (the diagonal highway on
the left) north to 10th Avenue N. and Pablo Creek in the background. First, the wooden Coaster Bath House
block, the Coaster Block, came down. Gone were rides such as the Wild Mouse and
the Bullet; gone was the Guess Your Age and Ring The Bell; gone were games of
chance; and gone were places to eat and drink. It was never rebuilt, a clear sign that not enough
profit was being earned. Then, on Friday, October 13, 1962, the pier with its
dancing pavilion and fishing extension went up in flames. A new pier would be
built but only as a fishing pier and farther south. R. L. Williams built a fishing pier at 6th avenue South about ten blocks south
and out of the tourist zone in 1963. It lost 192 feet to Hurricane Dora in September,
1964. A storm caused by Hurricane Floyd damaged it in 1999; it came down
in 2001. A new pier opened at 5th Avenue North in 2005.
Figure 5-24 Downtown Jacksonville Beach, 1960
Figure 5-25 Missing The Coaster Block and Pier, 1962
Change would come more rapidly in the 1960s, more change
than could have been imagined, even by the best prognosticators. Only the sea
was constant and the shifting sands. And the wildlife. But even one pelican knew
that all would be turned upside down.
Figure 5-26 Mayport Pelicans
1. Sollee, "Boulevard Required Years of
Planning," Official Dedication Program for Beach Boulevard and B.
B. McCormick Bridge, December 17, 1949.
2. Johnston, pp. 100-101.
3. Frank A. Doggett, Biography of B. B. McCormick
Is History of the Beach, 1949. Suzanne McCormick Taylor, correspondence with
the author. Bill Foley, "Jacksonville Beach goes future modern,"
Florida Times-Union, August 13, 1999.
Piscitelli, “Donner Subdivision: The Rhythms of a Community,” Neighborhoods,
5. Council of Social Agencies, Jacksonville Looks at Its Negro Community. May, 1946, p.
40-53. The author personally observed many disparities in the summer of 1959.
6. Floyd, 50.
7. Floyd, pp. 47, 49-50.
8. Simons, pp. 21-47; Bill Foley, "Millennium Moment: July 8, 1947, Two strikes knocked out Beaches consolidation," Florida Times-Union, July 8, 1999.
9. John W. Sutton, Papa's Memoirs. Jacksonville Beach, Privately Printed, 2005.
10. Doggett was unusual for a junior-senior high school principal. He was a scholar who served as Fletcher principal from 1937 until 1969 and then as a
principal of a Jacksonville high school from 1969-71. University presses published his works on the poet Wallace Stevens. He helped students attend private colleges such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Kenyon, Emory, Sewanee, and
Stetson as well as public universities, often helping them obtain jobs to pay for it. His students won national and international scholarships, including the
11. Jackson owned a chain of convenience stores. The team was variously known as the Sea Birds and the Seabirds. Treadway's major league record can be found at baseball-reference.com
as can that of Spuds Chandler. The teams record can be found at http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Jacksonville_Beach_Sea_Birds.
Bobby Trump's son and Red Treadway's daughter, Laura de Martino, comment on the team at beacheshistory.wetpaint.com.
Mike McCann of http://www.geocities.com/big_bunko,
in correspondence with the author, said "Treadway was manager of the Fitzgerald Red Legs of the Class D
Georgia-Florida League in 1954, Duluth Dukes of the Class C Northern League in 1955 (beginning
of season), Ogden Reds of the Class C Pioneer League in 1955 (end of season), and Fitzgerald
A's of the Class D Georgia-Florida League in 1956. Chandler was manager of the Spartanburg Peaches
of the Class B Tri-State League in 1955, and a coach for the Kansas City A's in 1957-1958." Bill Foley, "Spring Training Dream Endures in N. Florida, " Florida
Times-Union, July 30, 1997.
Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, "TEAM #30
1955 KEOKUK KERNELS (92 - 34)," Minor League Baseball. http://www.minorleaguebaseball.com/milb/history/top100.jsp?idx=30.
“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;
of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Census of Population: 1960, Vol. 1.
Florida (Washington, US Government Printing Office), 1961.
12. Johnston, p. 106.; Negro Schools of Duval County, 1955-56, p. 37.
13. James B. Crooks, Jacksonville Before Consolidation,” Florida Historical Quarterly, 77:2
(Fall, 1998), p. 143.
Aerial Photography Florida, Aerial Tiles (Duval, 1960 ), Flight
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