Riverside Avondale: Jacksonville, Florida
A vintage neighborhood with a diverse mix of people, architecture and attractions, Riverside Avondale is Jacksonville's hidden gem, one that still glitters despite years and decisions that nearly destroyed its sheen. Located on the bank of the scenic St. Johns River, Riverside Avondale offers a striking river view of the city's downtown, just minutes away via trolley buses. The neighborhood encompasses two historic districts listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated a City of Jacksonville Historic District. Spread over eight square miles, Riverside Avondale has 5,000 buildings, making it one of the largest historic districts in the country.
The Riverside Avondale neighborhood is on the west bank of the St. Johns River and is bounded by Interstate 10 and 95 to the north, the river to the south and east, and Fishweir Creek to the west.
A vintage neighborhood with a diverse mix of people, architecture, and attractions, Riverside Avondale is Jacksonville's hidden gem, one that still glitters despite years and decisions that nearly destroyed its sheen. Located on the bank of the scenic St. Johns River, Riverside Avondale offers a striking river view of the city's downtown, just minutes away via trolley buses. The neighborhood encompasses two historic districts listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated as a City of Jacksonville Historic District. Spread over eight square miles, Riverside and Avondale has 5,000 buildings, making it one of the largest historic districts in the country.
Originally home to Colonial Spanish land grants and later several plantations, Riverside began to develop shortly after the Civil War. Most of the early residential development occurred along Riverside Avenue, with many large elaborate homes occupied by prominent business and political leaders. Development increased once Jacksonville annexed the neighborhood in 1887, and trolleys were extend into the neighborhood from downtown.
A disastrous downtown fire in 1901 led many families to flock to Riverside, and the neighborhood became a virtual laboratory for aspiring architects and a variety of contemporary styles. During the next 11 years, 13,000 new residential and commercial buildings were erected. Many of the new residences reflected the Prairie style of architecture uncommon outside of the Midwest, where it was developed particularly through the influence of architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
Avondale — with its curved roadways and grassy rights of way — took its cue from the 19th century English Garden City movement and the City Beautiful movement. This portion of the neighborhood features a variety of architectural styles, particular the Spanish Eclectic, Italian Renaissance, Tudor Revival, and modernistic Craftsman, beneath moss-draped oak trees, many facing small pocket parks.
City protection efforts have included adoption of a historic preservation element to the comprehensive plan in 1990, formation of the Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission, and approval of design guidelines. In 1997, Riverside-Avondale was designated as a City of Jacksonville Historic District, which ensures that work is done consistent with the design guidelines. The design review process is complemented by a 2008 zoning overlay that further protects its character and economic vitality.
Working with the city to protect the neighborhood's character has been Riverside Avondale Preservation. Established in 1974, it helped secure listing of the neighborhood on the National Register of Historic Places and as a local City of Jacksonville historic district, as well as initiating a variety of programs and services to promote and encourage preservation efforts.
Despite its rich architectural heritage, Riverside Avondale was not immune to suburban flight. By the late 1960s, the housing stock was deteriorating and crime was rising. As commercial development replaced many beautiful old homes, neighbors banded together to oppose measures that threatened the neighborhood's residential fabric.
Nearly four decades later, Riverside Avondale is more than just a neighborhood; it's a destination for thousands who attend its weekly arts market, stroll along the riverbank, shop and dine in one of its quaint commercial corridors, relax in its parks, or attend worship services at one of its historic churches.
Defining Characteristics, Features
Architectural Diversity, Neighborhood Ambiance
- Home to Florida's most diverse collection of architecture; neighborhood showcases 15 styles, including Colonial Revival, Spanish Eclectic, Queen Anne, Craftsman, and Tudor Revival
- Composed in part from two National Register districts — Riverside (1985) and Avondale (1989); combined into one local district (1998) that is a mile wide and three miles long; 70 percent of its 5,000 structures contribute to historic status
- Moss-draped oaks frame streets; spacious, well-tended lawns surround riverfront estates
- Riverside Avondale Preservation (RAP) established (1974); secured historic district designation, encourages individual preservation efforts, develops events and activities. RAP and the neighborhood were leaders in the initiation of the historic preservation movement in Jacksonville
Reliance on Planning
- Responding to loss of historic urban fabric, Jacksonville Area Planning Board publishes Riverside Area Study (1973), resulting in formation of Riverside Avondale Preservation
- RAP fights inappropriate zoning and insensitive institutional expansion, helping change city's approach to planning and zoning in historic districts
- City adopts historic preservation element as part of its comprehensive plan (1990); Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission
- Designated as a City of Jacksonville Historic District (1997), which requires all work to be reviewed for consistency with the design regulations
- Historic district zoning overlay (2008) protects character, economic vitality; establishes building height, scale, and setback provisions
- Four of district's commercial areas included in city's Town Center Initiative (2002); $1 million allocated for each to enhance streetscape, stimulate economic growth
- RAP creates district strategic plan (2009), articulating vision for 2020
- Ethnically, racially, and economically diverse; African Americans are 50 percent of the population in some areas
- Housing options include high-rise assisted living facilities, modern and historic apartments, riverfront estates. Riverside Avondale Development Organization (1998) keeps housing affordable by renovating and constructing homes
- Five commercial centers, each with distinct personality, serve neighborhood
- Eighteen houses of worship including Protestant, Catholic churches; Buddhist center
Diversity of Transportation Options
- Since first streetcar lines extended during the second half of the 19th century, neighborhood connected to the city's downtown by trolley
- Five Jacksonville Transportation Authority bus lines stop in Riverside Avondale
- Two-mile-long Northbank River Walk connects Riverside Avondale with downtown
Diversity of Amenities
- More than a dozen schools, including Florida State College at Jacksonville's Kent Campus
- St. Vincent's Medical Center (1928) started as 200-bed facility on riverbank; an expansive modern facility now incorporates the original building, and the hospital is a renowned state-of-the-art regional healthcare center
- Abundance of parks and open space is neighborhood hallmark; Olmsted Brothers designed Memorial Park with signature statue, "Winged Victory"; Avondale's initial plan includes 16 pocket parks; five large parks offer recreational options (including 16-court public tennis facilities)
- Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens ablaze with rare horticultural specimens throughout year; 5,000 works encompass 8,000 years of art history
- Framed by soaring neo-Gothic arches of Fuller Warren Bridge, Riverside Arts Market, a public-private partnership, is all-weather outdoor venue for entertainment, farmers markets, and events