Have you ever wondered what life was like in Jacksonville half a century ago? It may have been a different era of history, culture and politics but there are often parallels between the kind of stories that made headlines then and today. As interesting as the differences may be, so are the similarities. These are some of the top stories from this week in 1961. The items were compiled from the Jacksonville Public Library’s periodical archives by Staff Writer Max Marbut.
• The three new County Commissioners broke a longstanding practice and accepted a compromise with a professional bail bond company for slightly less than 11 percent of $20,000 due the County in estreated bonds.
On the motion of Commissioners Bob Harris and Fletcher Morgan with Commissioner Lem Merritt concurring, the County accepted $2,195 in payment of 48 bond judgments issued by the Circuit Court and totaling $20,025.
Commissioners C. Ray Greene and Julian Warren, who had roles several years earlier in establishing a policy which rejected such compromises, voted against the action.
The money from bond estreatures went into the County fine and forfeiture fund and was used primarily for the operation of the Criminal Court. The bonds involved in the 48 cases were Criminal Court and Justice of the Peace cases.
• The City Council adopted a resolution petitioning the Duval County legislative delegation to allow City employees to stay under the existing pension laws, even though changes might be made.
By unanimous vote, the council asked the delegation to make pension law changes applicable only to new employees hired after any proposed bill was passed into law.
• Workers began erecting structural steel at the site of the new $4.5 million municipal auditorium on the St. Johns River near the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad home office.
The first steel would support cantilever balcony seats, said S.L. Hodge, construction superintendent for The Auchter Co., contractor for the job.
He said the underground and basement work was 98 percent complete and the first-floor slab would be poured shortly. The building was scheduled for completion in spring 1962.
• U.S. Rep. Charles Bennett proposed that plans for a hospital in the Arlington-South Jacksonville area be coordinated with efforts to establish a school of medicine at Jacksonville University.
“The area must have another hospital in the near future. It should be located and created with a medical college at the university,” said Bennett in a letter to Franklyn Johnson, president of the university.
Bennett noted that he had introduced legislation providing federal aid for construction of new medical colleges and that President John F. Kennedy had called for 20 or more new medical colleges in the United States.
• Harry Burns Jr. of Jacksonville was appointed supervising architect for the Florida Hotel and Restaurant Commission Northeast District. The district included Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Clay, Columbia, Duval, Gilchrist, Levy, Marion, Nassau, St. Johns and Union counties.
Burns’ duties would include the review and approval of plans for all new construction in the hotel, motel and restaurant industries in the district.
• A Navy officer who claimed his wife died as a result of mismatching of blood during a transfusion in a Key West Naval hospital was awarded $150,000 in damages by the U.S. District Court.
At the outset of the trial, which began in Jacksonville in October 1960, the government admitted liability in the case and testimony was offered only to determine the amount of damages which should be awarded.
Lt. Cmdr. R.F. Legare’s wife underwent pelvic surgery, including a cesarean section, at the hospital in Key West on March 17, 1959. When her condition became critical, she was transferred to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where she died three weeks later.
The couple had six children, including the child successfully delivered before the mother’s death.
The testimony to establish damages, heard by U.S. District Judge Bryan Simpson without a jury, dealt principally with the anticipated expenses of caring for six children, ranging in age from 1-17, and providing them with adequate training and supervision during the long periods the father, who was assigned to submarine duty, would be at sea and unable to care for them.
In the original bill of complaint, Legare sought $750,000 in damages. During the trial, an economist testified that to provide adequate care for the children until they reached their maturity would cost $273,000.
• The office safe of the Mayflower Hotel was robbed of an estimated $5,000, according to City police. The hotel was located at Julia and Bay streets.
Hotel manager James Sikes said an audit was being made to determine the exact loss. He also said thieves left behind a sack of change and a number of checks which were in the safe.
The theft was discovered when the auditor, L.B. Sheppard, opened the office Monday morning.
Police Lt. J.W. Greene said Sheppard told him the office had been closed since 1 p.m. Saturday.
Greene said Sgt. H.W. Keeler of the County police breaking and entering squad said the safecrackers used a large crowbar found in the office to try to open the safe by prying off the top. Failing in that, the combination lock was chiseled out by the thieves, who still could not open the safe.
They finally succeeded by removing the hinge pins and the hinges on the left side of the double-doored safe.
Lt. J.F. Branch said no signs of forced entry into the office could be found, indicating the thieves had used a key.
Keeler reported a metal box, believed to have been used to haul away the loot, was found by police on the eighth floor of the 11-story hotel. The acoustical walls and ceiling of the office probably muffled the sounds of the thieves as they worked on the safe, Branch said.
• The Eighth Annual Valentine’s Day Lilliputian Parade was held in Hemming Park. Floats decorated by 25 playgrounds circled the park on the sidewalk.
Mrs. Irene Farah, parade grand marshal, said each year the miniature floats were “gaily decorated, predominantly in red and white and atop boy-drawn wagons.” Most of the floats featured a tiny Valentine girl perched on top.