Ever wonder what stories made headlines in Jacksonville 50 years 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 the news in 1958 and today. As interesting as the similarities may be, so are the vast differences. The following are some of the top stories published in the Florida Times-Union 50 years ago this week. These items were compiled by Staff Writer Max Marbut from the Jacksonville Public Library’s periodical archives.
• At $5,236,000 the Auchter Company had the low bid of 13 submitted for construction of the new City Hall on Bay Street between Newnan and Market streets. Finance Commissioner Dallas Thomas pointed out the City had only $5 million in the budget for the new building but Ivan H. Smith, partner in Reynolds, Smith & Hills, the firm that drew the plans for the building, said modifications could reduce the final cost of the project. He suggested landscaping could be eliminated to save $16,000 and another $10,500 could be saved by omitting sidewalks and paving around the building. City Auditor John Hollister said the rest of the difference could be made up out of a surplus in the City’s budget or by reappropriating funds within the current budget. As part of its bid package, Auchter Company promised to complete the 15-story structure within 600 days after the contract was executed.
• The City Commission approved a $64,563,063.60 budget for 1959 that included a $25 per month across-the-board pay raise for City employees. The City Auditor said the wage increase for the 3,800 employees would cost “something like $1,140,000.”
• Mayor Haydon Burns announced that more than 600 of Downtown’s 36-minute parking meters would be converted to allow either 30-minute or one-hour parking. The change was requested by the Retail Merchants Division of the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Council. City Traffic Engineer Harry Howard Jr. would conduct a survey to determine how many of the 36-minute meters should remain unchanged “due to the nature of nearby business establishments,” said Burns. By the way, 36 minutes of parking cost a nickel, while an hour would set you back a dime.
• “What we want is a barrelful of ideas,” said Downtown Council Promotion and Development Committee chair Leo Jansen as part of asking the public to offer suggestions on ways to “make shopping in the Downtown area more pleasant, more convenient and more fun.” Jansen also said the committee would meet within two weeks to “consider special events” for the Downtown area.
• The two east lanes of the new bridge on Main Street over the Trout River opened to two-way traffic. Full use of the $1.4 million span was expected within a few weeks following the installation of handrails and lighting.
• Jacksonville’s first self-pay toll booth machines went into operation on the Fuller Warren Bridge. L.E. Radcliffe, manager of the operation, said the automatic coin catchers might turn out to be a financial windfall for the City, since no change was available and several people tossed in quarters to pay the 15-cent toll. Radcliffe said one man who tossed a quarter, “pointed out his time was more valuable than his money.” It was also reported children were fascinated by the idea of tossing coins into the machines, but their aim was not always accurate. Coins landed on the pavement eight times the first day, but the police department provided “roving sergeants” who picked up the errant coins and placed them in the machines. Radcliffe also said, “For the first day at least, women’s aim had been every bit as good as men’s.”
• The FBI arrested two stowaways when the freighter S.S. Santa Monica arrived at the port in Jacksonville. Jogo Yanos, 25, of Budapest, Hungary and Grorgevich of Reyaka, Yugoslavia were discovered in a lifeboat six days after the ship left port in Venezuela. The pair told arresting agents they were “refugees from behind the Iron Curtain” and had lived in Italy for a year after escaping from Communism before traveling to South America and eventually, Jacksonville.
• The Jacksonville Racing Pigeon Club shipped their birds to Jesup, Ga. where the pigeons were released and raced back to Jacksonville. “Bull,” a blue pigeon owned by Club Secretary Bill Doonan, won the race and was clocked at a speed of 982.23 yards per minute.