- 2013 - December - 9th -

50 years ago this week

By Max Marbut, Staff Writer

Have you ever wondered what life was like in Jacksonville half a century ago? It was 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 1963. The items were compiled from the Jacksonville Public Library's periodical archives by Staff Writer Max Marbut.

• The City Commission approved a plan to finance the building of a $28 million city airport without issuance of tax-backed bonds.

The plan was recommended by a citizens' committee that already had sanctioned building a new airport to replace Imeson Airport.

City Airports Commissioner Louis H. Ritter said the first step would be to prepare a call for bids for the sale of Imeson. It would be done immediately, he said.

"If the sale of Imeson doesn't go through, then the whole plan won't work," Ritter said.

The city hoped to raise at least $8.5 million from the sale of the 1,550-acre Imeson property, but the land could not be transferred to the buyer until the new airport was in operation and Imeson was declared surplus by the City Council.

Meanwhile, the city would sell certificates based on a firm contract with some prospective buyer that the Imeson property would be transferred to the buyer after the new airport was built.

With the money from the certificates, the city could start construction design, property purchase and other elements involved with the new airport.

Other funds for the proposed new facility were expected to include $7.5 million in matching funds from the Federal Aviation Agency and the sale of $11 million in revenue certificates based on the anticipated income from the new airport.

Ritter said he would instruct H. George Carrison, city airport financial consultant, to prepare a call for bids on the proposed revenue certificate issue.

Also approved by the commission was a plan to increase the size of the parking area at Imeson Airport.

City Engineer E. E. Bentley said the existing lot was almost always full and more space could be provided by moving a fence along the south side of the parking lot.

The plan to add 30-40 spaces was subject to an agreement with Grandoff Investments, operator of the parking lot.

The proposal involved an increase in the monthly rental paid the city by Grandoff from $2,083.33 to $2,500.

• Two prominent Duval County Democrats criticized state Rep. Tom Slade for his switch to the Republican Party.

County Commissioner Bob Harris described the change as, "the recent spectacle of Tom Slade, elected in a Democratic primary, typical of Republican disregard and understanding of the needs of the people in this area."

Harris, speaking at a meeting of the Young Democrats of Duval County at the Mayflower Hotel, termed Slade's change of party affiliation "an indication that the challenges he had to face were beyond his capabilities as a Democrat."

State Rep. Harry Westberry accused Slade of trying to make "political hay" of the popularity of U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona.

Westberry implied that Slade's chances as a Republican candidate would be as damaged as those of Goldwater by the death of President John F. Kennedy.

Harris was more specific. He said Slade's future as a Republican was "as dead as Goldwater's."

Harris also called for the formation of a Democratic leadership club in the county to "assure that the Democratic Party in our area will continue to be the traditional party of the people."

• Work began on a $68,770 renovation that would provide a courtroom for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit on the fourth floor of the U.S. Post Office and Courthouse Building.

The courtroom and adjacent chambers for the judges were designed for flexible use. A jury box was included in the courtroom, even though the appellate court did not hear jury cases.

The jury box would permit use of the new courtroom by District Court judges.

Furniture for the new courtroom was budgeted at $9,300.

• The fatal shooting of a Main Street drive-in restaurant manager by a police officer was ruled accidental by a coroner's jury.

Witnesses to the shooting described the incident at an inquest before Justice of the Peace Sarah Bryan as "horseplay" and "cuttin' the fool."

Shot in the left side of the lower abdomen was Larry Stuart Riggs, night manager of the drive-in at 6500 Main St. He died at Duval Medical Center about an hour after the shooting.

The officer who shot Riggs was Patrolman Sheldon Morris Anders.

According to witnesses, Anders and Riggs had been friends for some time and occasionally engaged in horseplay.

At the time of the shooting, Anders entered the restaurant building where Riggs had just finished counting the restaurant cash and placing it in a bank deposit bag.

When Anders entered the room, witnesses said, he slapped his holster and jumped toward Riggs, who was facing the officer.

"It takes more than that gun to get this money," Riggs was quoted by witness Larry Clem.

Both Riggs and Anders were "cuttin' the fool," according to Charles Calhoun, another witness.

The witnesses said Anders then drew his gun and pointed it at Riggs. The gun fired and a bullet hit Riggs, who fell to his knees and said, "Please help me."

Anders, with the assistance of Clem and Calhoun, placed Riggs in Anders' patrol car. Riggs was rushed to the hospital, where he died on the operating table.

• Motorists using Jacksonville expressway bridges were told by toll-takers during the Christmas holiday season "drive safely" instead of the customary "thank you" when they paid their toll.

The Rev. Harold Schmidt, president of the Jacksonville-Duval County Safety Council, said Gov. Farris Bryant authorized the change starting Dec. 21.

The "drive safely" comment would be used on the Fuller Warren, Mathews and Trout River bridges through New Year's Day. The bridges were part of the state road system.

• A regular schedule of Christmas music began when two church choirs presented a program of carols in Hemming Park.

Sponsored by the Downtown Council of the Jacksonville Area Chamber of Commerce, two choirs would sing at noon and 7:30 p.m. each day — except Sundays — through Christmas Eve.

The music was part of the chamber's Christmas program, which included decorations on Downtown street corners and a Christmas tree and nativity scene on the park.

• Donald DeLoach was driving his truck carrying 200 gallons of kerosene along West Beaver Street when he glanced into the rear view mirror.

He discovered he was being followed by a ball of fire instead of regular traffic as he expected.

"That's when I bailed out,' DeLoach later said.

The fuel made a ball of orange flame that kept city firefighters and volunteers from Marietta busy for nearly an hour.

When he saw the flames, DeLoach pulled off the street and jumped out of the truck. He was not injured.

County Fire Marshal Henry Melzer said the blaze apparently was caused by a leak in the tank, which spilled kerosene on a hot exhaust pipe beneath the vehicle.

• Benjamin Rogers, acting president of Jacksonville University, announced a scholarship program designed to help improve teachers' educational backgrounds.

Grants amounting to one-third tuition would be offered to full-time secondary and elementary teachers who enrolled at JU, he said.

"We have decided to do this for two reasons. First, we feel that our schoolteachers, because of the fine job they do under adverse circumstances, deserve the financial assistance.

"Secondly, we want to help teachers maintain the proper certification status, to improve their educational backgrounds in general and thus, further strengthen the quality of education in Duval County," said Rogers.

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