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Jax Daily Record Monday, Oct. 6, 201412:00 PM EST

50 years ago: New lights at Gator Bowl cause explosion and blackout

by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

Three minutes after the end of the Georgia Tech vs. Navy game at the Gator Bowl, while most of the more than 40,000 football fans remained inside the stadium, a strained and smoking electric meter exploded, plunging the facility into total darkness.

Homebound fans made their way to the parking lots but sportswriters in the press box were idled when the power outage cut off Western Union and teletype machines.

Seven people, including a police officer, were stranded for 45 minutes in an elevator.

Lights were restored one hour and 45 minutes after the cutoff.

Jacksonville Utilities Commissioner J. Dillon Kennedy was an eyewitness to the explosion of the electric meter on the south side of the stadium at Adams and Clayton streets.

“Evidently, the load from the Gator Bowl was more than the equipment could stand and it burned up,” Kennedy said.

He said new lighting equipment installed to brighten the playing field may have been at fault. The lights were used for the first time during the game.

The first indication of trouble came before the game began, when the lights went out momentarily.

“The Recreation Department reported to us that the equipment was smoking before the ball game was over and they were hoping it would hold out,” said Kennedy.

City Police Officer S.J. Torda, who was operating the elevator in the press box when the power went out, said he and the other six men in the elevator laughed and told jokes.

“I kind of boosted their morale by telling them they were insured,” he said.

Getting stuck in the elevator was nothing new to Torda.

“Two years ago at the Georgia-Florida game, the same thing happened. It was an afternoon game. The power stayed off about an hour and a quarter and the temperature was around 100 degrees,” he said.

Mrs. Mickey Martin, who worked at the information booth on the ground floor of the stadium, said she had many lost little boys, wives and husbands come to her during the darkness.

“There wasn’t much I could do since the power failure had knocked out our intercom system,” she said. “One thing I did notice was that very few little girls seemed to get lost.”

• Strong pleas to restore a $100,000 grant from the city to Jacksonville University were made to the City Council Budget and Finance Committee.

When the council adopted the 1964 budget with JU omitted from the list of grant recipients, students staged a demonstration along Bay Street in front of City Hall.

Those urging the council to reinstate JU’s grant for the 1965 fiscal year beginning in January were led by Robert Spiro, the university’s new president. He reminded the council of the consecutive years of support from the city that began in 1945.

He cited the growth of JU from a small college with only 11 students in 1937 to its 1964 enrollment of 2,300 students with the help of the city funds.

“The City of Jacksonville, both officially through the City Council and unofficially through numerous public-spirited citizens, has made this growth possible,” Spiro said.

The city’s first grant in 1945 was for $10,000. The annual contributions had grown to $100,000 in 1960 and 1961 then dropped to $50,000 in 1962 and 1963.

“These annual appropriations were altogether justifiable as public policy,” Spiro said. “Indeed, I doubt the university could have survived without this critical assistance.”

Based on statistics regarding tuition, money spent in the community by the university and the income potential of college graduates compared to high school graduates, Spiro said, “Education — spiritually and economically — is the best investment you can make.”

The annual tuition at JU in 1964 was $675, the lowest of any comparable accredited institution in the United States, he said.

Joseph Davin, chairman of the JU Finance Committee, said the school’s 1964 budget showed $1.6 million in revenue and $1.7 million in costs.

Also seeking support for continued city assistance to a private educational institution in the community was W.B. Stewart from Edward Waters College. The school had been aided by annual city grants of $50,000 for many years, but also was eliminated from the budget.

Stewart said EWC’s budget was in excess of $587,000 and the school had 858 students enrolled.

• The San Marco Merchants Association presented a plan to redevelop the shopping area, including a high-rise apartment building and a parking garage.

Rerouting of traffic, closing a section of San Marco Boulevard to create a pedestrian mall and connecting all of the buildings on the square with a covered walkway also were shown on the plans presented by association President Wade Kornegay, architect David Boyer and Dewey Gilliland, association member.

In the proposal, San Marco Boulevard would be closed from Carlo Street to Hendricks Avenue. Traffic would be rerouted through the shopping area using Atlantic Boulevard and Hendricks.

Along with construction of the apartment building and multi-story parking garage in the triangle formed by Atlantic, Hendricks and San Marco, all existing and future structures would be linked by covered walkways or pedestrian bridges.

Kornegay said the idea was to give motorists and pedestrians entering the area the feeling of a unified shopping section and to reduce the number of traffic lanes they had to cross to get from one place to another in the area.

Boyer said except for the apartment and parking garage buildings, carrying out the other parts of the plan would be relatively simple and inexpensive.

• Gordon Edward Thompson, president and owner of Gordon Thompson Chevrolet, died in the hospital after a brief illness.

Thompson had been active in the community since he moved to Jacksonville in 1939. He was president of the Community Chest-United Fund in 1956 and president of the Jacksonville Area Chamber of Commerce in 1957.

He entered the automobile business as a salesman in 1922, advancing in 12 years to sales manager, general manager and dealer.

In 1935, Thompson began working with the Chevrolet Division of General Motors. From 1939-45, he was assistant zone manager in Jacksonville and then served five years as zone manager.

In 1952, he resigned from General Motors to open the third Chevrolet dealership in Jacksonville. On Dec. 17, 1953, Thompson opened his showroom along Philips Highway that was a local icon for years, identified by the 1955 Chevrolet mounted atop the dealership’s sign.

• Utility bills higher than expected that led to customer complaints were traced “in practically every case” to faulty meter readings on the low side during the summer months, said City Auditor John Hollister Jr.

He said there had been quite a few inquiries about unusually high electric bills following Hurricane Dora when electricity was knocked out for eight days or more in some areas.

Hollister said customers who were concerned about their bills were invited to go to the auditor’s office so meter books and records could be compared against their bills.

“We’ve had some very bad meter readings by summer vacation help,” he said.

College students had been hired during the summer to relieve the 27 city meter readers for vacations and, through inexperience, at times read the meters incorrectly.

“People with low bills last month said nothing,” Hollister said. He added that lack of power for days after the hurricane drew people’s attention to the high bills.

• The Greater Jacksonville Agricultural and Industrial Fair, scheduled Oct. 21-31, would feature several new attractions for the 1964 edition.

Katherine Armstrong, fair administration assistant, said acrobats would perform stunts on a trapeze suspended below a helicopter hovering above the fairgrounds near the Gator Bowl and wrestling matches in the Municipal Coliseum would be among the free attractions.

Also on the bill were the Mrs. Homemaker 1964 contest, a Noah’s Ark animal exhibit and a Halloween costume parade.

• Duval County and the Garden City Volunteer Fire Department came to a parting of the ways.

After receiving a report that the volunteers would not adhere to the same working agreement as the other volunteer fire departments in the county, the Board of County Commissioners voted on the recommendation of Fire Coordinator Jerry Kirkland to withdraw official recognition of the Garden City volunteers.

The board also voted to withdraw all county-owned property, equipment and supplies from

the Garden City station and to begin immediately to operate a new fire department in Garden City with a chief named by the county.

One dispute was over pay. The Garden City volunteers wanted $1.60 per hour for paid personnel, compared to $1 per hour paid to other volunteer units.

Edward Broward, president of the Garden City volunteers, said a majority of members had voted not to work under a chief appointed by the county, but wanted a voice in the selection of their own chief.

He said the volunteers also resented an attempt by Kirkland to have a tape recorder set up at a meeting in Garden City to discuss the difficulties.

The organization still had a charter and one piece of equipment it owned, Broward said.

“As president, let me offer the county right now the use of the station,” he said.

In his final words to the board, Broward said, “We’re not leaving you, you’re leaving us.”

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