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Jax Daily Record Monday, Apr. 2, 201212:00 PM EST

50 years ago this week

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by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

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 1962. The items were compiled from the Jacksonville Public Library’s periodical archives by Staff Writer Max Marbut.

• The question of possibly having to replace the Mayport ferry was on the table this week in 1962 and one solution suggested was a tunnel under the St. Johns River.

The question had been raised because of the expansion of Mayport Naval Station, growth at the Beaches and the possibility that traffic levels might eventually exceed the capacity of the ferry.

It was pointed out that tunnels instead of bridges had been considered several times since the 1920s, but since a tunnel cost two to three times more to construct than a bridge, only bridges had been built in Duval County.

The possibility of constructing a tunnel underneath the river to connect the Expressway between 20th Street and Arlington was declared not feasible by consultants and traffic engineers.

Besides high construction and maintenance costs, the depth of the river between the two points made the project impractical, according to George Hills of the Reynolds Smith and Hills architecture firm.

Safety regulations dictated that the incline of a tunnel floor could not be too steep. Because the water in the St. Johns River was so deep at the proposed site, a tunnel would have to be built with an incline that would put its entrance and exit terminals “a good distance” from the river, he said.

However, the situation at Mayport was different, according to Ralph Powers, the North Florida district member of the State Road Board.

U.S. Navy officials had objected to proposed bridges in the Jacksonville area, claiming the spans would interfere with Navy vessels and entering and leaving the municipal docks and terminals and local shipyards.

“If a river crossing ever was studied seriously at or near Mayport, I would think a tunnel would be taken into consideration because of the Mayport naval installation,” Powers said.

• Jacksonville voters approved bonding the City for $7.65 million to finance Downtown waterfront improvements and construction of two new public libraries.

A total of 10,046 voters cast ballots in the city’s 72 precincts to favor three projects. It was the first successful vote since 1926 to issue general improvement bonds to be repaid through ad valorem taxes.

Projects approved were a parking lot and riverfront street at City Hall, a public park on the south side of the St. Johns River near the Main Street Bridge and a new Downtown library and another in the Wilder Park area.

City commissioners, who worked with civic groups and community leaders to sell the bond program, were jubilant over the results. So was Mayor-Commissioner Haydon Burns, who said the vote justified the claim that Jacksonville was one of the most progressive cities in the nation.

“The tremendous vote by which these improvements were accepted can only be interpreted as an expression of confidence in, and accord with, the public officials who have presented the program,” Burns said.

On the other governmental side of the issue, the County Commission decided that a new juvenile court/juvenile detention building and improvements to the riverfront side of the County Courthouse would be financed in a package deal.

County Attorney J. Henry Blount said funding for both projects would be obtained through the issuance of certificates of indebtedness to be retired by ad valorem taxes.

No referendum would be required to approve issuance of the certificates.

• Mayor Haydon Burns warned political candidates and their supporters that placing campaign signs on street markers, utility poles and other City property would bring charges against those placing the signs.

Burns, who was also police commissioner, said campaign signs had begun to appear on stop signs and other traffic markers.

“We are going to prefer charges and prosecute them,” he said, referring to people who placed the signs on City property.

City Utilities Commissioner J. Dillon Kennedy said his department had three crews pulling down the signs as fast as they appeared.

“Are we going to play by the same rules next year?” asked City Commissioner Lou Ritter to add a bit of humor to the proceedings, since the City primary and general election campaigns were scheduled for 1963.

• A cutback in telecasting by Jacksonville’s educational television station, WJCT Channel 7, was made necessary because of a lack of funds, said Gregory Heimer, station manager.

He said the station had reduced its evening broadcast time by 45 minutes per day, starting at 6 p.m.instead of 5:15 p.m.

The cutback had eliminated a 15-minute children’s program and two 30-minute college-level courses in biology and the religions of the world.

The shorter broadcast day did not affect the daily classroom instruction broadcast to 17 junior and senior high schools.

Owned and operated by Community Television Inc., a nonprofit corporation composed of business and civic leaders, the station depended primarily on income from private sources — individual, group and corporate memberships — for its funding.

• More than 1 million tourists were expected to come to Florida during May and the Jacksonville celebration of Jean Ribault’s arrival in 1564 would be one way to keep many of them overnight in the city, said Fred Kent at the meeting of the Ratary Club of Jacksonville.

Kent was president of the Ribault Corp., promoter of the Jacksonville Ribault Quadricentennial celebration.

He said the dramatic spectacle, “Next Day in the Morning,” would be the vehicle to attract visitors and keep them for one or more days.

The play would be performed May 1-17 in the Municipal Coliseum. Kent said he was anticipating more than 100,000 tickets would be sold.

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