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 1963-64. The items were compiled from the Jacksonville Public Library's periodical archives by Staff Writer Max Marbut.
• The American Heritage Life Insurance Co., chartered in 1956 in Jacksonville, purchased the Lynch Building for company headquarters and expansion.
The firm paid $2 million for the 18-story building at 11 E. Forsyth St., president Ash Verlander said. The building was purchased from the original owner, the S.A. Lynch Investment Corp. of Miami, and would be known as the American Heritage Life Building.
Verlander said the company planned to install decorative lighting to brighten the structure and make it a focal point of the Jacksonville skyline.
"We chose the Lynch Building because we believe business is coming back to Main Street and East Jacksonville is on the verge of dramatic development," Verlander said.
He predicted East Jacksonville would "take its rightful place in Downtown growth" when the new Commodore's Point Bridge and other Expressway improvements were complete. He also said the new $4 million public library soon to be built along Adams, Forsyth and Ocean streets would be adjacent to the American Heritage Life Building.
• The supervisor of the Gator Bowl disputed charges by Mayor Haydon Burns that the steel-and-concrete structure was unsafe and unsanitary.
George Robinson Jr. said Burns' comments at a City Commission meeting were the first he had heard of what Burns said were numerous complaints from citizens regarding conditions at the stadium.
He said he had received complaints about dirty toilet facilities, unsafe planking in many of the 50,000 seats and the use of bottled gas by Gator Bowl concessions.
Burns, as fire commissioner, directed the fire department to notify the recreation board and the concession operators that the use of bottled gas would no longer be permitted at the Gator Bowl.
Robinson said bottled gas used in the stadium more than met the requirements of city and state fire laws. He said the metal containers of gas were installed outside the concession booths in a well-ventilated area.
In regard to claims of dirty toilets, Robinson said attendants were stationed inside all Gator Bowl restrooms during games to assist patrons and to keep facilities in order.
"The toilets are scrubbed thoroughly before each game. If one of them goes out of order, the attendant has been instructed on what to do," he said.
Commissioner Louis Ritter commented on toilet conditions during the Dec. 28 Gator Bowl football game.
"People had to roll up their pants legs because there were several inches of water on the floors. If there was an attendant, he got out by using a life preserver or a life raft," Ritter said.
Robinson said the planking in the seating areas was checked regularly and any planking found to be defective was replaced.
"These seats are more comfortable than the ones they use at Florida Field in Gainesville," he said.
Burns said there also had been complaints about accumulation of water in areas under the grandstand. Robinson said that was not unusual "when you have 50,000 people spilling drinks and dumping ice."
• The days of the $1.50 haircut came to an end in Jacksonville.
In a move apparently touched off by the Barbers Union, price increases went into effect in many local shops.
At least one Downtown barber shop opened with a $2 price tag on its haircuts. Other Downtown shops went up to $1.75 from $1.50.
Local barbers said Jacksonville was trailing other metropolitan areas in the nation in its haircut prices. They said in many cities, the price was $2.25.
• The Jacksonville Art Museum opened an exhibit of 30 paintings from India in the museum's temporary gallery on the 14th floor of the Atlantic Coast Line Building.
Russell Hicken, museum director, said the paintings were selected by Roy Craven of the art department of the University of Florida in cooperation with the National Museum of Art in New Delhi, India.
Jacksonville was one of seven cities in the United States in which the paintings would be shown before going on a tour of Southeast Asia.
• Ninety riders planned to participate in the Bit and Spur Saddle Club's fifth annual 40-mile ride to Callahan.
Club publicity chair Elizabeth Davis said the riders would leave the Bit and Spur arena at 12554 Cole Road at 10 a.m. Saturday and would arrive at the Northeast Florida fairgrounds in Callahan at dark, where they would camp overnight.
Trail bosses Bill Payne and Richard Robitzsch would lead the riders through the woods to the county prison farm, along Lem Turner Road, bypassing most of Callahan.
Chuck wagon boss John Joyner would prepare supper and a dance would follow. The group would return Sunday to Jacksonville by the same route.
• The City Commission urged the City Recreation Board to rename the Jacksonville Baseball Park in memory of Sam Wolfson, Jacksonville financier and sportsman who died Aug. 16, 1963.
The request to the board also included a request that a plaque honoring Wolfson be placed at the main entrance to the facility.
The resolution cited Wolfson's "lifelong affinity and devotion to the field of sports" and said "this enabled him to touch many lives and through his consecrated service to the community, he will forever loom large in the annals of sports activities in this community."
The resolution paid tribute to Wolfson for his support of baseball in Jacksonville and his efforts which brought Triple-A baseball to the city in 1962.
• Loss from the Dec. 29 fire at the Roosevelt Hotel was estimated at $257,675 by fire department officials, but the cause remained unknown.
The death toll had climbed to 22 when an Atlanta woman died in the hospital of injuries sustained in the blaze.
Investigators reported the fire started in the ceiling of the north ballroom.
The loss to the hotel was estimated at $150,000 and to the contents, $100,000. The building was valued at $4 million and the contents were estimated at $750,000.
William Johnston, president of the Roosevelt Hotel Inc., said the building and its contents were insured for 80 percent of value.
There was water damage in the stores on the ground floor of the building, which were Donaldson's Inc., a clothing store; Walk Over Shoes; The Little Shop, a ladies wear store; the Krystal restaurant; and the Knickerbocker Barber Shop.
• The Board of County Commissioners disclaimed any interest in Balsam Street, a road in the Dames Point area that existed only on the books.
The board formally approved the road closing after Robert Laseter Jr., counsel for the Jacksonville Port Authority, gave notice that the authority had no objection to the action.
The board on Dec. 23 deferred a decision on the road closing petition of several property owners in the immediate vicinity of the road.
On that day, the authority tentatively opposed the closing pending a study of what stake the public might have in the property.
The day the commissioners took action, Laseter said the study showed there apparently had never been an actual road built at the site on the St. Johns River.
County Engineer John Crosby said the biggest part of the recorded road was under water anyway.
In making the motion to close the road, Commissioner T.K. Stokes Jr. said the property owners had been paying taxes and if public access to the river was desired in that vicinity, it was available via a nearby 60-foot right of way that ended in a boat ramp.