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The Bar Bulletin
Jax Daily Record Monday, Nov. 6, 201706:30 AM EST

Bold, beautiful and worth preserving: Let’s tell Jacksonville’s stories

Instead of being a beginning or a gateway, we need to be an end or a destination that embraces our identity as a city.
by: Dave Chauncey | The Jacksonville Bar Association Young Lawyers Section board of governors

For years, Jacksonville identified itself as the “Gateway to Florida” or “Where Florida Begins.”

Instead of being a beginning or a gateway, we need to be an end or a destination that embraces our identity as a city.

Just as each person has an identity, so do cities. This sense of identity or place is important. It helps to partially define a people and elicits feelings, tastes, thoughts, scenes and neighborhoods.

Just like you or me, a city’s history and experiences, good and bad, help form a sense of identity for any place. Jacksonville has a rich and fascinating history which is lost on most, even in Florida. This is why historic preservation, resources, and presentation are so important.

Earlier this year, during her term, City Council President Lori Boyer discussed the issue of tourism and a lack of authentic identity when presenting Jacksonville to our friends across the country and world. She discussed a path forward for the city and our identifying centerpiece, Downtown, that included better access to the river, new exciting development, and a focus on more heritage tourism that tells Jacksonville’s story.

She also proposed the city consider opening a welcome or history center for people visiting Jacksonville.

I applaud Boyer’s leadership on this issue because we have so much to offer.

Let’s celebrate Jacksonville’s music, arts, athletics and culture that have impacted our state and our country.

Jacksonville is James Weldon Johnson writing “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Jacksonville is the Ritz Theatre, Ray Charles and the LaVilla music scene. Jacksonville is the Southern Rock genre that originated in this region making the band Lynyrd Skynyrd a household name, giving a start to the Allman Brothers, and inspiring countless country and rock artists that continue to cover “Free Bird” at their concerts.

With the recent deaths of so many well-known musicians, it is time to start a conversation about how to preserve and present this vital and interesting history of our city and region.

Jacksonville raised business leaders Charles Merrill, who founded Merrill Lynch, Louis Wolfson, Jessie Ball duPont and Ed Ball, all with complicated and fascinating stories.

Jacksonville is our naval history and servicemen and servicewomen.

There is so much that sets us apart: The Florida-Georgia football game (for which a museum should be open to the public regularly) and the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” that surrounds it that have been going on since 1933; the PGA Tour and The Players golf tournament, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the authentic culture of aquatic sports at our Beaches.

Our story also is riddled with problems, racism and epic failures. The full story always needs to be told. The scars define us as much as our triumphs.

There is no place in Florida that has as many historic neighborhoods and structures as Jacksonville. From Riverside to Avondale to the Beaches, and from San Marco to Downtown to Springfield, Jacksonville is unique in its historic stock of buildings.

The Laura Street Trio and Barnett Building being adaptively reused is a massive step toward ensuring that sense of place and identity for Jacksonville.

Cowford Chophouse recently opened in the old Bostwick Building, which was constructed in 1902 after the Great Fire. It was only three years ago the city discussed tearing down the building in favor of a parking lot.

I hope that the community and the city will continue to preserve other structures that provide a glimpse into our history, even from the midcentury, like the current JEA headquarters originally known as the Universal-Marion Building, rather than building another parking lot.

It’s hard to imagine, but in 1901, this city burned to the ground in what is considered the largest urban fire in the history of the Southeast. Yet, literally from the ashes, Jacksonville rebuilt with its own style and character that is decidedly Southern but also Floridian.

In a time when so many of us have been displaced, or rebuilding, after Hurricane Irma, we can find inspiration in that bold past. Fifty years after consolidation, let’s be bold again in telling the story of our beautiful home and giving the world some Southern hospitality with a Florida flair.

Let’s embrace our history. Let’s preserve our history. Let’s present our history. Our experiences are what authentically define us and inspire us for a better tomorrow.

Dave Chauncey is an associate with Alexander DeGance Barnett, focusing on labor, employment and education law. He also is a member of the board of directors of the Jacksonville Historical Society.


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