50 years ago this week

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  • | 12:00 p.m. January 23, 2012
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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 1961. The items were compiled from the Jacksonville Public Library’s periodical archives by Staff Writer Max Marbut.

• The site for a new federal building, costing $7.4 million and rising 16 stories high, was announced in Washington, D.C.

It would be built along Bay Street between Pearl Street and an extended Clay Street, extending south to Water Street.

Announcement of the site selection was made jointly by U.S. Senators Spessard Holland and George Smathers and U.S. Rep. Charles Bennett.

The property was occupied by a meat-packing company, a distributing company and a parking lot, and was owned by the Seaboard Air Line Railroad Co.

The General Services Administration had authorized its Atlanta office to begin negotiations for the purchase of the tract.

The total estimated cost of the new building was $9,573,000, which included an estimated $7,445,000 for construction.

Congress already had appropriated $1,758,000 for acquisition of the site and design of the structure. The total estimated cost included $370,000 for a fallout shelter.

“Obviously, it is going to be a very beautiful, modern, large building in keeping with the growth and progress of the Jacksonville area,” said Smathers.

• Officers of the Ribault Quadricentennial Celebration Association Inc. called on school officials and the public to stress the correct pronunciation of the name of Jean Ribault.

It was noted that the pronunciation of the first syllable of the surname had a soft “I” sound as in rib and the second syllable was pronounced “bow” as in bow tie or bow and arrow, said the experts.

The stress on the name of Capt. Jean Ribault, the French explorer who landed at the mouth of the St. Johns River on May 1, 1562, was in connection with the upcoming celebration to mark the 400th anniversary of the historic event.

The officers also were seeking an answer from the White House on the appearance of President John F. Kennedy in conjunction with the celebration.

Fred H. Kent, president of the nonprofit Ribault group, said Huguenot efforts to colonize North Florida after Ribault’s landing marked a point in history when Europeans first came to the Americas in search of freedom. He said others came earlier, but the search was for gold.

A resolution dealing with the correct pronunciation of the explorer’s name was to be sent to the Board of Public Instruction and to the principal of Ribault High School.

• R.C. Kennard, a former employee of the Chuck Wagon Drive-in on Old Kings Road, who on Jan. 9 pleaded guilty to selling “bennies” to customers at the drive-in, was sentenced to six months imprisonment.

Kennard made a number of the sales in August 1960 to an undercover agent of the Pure Food and Drug Administration.

The pills contained diamphetamine sulphate and were prohibited from being sold without a prescription from a doctor. The pills were sometimes used by drivers to stay awake at the wheel.

As U.S. District Judge Bryan Simpson imposed the sentence on Kennard, he told the defendant he viewed the illegal sales as very serious.

“I can’t help but connect, in my mind, these many unexplained traffic accidents with these goofballs or bennies — whatever you call them — that are sold to truck drivers and others. I hope this sentence will be a lesson to you and to others who may be in this business,” Simpson said.

• Judge William Barfield was re-elected president of the Daniel Memorial Home for Children at the organization’s 70th annual meeting at 2560 Riverside Ave.

Mrs. Jean Tyler was elected vice president to succeed Mrs. John P. Ingle Jr. and Mrs. Joseph Shands was elected corresponding secretary, succeeding Barney Witten.

Mrs. I.M. Sulzbacher and Perry Pedrick Jr. were elected to the home’s board of directors. The resignation of Mrs. Thomas P. Ulmer from the board was accepted and all other board members were re-elected.

Eva Bird, executive director of the home, said that during 1961, some 90 children were cared for in two programs. Twenty children were cared for at the home and 70 were placed in a foster-home program.

Martha Buano, a child welfare worker, reported that in 1961, the home expanded its services to provide special care for emotionally disturbed children, which she said was one of the greatest needs in the city.

• The State Road Department reported that the Fuller Warren and Mathews bridges accommodated more than 1.75 million vehicles in December 1961.

Some 924,153 vehicles paid $150,087 in tolls on the Fuller Warren Bridge while 833,030 used the Mathews Bridge, where $130,842 was collected.

Traffic over the two spans accounted for more than two-thirds of the estimated 2,511,440 vehicles that traveled the state’s toll roads that month.

• Jacksonville University President Franklyn Johnson announced the appointment of Thomas C. Dula Jr., a research and reports officer with the State Board of Control, to the post of registrar and director of institutional research.

Dula would assume his new duties Feb. 1 and succeed Dixie Rupp, who had been serving as registrar and director of admissions. She would become the full-time director of admissions.

• An old Jacksonville Beach landmark — the home of the late H.M. Shockley, the first postmaster and first mayor — was being torn down as part of the campaign to improve the appearance of the resort area.

“This place must have been built when there was nothing here but sand dunes and rattlesnakes,” said Carroll Griffin, who had owned the home for about eight years since he purchased the two-story building at 28 S. Second St. from the Shockley estate.

He estimated it must have been built between 1880 and 1890, when the area was known as Ruby Beach. It was first incorporated as Pablo Beach on May 22, 1907, and renamed Jacksonville Beach on May 14, 1925.

• “The Arena,” a historic landmark Downtown which had featured some of the greatest names in sports and entertainment for more than 50 years, was closing its doors.

The property, at the corner of Main and Beaver streets, was an original Royal Spanish Grant dated Sept. 13, 1816, and was in the process of being converted into an indoor parking lot.

Jimmie Murdock, who had either owned or leased the facility since 1937, made the announcement amid the removal of the building’s bleachers.

The U.S. government first leased the property in 1866. Several businesses had been built there, but at the turn of the 20th century, Clark’s Airdome Theatre, a roofless structure, was built and brought to Jacksonville the leading theatrical stars of the era.

Many of the great names in entertainment played there to packed audiences at what was then the showplace of a city that had been razed by fire in 1901. The theater was closed, however, in 1909.

Several theaters, including the Bijou and the Colonial, sprang up at the site in the following years until 1914, when Ye Auto Shop took up the monthly rent.

In March 1937, Murdock took over the property and began staging weekly professional boxing matches at the venue.

“When I moved in, there was no front. We had to hang canvas to keep people from looking in,” he said.

“Jack Dempsey refereed my first event and it drew a couple thousand people. We’ve had numerous great stars since then,” Murdock said.

“We had basketball games, dancing, roller skating, and many of the Grand Ole Opry stars played here,” he said.

The Arena was a rare facility in Murdock’s first years in business, but it became obsolete as huge structures were built across the country. The venue’s demise was assured in December 1960 when the City opened the Coliseum near the Gator Bowl.

Murdock would maintain his office in the building and said he planned to continue promoting weekly wrestling matches at the Coliseum as he had been doing for more than a year.

• Jill Miller, a senior at Paxon High School, was selected winner of the first Jacksonville Junior Miss pageant, held at the Prudential Auditorium.

Elizabeth Clark, who attended Englewood High School, was chosen first runner-up and Ribault High School student Cheryl Baker was selected third runner-up in the competition among 15 local girls.

The contestants named Johnnie Tanner from duPont High School Miss Congeniality.

The winner presented a marimba selection in the talent portion of the pageant. Contestants also were judged in sports attire and evening wear.

Miller, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. W.H. Miller, was scheduled to take part in a statewide junior miss contest Feb. 3 in Pensacola. Winner of the Florida event would qualify for the America Junior Miss pageant in Mobile, Ala.

Spanky Mann was chairman of the pageant, which was sponsored by the Jacksonville Junior Chamber of Commerce.

• After a 15-pound rat was killed in the Southside area, a State Board of Health spokesman said eventually the rodents, which had been imported from South America, would soon be all over the state and threatening gardens and wildlife vegetation.

The hefty rodent, with the biological name myocaster coypus, was imported for use as a fur-bearing animal. However, in 30 known instances in Florida, the rats had been set free when the quality of the fur failed to appeal to the owners. It was noted that they reproduced rapidly.

• Building permits issued for the unincorporated areas of Duval County during 1961 covered construction with a value of $39,710,015, the lowest total for a year since 1957.

County Engineer John Crosby said the 1961 total compared with $35,386,484 in 1957 and $50,786,149 in 1960.

One of the main reasons for the drop was a decrease in the value of single-family dwellings. Crosby said permits issued in 1961 for single-family units totaled $27,539,404 compared with $33,715,134 in 1960.