(Originally published in 2010)
Meet Your Long-Time Neighbor
Name: Alicia & Family
Location: E. 7th Street
Occupation: Retired Naval Officer
Fun Fact: Alicia’s painstaking renovation was documented week by week in the Florida Times-Union newspaper.
Q: What brought you to Historic Springfield?
A: Probably the most obvious reason: the houses. The houses brought me here.
It was 1997 and my husband and I were living in Ortega Forest. One afternoon during a Civil War reenactment festival outside of Jacksonville, I was approached by a stranger who asked if I knew anything about serving English Tea. She had heard that I was familiar with the English tradition and wanted some pointers for a home tour she was organizing in Springfield.
Well, I had never heard of such a place in Jacksonville, but we made fast friends and I agreed to help. So this new friend of mine brought me to the neighborhood, gave me the grand tour, and I was simply enthralled by the architecture and grandeur. Of course the neighborhood was pretty ratty back then, but I could see amazing potential none-the-less.
You see, when I was young, my parents renovated a historic house in Newport, Rhode Island. I always wanted to live in one ever since. So I had been reading Preservation Magazine for sometime, trying to find a suitable historic neighborhood, but they all seemed to be in cold weather states. But here I was in a historic area bursting with potential, right in my own backyard.
Having helped with the tea, of course I had to go on the home tour as well. And of course we loved it. After the tour, my husband and I started to look for a house in the neighborhood to restore. After making several offers, we started to get discouraged. Low and behold a 1910 beauty came before us, the house that we live in now. No one had lived in it since 1977; it was derelict. We bought it for $10k cash and it needed almost everything replaced or restored. Major fire damage, foundation problems, holes and cracks in the walls and ceilings….it was a big mess. A big job indeed, but we knew we could do it.
It took 2 years and 250k to fully restore the house as you see it now. We did a lot of the work ourselves, but also had the help of friends and contractors. That stranger who first introduced me to the neighborhood was Lisa Neary, one of the true pioneers and preservationalists in the neighborhood.
Q: What concerns or challenges did you have at the time?
A: I had confidence in Lisa that when she said it was going to be ok, then it was going to be ok. And I was used to living in diverse areas, so that didn’t bother me at all.
But at that time the neighborhood, as a whole, was still quite awful. Druggies, whores, slum lords, and thieves were everywhere you looked. You couldn’t miss them if you tried.
During our renovation, our tools were stolen on more than occasion. Shortly after we moved in, a boy let himself into our house and stole my wallet from off the table. Then there was the time that a Molotov cocktail was thrown on our back porch at three o’ clock in the morning. Luckily it didn’t explode; it just made a little bit of a mess.
But the worst thing we witnessed occurred just down the street. Someone had just finished restoring a grand 6,000 square foot house. They had just moved all their furniture inside, but hadn’t moved in themselves. No fence, either. Well…someone burned that house to a crisp. It was an awful sight. I always used to tell people that a fence was one of the best investments you could make.
Q: How has the neighborhood changed since 1998?
A: Wonderful changes! Crime has dropped like a rock. Drugs, prostitution, and slumlords are exceptions now, rather than the rule. And the housing stock has vastly improved, with many more homes now restored and new construction houses built.
Also, people are moving to Historic Springfield for the right reasons now. It’s a National Historic District with beautiful homes in an ideal location, and that’s attractive to all sorts of people.
Q: What do you enjoy most about the neighborhood now?
A: I enjoy the revitalization, of course. Seeing these wonderful homes be brought back to life. But I enjoy the people in the neighborhood even more so.
This neighborhood has always had a fabric of community that no other neighborhood that I’ve ever experienced has had, and I’ve lived quite a few places. Even when we first moved in, the neighborhood always had good people working for it. They watched out for each other and were there for one another if needed. And it’s the same way now, thankfully. Neighbors have an eye out for one another and care for each other. We’re congenial, like a true neighborhood should be.
I’ve got to tell you, I have friends in Queens Harbor, which is one of the most prestigious gated communities in all of Jacksonville, and I’ve asked them why they would ever choose to live there. It’s not a real community, in the truest sense of the word. And the way they describe it doesn’t appeal to me in the least.
Q: Do you take part in any of the neighborhood events or organizations?
A: Oh yes. I’m very active in all kinds of organizations, inside and out of Springfield.
I’ve always been a member of SPAR Council and an extremely active Block Captain. In fact, I earned the nickname “Colonel” because I don’t put up with any riff-raff on my street.
I joined the Women’s Club in 2000, about 10 years ago. At that time the Woman’s Club was ready to go under, but Lisa Neary and I, along with 6 others concerned residents, stuck it out and floated it along until it could be reenergized.
I was also heavily involved in securing the 2001 overlay, which had me picketing City Hall, among other things. That memory brings a smile to my face now.
Q: What do you see in the future for the neighborhood?
A: The neighborhood will be fully restored eventually, both residentially and commercially. It will take some time, naturally, especially with the downturn in the economy. But in some ways the downturn has been good for Springfield. Prices are more manageable now, not sky high like a few years ago, which creates a larger pool of perspective home buyers to draw from.
Q: Anything you’d like to say to someone considering moving into Historic Springfield?
A: Drive around the neighborhood at all times of the day and night to really see it. Stop and talk to people. I mean really talk to them. Find out what they like and they may be concerned about. Current residents are the best resource anyone can have.
Meet Your New Neighbors
Name: Will & Jamie
Location: Pearl Street
Occupation: Will is a Naval Flight Officer and Jamie is a Management Consultant.
Fun Fact: This couple has a need…..a need for speed, that can only be quenched by riding high performance motorcycles.
Q: What brought you to Springfield?
Will: The internet! I was stationed in Japan at the time, and searching online for a house in Jacksonville. Wait - let back track a little.
I was stationed in Jacksonville previously, and had lived in a few different areas of town. I like original neighborhoods, but so much of Jacksonville is track housing and strip malls. I knew I wanted something different. So while I was in Japan, I searched online for something that fit my taste. I found the old SPAR internet forum by chance and really liked what I found. Neighbors having fun together, working together and actually helping each other. I loved it. So when I returned to Jacksonville, I knew where I wanted to be.
Unfortunately my realtor at the time didn’t see it the same way. She resisted even showing me houses in the neighborhood and insisted I look in Avondale and San Marco. Those are nice neighborhoods, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t what I was looking for. So I dropped her and went through one of the local realtors that knew the area well enough to give me an educated opinion.
Jamie: When Will told me about the neighborhood he found, I thought he was crazy. He kept on saying how cool it was, but I had reservations. I have friends that had some bad experiences in the neighborhood, 10 years ago or so, so I wasn’t really excited about the idea. But I decided to let him try and convince me. Besides, I don’t necessarily like cookie-cutter neighborhoods ether. They can be too impersonal.
Q: Did you purchase an old or new house, and why?
Jamie: Both, kind of. It’s an old house, built in 1906, but it was renovated not that long ago. We looked at a variety of other homes in the neighborhood too, but we really liked the location over looking the park and our immediate neighbors. Those were strong selling points.
Will: I just liked the garage.
Q: How did you decide that this specific house was the one for you?
Will: Well, a couple things:
1. It’s cool to know the history of your house, and that the house has history. A 100 years of history, past lives, and stories. And that we’ll be adding to that history. The character is unique, the floor plan is unique, it has the original fireplace, etc.
2. Jamie was hesitant about the area at first, so we visited often. We would drive by the house to check things out. Then we started to walk our dogs in the neighborhood on the weekends, to get a better feel for it. We got to know the neighbors before we moved in just by being around so often, and that was really cool. We were sold.
Q: What did your family and friends think of your decision to move into the neighborhood?
Will: My friends like it and think it’s a fun area. We’re so close to downtown entertainment and there’s life in the neighborhood, so it’s an interesting place to be. I’ve lived near downtown Pittsburgh and San Diego before, and my sister lives in downtown Dallas, so it’s nothing new with us.
Jamie: My family is used to living in gated communities, so they don’t quite understand why I choose not to live in one now. In Bartram Trail Park, a new Jacksonville subdivision where I used to live, everything was shiny and new. They don’t see why I would ever leave that.
Q: Since moving in, what have you enjoyed most about the neighborhood?
Will: I would say the sociability. We go to all the get-togethers and parties that we can, and the camaraderie is real. The Dog Park is nice to have too.
Oh, I’d be remiss without mentioning my favorite place to hangout, Fusion Wine & Jazz Bar. It’s a really nice place to lounge and have a drink, but it’s casual and friendly at the same time. I’m up there almost every Sunday. Oh yeah, and Shantytown Pub too. On certain days it’s $1 drafts if you bring your dog. How cool is that?
Jamie: I like walking to different events and venues: to Art Walk, to The Landing, different local restaurants and bars, the parks, etc.
Q: Do you plan on participating in any neighborhood events or organizations?
Jamie: We’ve already enjoyed the Wine Society’s Chili Cook-Off, the Holiday Home Tour, the New Year’s Eve Wandering Cocktail party, and the Thanksgiving festivities.
Will: I’ve attended a couple Block Captain meetings and want to be active in that group. I’m interested in the garden classes too.
Q: How do you see the neighborhood evolving?
Jamie: We’ve only been here about 8 months and have already seen a lot of changes. The chocolate and sweets shop is opening soon, Shorty’s Seafood Market just opened, and the Laura Street Community Garden is “growing” quickly.
Will: I see it evolving day by day. New people moving in. Homes restored. People doing their own little beautification projects, like painting fire hydrants and planting flowers in roundabouts. The only thing holding it back right now is the foreclosure crisis. Once that clears up I think progress will accelerate even more.
Q: Anything that you specifically hope to see in the future?
Jamie: What I really want is a yoga studio I can walk to, or maybe yoga classes in one of the parks. That’s on my wish list.
Will: I read that there was a dog walkers group in the neighborhood at one time, so I’d like to see that start up again.
Q: What advice would you give to people considering making a move to Springfield?
Will: It’s such a fun, eclectic mix of people here. A good way to meet an array of them is to go to a First Friday party. Different residents hold a social party every month, the first Friday of the month, in a home or outdoor space. They are a lot of fun, all ages welcome, and you get great insight into the neighborhood and the people that live here. Any of local realtors can fill someone in with the details if they’re interested.
Jamie: The houses are cool, yes, but the people are cooler! And the benefits out weigh the occasion stolen porch chair ( laugh ).