(Originally published in 2010-2014)
Meet Your Long-Time Neighbor
Location: Laura Street
Occupation: Owner of “An Olde Time Hardware” store, since 1995.
Fun Fact: Brent worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 32 ½ years, and was their Union Representative for 27 years.
What brought you to the Springfield Historic District?
I started working in the neighborhood in 1974, through job at the United States Postal Service. Our office was at 1925 Liberty Street. That’s the year I came to Springfield and that’s the year I fell in love with it. I worked in the neighborhood and became very active in the community at that time, but didn’t actually move here until Mother’s Day, 1984. But I didn’t fall in love with it as it was – there wasn’t much to like at that time. Mostly homes falling apart, rooming houses, and crime. I fell in love with the vision of what it could be. The vision and charm, that’s what brought me here.
Does your house have a story?
After working in the neighborhood for so long, I often drove through and admired the houses. One house on Laura Street in particular caught my eye. It was a large house on a corner, with stained glass and plenty of room for my large family. One day while passing through, I caught the owner outside and we started talking about her house. It was owned by an elderly widow who had lived there for 47 years, and her nephew lived there with her to keep her safe. As you know, the neighborhood was a crime haven at that time. All of the widow’s family had moved away to Mandarin by then, but they couldn’t convince her to leave. Anyways, I just started complimenting her on her home and how much I admired it. It wasn’t for sale, but by the end of our conversation I said that if she ever decided to sell it, not to call anyone else but me. Not six months went by before she decided to sell it, and I purchased it for $56k. It was built in 1914 and in perfect condition.
What are some of your memories of that time?
Shortly after I started working in the area, in 1974, a woman named Joyce Holbrook walked into our office on Liberty Street. There had been a number of fires in the neighborhood and many houses were being badly damaged. That and all the other illegal activity that went on in the neighborhood made it a nest for crime and an eye sore for the city. The city was planning on bulldozing the neighborhood, and Joyce was there to see if anyone would join her in petitioning Mayor Jake Godbold to stop it. Joyce and five others, including myself, agreed to join her efforts and we were successful in stopping the demolitions temporarily. They gave us some time to come up with a plan to save the neighborhood, and that was the beginning of what is now known as Springfield Preservation And Revitalization (SPAR). I was a charter member.
The other important memory of that time was crime, and getting involved in stopping it. After my family & I moved in 1984, we had to address the crime on my block specifically. My corner was a popular spot with prostitutes, Johns, and drug dealers on constant parade. Immense activity. Morning, day, and night. But this my home, and I had children, so I wasn’t going to stand for it. I called the police every day. Every day. The police operators knew who I was just by voice. They greeted me by name when I called. The police station even had a rubber stamp made with my name on it, literally, because I was generating so much paperwork for them. Eventually Sheriff McMillian agreed to come out to my house and spend some time here, seeing what I saw. That’s when the sting operations began out of my house. During a sting, on an especially busy night, the police had 8 prostitutes handcuffed to my back fence and 20 John cars were parked in the empty lot across the street waiting to be towed. My friends from Arlington, where we moved from, would come over to my house in the evening, pop some popcorn, and watch the show. It was their own personal cops movie.
What kind of changes have you seen in the Historic District since 1974?
I had a special moment at the July 4th Throwback Baseball game in Klutho Park a couple years ago. As I stood on a slight hill overlooking the park, it was like my vision had come true. It was a red, white & blue day. People dressed in the old time baseball uniforms with the small vintage gloves. Families gathering. Bicycles. Tricycles. Dogs on leashes. I asked Louise DeSpain, the Executive Director of SPAR at that time, to come over for a second. I told her that it took 35 years, a whole generation, to see my vision come to life, and here it was. It was a special moment.
But in general, when I moved here, you didn’t see people jogging, pushing baby strollers, or walking dogs. In fact, dogs on leashes were a rarity back then. They just ran wild. You didn’t see very many cars parked along the curb or in drive ways either. No one could afford them. What I did see a lot was Pic N’ Save shopping carts, because the people that lived in rooming houses used them to move their belongings week to week after they were evicted. Got kicked out of one for not paying rent? No problem, they just moved to the next one down the block with shopping cart in tow.
Of course, all that’s changed. You just have to be still and listen to realize the change. It’s quiet. The constant drama and noise isn’t there now. It’s just a nice place to live. Now, you have a neighborhood that believes in itself and likes itself, where before no one really cared about it, including the people that lived here.
What do you enjoy about the neighborhood now?
I like the structures that have been renovated, that are still being saved and restored, and the businesses that have opened here. Those are some of the finer things that I enjoy. Besides the charm and visual uniqueness of the neighborhood, I think the sense of community here is special. You don’t find many neighborhoods that show a great interest in one another. People look out for each other here. Neighbors become genuine friends, not just the person that lives next door. People in other areas can go years without knowing their neighbors, but here you can get as involved with the community and the people that share it with you as you like. I think it’s a special place.
Have you participated in neighborhood events or organizations through the years?
I’ve been heavily involved in SPAR up until the past few years. As I mentioned before, I was a charter member. I was also a charter member of the Springfield Area Merchants And Business Association (SAMBA). So I’ve been involved in quite a bit.
What would you still like to see change?
Main Street is #1. Main Street is the artery of our neighborhood, and it’s the impression most outsiders have of our neighborhood. Getting more businesses on Main Street is the most important change yet to come, because the community has unmet needs. More dining, entertainment, retail, and work space. We need more of it. Besides that, just more recreational activities and more structures rehabilitated and put to good use. We’re in a great location relative to the rest of Jacksonville, especially close to Downtown, and the public transit is better in our neighborhood than most others, so good things will continue to happen for us.
What advice would you have for someone considering the Springfield Historic District?
Find someone that lives here, or that is familiar with the neighborhood, to give you a tour. Use a local realtor that lives in the neighborhood. You know, sometimes you could drive through, look at parts of Main Street or 8th Street, notice a few boarded up houses and form an opinion that it’s not a good place to live. That would be a shame. Someone that knows the neighborhood can show you what’s what, who’s who, what’s changed, etc. They can tell you who owns those boarded up houses and what the plan is for them. They can explain that while some parts of 8th Street do have issues, most of it doesn’t. They can let you know about all the social activities in the neighborhood organized by residents, like the Mommies Club, Woman’s Club, First Fridays parties, etc. I think that’s the very best thing about living here: your neighbors can become friends, and you can become as integrated into the community as you want to be.
Meet Your New Neighbors
Name: Jeff & William
Location: E. 4th Street
Occupation: Jeff is a Project Manager for Pilot Travel Centers, while William is pursuing his degree in Computer Networking.
Fun Facts: William is a car guy, his favorite being the ‘99 BMW 5-Series. Jeff's claim to fame is meeting a young Vanessa Williams during her brief (and scandalous) reign as Miss America.
What brought you to the Springfield historic district?
Jeff & William: It was a happy accident. We were living in Riverside bungalow and decided to list it, just to test the market . . . . and it sold in one day! So here we were, not really expecting to sell the house, and all of sudden we had to find a new home, and fast. We originally wanted to stay in Riverside & Avondale, and were leaning towards buying a condo there. However, the realtor involved was giving us the run around, and we ended up wasting 2 weeks of our very limited time to find our new home. We didn’t even consider Springfield at that time, but needless to say we were frustrated and decided to cast our net a bit wider.
Newer subdivisions just don’t have the same appeal, so we wanted something with style and character. While doing some research online, we came across Third & Main Realty, which advertised new construction homes in a Historic District. Our interest was peaked, and that’s how we came across our new home here in Springfield. We moved in just a couple months ago, October 2012.
Did you buy a new or original house, and why?
Jeff & William: We bought a brand new house built by Springfield Builders. We had an older house in Riverside, and it was pretty drafty, so the energy efficiency of a new home appealed to us. But what really sold us on this particular house was size for the money, and finishes. The builder really did a quality job. We were very impressed. We basically got twice the house for half the money, compared to where we were. We moved from a 1100 sq foot bungalow into a 2100 sq foot 2-story home.
After one walk through, we knew immediately that we wanted to make an offer. It was like a pleasant surprise, and we knew this was it.
What did your friends & family think about the big move?
William: My boss’s reaction was “Oh my. Are you sure?”
Jeff: My friends all pretty much had the same reaction. I meet with a group of friends regularly at the Starbucks in Five Points, and when I told them we decided to move to Springfield, it was a chorus of “why, why, why?”. To be honest, we weren’t really sure we made the right decision until we settled in. Sure, we had visited the area when stopping Three Layers Café a number of times, but we didn’t really know the neighborhood. But once we actually moved in, we were welcomed by neighbors left and right that made us feel at home. In fact, in just a two months of living here, we’ve met more neighbors in the two years we lived in Riverside. There’s a strong community culture here, and that’s hard to tell from the outside.
You’ve only been in the neighborhood a short time, but what do you enjoy about it so far?
William: I like the diversity of the people. There’s not one type of person, it’s a mix of every type. And the community appears very friendly and sociable.
Jeff: I have to agree. I also like being able to walk up to the Third & Main complex to eat at City Kidz Café or Uptown Market. I like the walkability. But really, my favorite thing to do is just sit in my rocking chairs on the front porch and relax. That’s been really, really nice. I’ve always wanted a front porch like this.
Moving forward, what kind of changes would you like to see in the neighborhood?
Jeff: Well, like anyone, I’d like to see a spark on the main commercial roads in the neighborhood. We need more buzz. Personally, I’d like it to develop similar to King Street in Riverside, and we actually have more capacity here. Also, more new houses. More vacant lots filled with new homes like ours.
Is there anything you look forward to doing?
Jeff & William: We haven’t been to a First Friday party yet, so we’re looking forward to that. And we’d like to go back to Klutho Park and Karpeles Museum to explore those a little more. We’ve made it to a Main Street Cruise already, and that was interesting. Besides that, I think we just want to participate in some of the community projects and events that we’ve heard about.
What advice do you have for someone thinking about moving to the Springfield historic district?
William: We didn’t know what we would find here, and were pleasantly surprised when we looked.
Jeff: The first thing I would recommend, is to work with a realtor that specializes in the area and knows it very well. It makes it so much easier. And like William said, take a look and see what you find. You don’t know until you have.