(Originally published in 2011)
Meet Your New Neighbors
Name: Cherie & Family
Location: Pearl Street
Occupation: Cherie has taught in the Duval County Public School system for 9 years.
Fun Fact: Cherie is dancer by passion, (East Coast & West Coast swing dancing connoisseur) and trade – she also teaches Jazzercise, a mix of dance and aerobics, in her spare time.
How did you discover the Springfield historic district?
I've been familiar with the area since childhood. As a teen, a friend's family fell in love with a great big house here and bought it to restore. I remember visiting and just loving being there in the house. That was 20 years ago, so it was a different time though. Also, my Great Aunt and Grandfather lived in the general area too. In fact, if I remember correctly, my Grandfather is now the oldest living Andrew Jackson High school Alumnus, and owned a tire shop in the area many years ago. So I've always known about the neighborhood.
Well, I really wasn't planning a move. It just sort of happened.
I was considering my options, with having three growing kids and wanting to be somewhere long term. Right now we live in a small-ish bungalow in San Marco, which wasn't going to work comfortably for much longer. So I started looking around at my options. A new subdivision somewhere wasn't an option – I'm sorry, but no pre-fabricated homes for me. I looked at Riverside, Murray Hill, etc but I kept on going back to Springfield for two reasons: First, I can get a lot more for my money here. For my budget, I could get a small home elsewhere or a large home here. With more unique character too. Second, my kids go to school all over the place, and I wanted to live close to at least one of their schools to cut down on commute times. My son attends Kirby-Smith Middle School in the neighborhood, so that box was checked off too. One thing led to another, and here we are. We're moving in to our house in August!
Did you choose an old house or a new house, and why?
An old house, because I'm just a sucker for architectural character. I really mean it. Just a sucker for it. My house was built in 1914. I did look at some of the new replica homes in the neighborhood, and I liked some of them too, but they just felt different to me. They didn't feel like home, if that makes sense. As soon as I walked to my house I just knew. It does need some TLC, but the feeling was there. I could see my family there. Everyone has their own taste and needs though, so to each their own.
What about moving to the neighborhood do you look forward to the most?
All of it. I've already met a lot of my neighbors. They're all been great. I look forward to just settling in. Getting comfortable in my nice big house. And hosting lots of parties – I'm not even kidding. I very much look forward to the parties.
Do you plan on attending any events or participating in any organizations?
I haven't participated in any neighborhood organizations yet, but I plan to. SPAR and others. First Friday's for sure. Actually, I've already been to a couple. Maybe going on those "Night Rides" too. Riding my bicycle with new neighbors around the neighborhood sounds like fun.
What do your family and friends think about your big move?
I think they're liking what they see. I did all my research about crime in different neighborhoods. I went to JSO's crime statistics site to compare and contrast. So, after I was comfortable with what I found (the historic district doesn't have alarming crime issues) most of my family and friends were ok with it too. Some were still hesitant, but after coming to visit the house and spending a little time in the neighborhood they realize it's fine. I do like to play a trick on them though . . . the first time they arrive, I give them the address of the huge boarded up house a couple doors down from mine. Then I stand outside of it and welcome them to my new home, and they’re all speechless for a moment. When I walk them down to my place they’re relieved! That’s just my sense of humor. My kids grew up in the San Marco house we're leaving though, so they're being a bit sentimental about the move.
What advice would you have for someone thinking about moving to the Springfield historic district?
If you're considering different communities, you should visit. Spend time at Three Layers Coffee House, Sweet Pete’s, or one of the other neighborhood establishments. Go to a First Friday party. Just see for yourself. There's still those old stereotypes floating around, but in reality, crime should not be a reason why you wouldn't consider living here. Also, take your time looking. I looked at 50 houses, I'm not kidding, before I found this one.
Meet Your Long-Time Neighbors
Name: John & Judy
Location: Market Street
Occupation: John is retired from real estate and trucking. Judy is a retirement specialist.
Fun Fact: John and Judy are accidental Jacksonville residents. In 1992, they planned to sail down from Boston to the Virgin Islands to open their own sailboat tour business. Hurricane Andrew had other plans, and made them seek refuge in the St. Johns River, eventually finding a marina in downtown Jacksonville. After 3 months of living in the marina, they decided they might as well settle here….and the rest is history
What brought you to the Springfield Historic District?
John: In 1998 we were renting in San Marco. We decided it was time to buy a house. A friend of ours was one of the early renovators in the neighborhood. He bought houses and renovated them one at a time. I told him we were looking for a house, and he suggested we look at one that he was already renovating in Springfield. He did a nice job and we could afford it, so we bought. The neighborhood, well, it wasn't what attracted us here.
Judy: To be honest, nothing about the neighborhood really appealed to us at the time. The only reason we moved here was because we found a good deal on a nicely renovated 1914 house. We both lived in the city of Boston, Mass for a long time. I had never lived anywhere else. We were sort of comfortable living in big cities with rougher areas. We both had our wits about us and weren't easily taken advantage of, so although the neighborhood didn't appeal to us, it didn't intimidate us either.
How did you feel about the neighborhood when you first moved in?
Judy: Like I said, I didn't think much of it much. The Westside of Main Street was the "nicer" side at the time, and only insane people lived on the Eastside of Main. So I guess we qualified.
I was on the phone everyday, literally everyday, with the police. And it wasn't 630-0500, it was 911. There were all kinds of wild craziness, something different each day. Springfield was the city's dumping ground. Every social service, rehab facility, offenders program, halfway house, homeless service, etc had a piece of the neighborhood. The city tried to keep all the bad stuff in one place: right here. It's funny, a few months ago I found an old "diary" I used to keep of all the illegal activity I observed. The police always did, and they still do, say "document, document, document". So that's what I did. I wrote down everything I saw and every phone call to law enforcement I made. I don't know how I had time to do it all. As I flip back through the pages now and it's amazing I had time to do anything else. That's what I think about. How hard it was to even try to live a semi-normal life.
What's changed about the Historic District since you moved in?
Judy: I sit on the front porch today and barely recognize the old neighborhood. There have been a lot of houses come down through the years by neglect, abuse, fire or demolition. Some beautiful and some that were being held up by spit and glue and needed to go. In that way, the landscape has changed. Of course things have gotten a lot better around here. Violent crime isn't so much an issue anymore so much as petty crimes, like theft. It's much better, but that element is still around, don't kid yourself. Certain pockets, like the BP on 8thStreet, are still active. People still need to be vigilant about the criminal element.
I think the biggest difference is probably just having real neighbors around now. In 1998, every other house around us was boarded up. There were maybe 1 or 2 actual homeowners around us. The rest were slum lords, rooming houses, or abandoned. Now when I spend time on my front porch, I have real neighbors I can have a conversation with. People are engaged and active our community now, whereas then everyone seemed to be here today and gone tomorrow.
Do you have any interesting stories about the neighborhood from your early years here?
John: Oh, we have some stories.
I'll give you one. Our neighbor and I had it out one day. He brought a knife and I brought a gun. It was that kind of a place back then. The funny thing is, he was so scared that he called the police on me...even though he had several warrants out for his arrest! Let's see, I had to introduce the bums and transients that lived in our alley to my shotgun, too. That's all they responded too. A few warning shots over their head eventually convinced them not to come back, you see. That's just what you had to do back then.
Judy: This is a story that I tell everybody. When we purchased our home, it was painted baby blue on the front, but only had a thin coat of white primer on the sides. As you might expect, painting our house was one of the first big projects we did. We purchased one of those tall aluminum ladders to reach the outside of our second floor. But where do you store a tall ladder? You couldn't leave anything – ANYTHING – on your front porch at the time. Anything you left would be gone by the next morning. Heck, maybe even just an hour. Tools, plants, furniture, wind chimes...anything. I had to figure out how I was going to stop my ladder from being stolen at night, so I got creative. Our bed was on the second floor near a window. I rested the ladder against the house near our bedroom window. Then I tied one end of a rope to the ladder and the other end of the rope to my wrist. If they were going to steal my ladder, they'd have to drag me out of the window with them!
The gas grill is another "interesting" story. We had just purchased a nice gas grill. We put it on our back porch and secured it with a chain. Shame on us, we thought that would do. It was chained to our back porch, so if they were going to take the grill, they were going to have to take the porch. Well, as I pulled in from work one afternoon I discovered our grill was gone, and a big chunk of our back porch along with it. They had torn it off the side of the porch to take the grill and took both with them. It's things like that that make you appreciate the relative tranquility today.
What do you enjoy about living in the Historic District now?
Judy: First of all, I enjoy not living in a sub-division cul-de-sac somewhere. We enjoy living in a diverse neighborhood where not everyone looks, acts, or thinks the same. The mixture of lifestyles, races, and ages is something we value. We like it. Then there's the proximity to everything. We're no more than 20 minutes away from anything worth going to, or less. It takes me 5 minutes to get to work.
John: I think we just enjoy living a city lifestyle.
Moving forward, how do you see the neighborhood evolving?
Judy: I have a couple thoughts on that. I think it's important that we don't repeat our mistakes of the past. SRG, the developer that built so many of the nice, new houses you see in the neighborhood today, did a great service by raising the profile of the neighborhood, building nice houses that people love, and raising the homes values in the neighborhood quite a bit. We owe them a debt of gratitude for that. But I feel that they also made some new home buyers false promises, and sort of sold them a bill of goods. They didn't really tell them that the neighborhood still had significant growing pains to go through. It was the at the top of the housing bubble though, and they were selling like hotcakes. No one took the time to explain that things don't change overnight, and that there is still work to be done. That's just the way I see it. There aren't very many early SRG homeowners left in the neighborhood, which speaks to this point I think.
But moving forward, I think we're seeing new homeowners now that get it. Of course things have progressed since then, but I think they want to be apart of the process and understand that it's not overnight transformation. People are laying down roots now. The worst is over. It was taken care of. And now the community is much more widely accessible. That’s how it is evolving, in my opinion.
John: I spend a lot of time on the front porch. I'm known as the cranky old man to some people, and that's ok. But the point is, I see a lot. It's the people that move here that make the biggest difference. The quality of neighbors is what I see continuing to rise in the future.
Do you take part in any neighborhood organizations or events?
John: I'm retired from most of that now, but I make it to a meeting every now and then. Judy is my eyes and ears for most of it now.
Judy: I've worked with SPAR (Springfield Preservation And Revitalization) and SHADCO (Sherriff's Advisory Council) for many years. I started with SHADCO even before I moved into the neighborhood. I'm the current Vice-Chair for the Springfield SHADCO now. It's is important because it connects you to the local police in your neighborhood. It opens lines of communication and produces positive results for the community. I joined SPAR a couple of years after we moved in, and although some like to stew on controversy, it's been the vital organization to the success of this neighborhood. Their connection to COJ, JSO, investors, and interested parties is invaluable. They're kind of the "catch all" for the neighborhood, and work with all sorts of people on different projects to improve the community. I'm also on the Weed & Seed committee, a federal law enforcement initiative that focuses on crime in ours and other communities around us. And of course we've done all the Home Tours, parties, and other events too through the years.
What advice would you have for someone considering a move to the Springfield Historic District?
Judy: Enjoy your home. Enjoy the neighborhood. But remember to keep vigilant. There's still a bad element out there that will take advantage of an opportunity if they see it. Get involved in making our community a better place.
John: Find a house you like and buy it. Keep it simple. Don't over think it, and for goodness sakes don't be afraid to talk to people. I see people driving around looking at houses all the time, but few actually make the effort to talk to residents already living there. If you see me sitting on the front porch, say "Hello". Everyone is happy to talk to visitors about the neighborhood.
And most importantly, Go Patriots!