Following Jacksonville's great fire of 1901, which burned 146 city blocks, destroyed more than 2,368 buildings and left almost 10,000 residents homeless, the city spread along the St. Johns River experienced a period of architectural renaissance and urban revitalization that continues today. From iconic “Prairie Style” construction, pioneered in Jacksonville by New York City architect Henry John Klutho and made famous by Frank Lloyd Wright in Chicago and other Midwestern cities, to Gothic, Art Deco, Colonial Revival and Bungalow, Jacksonville’s diverse collection of must-see architecture reflects the diversity of cultures that call the city home.
Seeing the historic sites and getting around town is easy, thanks to several guided tours and Jacksonville's numerous public transportation options. AdLib Luxury Tours and Transportation offeres several "top to bottom" tours of the area's points of interest, including a walking tour, driving tour and ghost tour. Visit Jacksonville has compiled a guide of historic walking tours from East Northbank, West Northbank and Southbank Riverwalk. The Riverside Avondale Preservation Society offers for download audio-guided neighborhood tours with accompanying podcasts and maps.
The Jacksonville River Taxi takes you to points of interest on both sides of the St. Johns River in the heart of downtown, including Everbank Field, home of the Jacksonville Jaguars. A sunset ride on is one of the best ways to see views of the Jacksonville skyline. The 2.5-mile Skyway provides “traffic-free” routes between the North- and Southbanks of Downtown throughout the week and during special events. You can also cross the river aboard one of the last remaining public ferries in the state, the historic St. Johns River Ferry, which carries passenger and cars between Mayport and Ft. George Island. Plus, the Jacksonville Transit Authority operates the Beach Trolley and Riverside/Avondale Night Trolley, which features stops throughout the neighborhood residential and commercial districts, hitting Five Points, Park & King, the Shoppes of Avondale, the Brewery District, Stockton & College and the St. John’s Village areas. Customers can connect to the historic district and visit downtown destinations like the Elbow or Jacksonville Landing by connecting with a JTA bus.
Now that you know how to get around, go explore these 14 must-see examples of historic Jacksonville architecture that illustrate city's eclectic personality.
Laura Street Trio
The Florida Life and Bisbee skyscrapers frame the Old Florida National Bank (Marble Bank) located on Laura Street in downtown Jacksonville. Built just after the great fire of 1901, Marble Bank began as the Mercantile Exchange Bank in 1902, designed by architect Edward H. Glidden in the Classical Revival style. The Bisbee Building, Jacksonville's first skyscraper, was constructed between 1908 and 1909 by prominent Jacksonville architect Henry J. Klutho, who also built the Florida Life Building between 1911 and 1912, which was at the time Jacksonville's, and Florida's, tallest building.
Jacksonville Landing opened in 1987, built by the Rouse Co. The dining and entertainment complex is often compared to New York City's South Street Seaport, Boston's Faneuil Hall, Harborplace in Baltimore or Miami's Bayside Marketplace, all developed by Rouse.
Jacksonville's first permanent football stadium, Fairfield Stadium, opened in 1928. Twenty years later, it expanded and was renamed Gator Bowl Stadium. EverBank Field then opened in 1995 on the site of the old stadium and played host to Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005. In 2013, the stadium underwent $63 million in improvements, which included two end zone video scoreboards that are the largest HD LED screens in the world, a platform area in the north end zone with two wading pools and 55,000-square-feet of HD video screens, which is a world record for a stadium.
Jacoby Symphony Hall
Opened in 1997, Jacksonville's world-class symphony hall is constructed in a “shoebox” shape, a design seen in classic European concert halls as well as in many of our country’s most prominent halls, like Boston’s Symphony Hall. The design keeps the sound alive by reflecting, sustaining and distributing symphonic tones to the audience in equal proportions. Jacoby Symphony Hall was designed by KBJ Architects; Rothman, Rothman & Heineman architects and internationally acclaimed acousticians Kirkegaard & Associates. The Jacksonville Symphony is one of very few American orchestras with their own dedicated concert hall.
Situated at the west end of the Southbank Riverwalk adjacent to the Museum of Science and History, the Fountain at Friendship Park opened in 1965 as the "world’s largest and tallest" fountain at the time. Designed by Taylor Hardwick, a prominent Jacksonville architect who also designed the Haydon Burns Library, it became a popular tourist attraction, pumping 3,500 to 6,500 gallons of water per minute to a height of 100 feet, with 265 lights molding the water into a sparkling mist. In 2010, the City of Jacksonville broke ground on park improvements, which included restoring full functionality to the fountain, updating the fountain's lighting and adding green space, landscaping and pedestrian accents to the park.
Main Street Bridge
Opened in July 1941, Jacksonville's Main Street Bridge remains one of the city skyline's most recognizable features. Officially the John T. Alsop Jr. Bridge, named of Jacksonville's mayor at the time, it was the the second bridge built across the St. Johns River.
Wells Fargo Center
The city's second-tallest building, standing 535 feet tall, the tower was completed in 1974 by the Independent Life and Accident Insurance Company, and was known as the Independent Life Building. The designers of the tower, KBJ Architects, intended to create a distinctive image and identifying landmark for the city. As a result, they received the Honor Award for Outstanding Achievement in Design by the Jacksonville Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. The River Club of Jacksonville, a private business club, occupies the top two floors of the building.
San Marco Square
The South Jacksonville community emerged after the American Civil War and incorporated in 1907. Planned in the Italian Renaissance revival style, the commercial district was called "San Marco Square" after Venice's Piazza San Marco, and featured several Mediterranean buildings and a fountain. The San Marco Building, a Mediterranean Revival structure completed in 1927, was the district's first commercial building and set its architectural tone. In the 1990s the City of Jacksonville undertook a major renovation and streetscaping project, which included restoring the fountain with three lion statues inspired by the Piazza San Marco.
San Marco Theatre
Built in 1938 by architect Roy Benjamin, who also built the Florida Theatre, the Art Deco theater stood out among the favored Moorish, Spanish and Italianate designs of the time. Painter Davis Cone felt compelled to paint the theater and include it in his book "Popcorn Palaces." It is also recognized by USA Today as one of 10 best classic cinemas in the country.
The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens
Opened in 1961 on the grounds of the former residence of Arthur and Ninah Cummer, the museum is housed in a series of 20th-century buildings, opening onto the St. Johns River. Its three gardens on the museum grounds, the oldest dating back to 1903, are unique examples of early 20th century garden design, with features including reflecting pools, fountains, arbors, sculptures and an ancient oak estimated to be close to 200 years old. Designed by famed landscape architects Ellen Biddle Shipman and the Olmsted Brothers, the Gardens are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Historic Ritz Theatre
The Ritz Theatre movie house in Jacksonville’s historic African American community of La Villa was built in 1929. During La Villa’s height of activity in the 1920s-1960s, it was known as the “Harlem of the South” and played host to some of the most culturally iconic entertainers of its time. Continuing in that tradition, the historic theater continues to welcome intertnationally recognized stage plays and performing artists. The Ritz Theatre Museum was established to “research, record, and preserve the material and artistic culture of African American life in Northeast Florida and the African Diaspora, and present in an educational or entertaining format, the many facets that make up the historical and cultural legacy of this community.”
Haydon Burns Library
Now the Jessie Ball duPont Center, the former library named for Haydon Burns, the longest-sitting mayor in Jacksonville's history (1949-1965), opened in November 1965. Considered state of the art, the 126,000-square-foot building was wrapped in vibrantly colored tiles and had strong lines and angles. Architect Taylor Hardwick, who designed dozens of Jacksonville's iconic landmarks, sought to create "a bright spot in a drab urban environment...a building that would attract people and create in them an interest to enter and find out what was going on inside." The building's interrior was described as an explosion of color and light withy a vivid mosaic mural, designed by local artist Ann Williams, that wrapped all four sides of the elevator and stair tower on the east side of the building. The exterior walls facing Ocean and Adams streets have 88 "fins" extending from the second floor to the roof, like the 88 keys on a piano. The fins catch the wind and cast shadows to help keep the building cool.
Opened on April 8, 1927, the Florida Theatre was considered the largest theater in the state at the time. Designed by architect R.E. Hall, the movie house was constructed by Publix Theaters, the theatre-construction and -owning arm of Paramount Pictures, who also built such notable venues as the Paramount Theater in New York, the Tivoli in Chicago, the Olympia in Miami and the Tampa Theater in Tampa. French, Spanish and Italian motifs and furnishings stylize the grand interrior and the exterior was fashioned in the Spanish Eclectic Style, more commonly known as Mediterranean Revival. Wall hangings woven in France and Italy, and the furniture obtained from collectors in Morocco all evoked the Mediterranean region and style.The most famous live performances in the Florida Theatre’s past or modern history occurred on August 10 and 11, 1956, when Elvis Presley, then riding high on the hit singles “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Hound Dog” and “Don’t Be Cruel,” played six shows over two days. Added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1982, it is one of only four remaining high-style movie palaces built in Florida during the Mediterranean Revival architectural boom of the 1920s.
St. James Building
Designed by architect Henry John Klutho and opened in 1912, the St. James Building is considered his masterpiece and was, at the time, the largest structure in Jacksonville, occupying an entire city block. The building's most striking features include large abstract terra-cotta ornaments decorating its exterior as well as its 75-foot octagonal glass dome, which serves as a skylight. Originally designed as a mixed-use building containing the Cohen Bros. Department Store, the building was purchased by the City of Jacksonville as the new City Hall in 1997.