The Riverside-Avondale Historic District is one of the largest National Historic Districts in the United States and houses the greatest number of surviving examples of Prairie Style architecture east of the Mississippi River. Roughly bordered by I-10 to the north, the St. Johns River and Fishweir Creek to the south, I-95 to the east and Roosevelt Boulevard to the west, Riverside and Avondale are neighbors with distinct characteristics.
In the years preceding and immediately following the Civil War, the land now occupied by the two neighborhoods was utilized as two working plantations - interestingly, with about the same boundaries that Riverside and Avondale share today. Riverside was developed first - it changed hands several times until a Yankee carpetbagger purchased the land that now runs between I-95 and King Street, named it Riverside, and began a residential development that took off in the 1920s.
The land upon which Avondale now sits remained under the control of one family for a long time until sometime in the late 19th century. The land was sold off bit by bit until another couple of Yankee developers began purchasing parcels and piecing the original plantation back together. These developers named it Avondale and promised to provide exceptional amenities and luxury conveniences like telephone service, sidewalks, and stately two-story homes to attract a high-end clientele to what was being billed as a neighborhood for the "correct" people of Jacksonville. Development of Avondale was concentrated in the 1920s, but examples of 1930s and post-War architecture can also be found in the neighborhood.¹
Today, Riverside and Avondale are great neighbors with decidedly different personalities. Riverside is an eclectic, urban, bustling neighborhood that attracts artists, recent graduates, historic architecture fanatics, and creative people from all walks of life. It is highly walkable and its parks are beautifully maintained and heavily utilized by nearby residents and visitors from other parts of town. The Five Points business district is among the oldest commerial centers in Jacksonville and is home to an independent movie theater, several bars and restaurants, clothing boutiques, retail stores, and professional offices. Along Riverside Avenue, Oak, Herschel, and Park Streets, old homes have been converted to business uses for law firms, medical offices, salons, and real estate companies. The Riverside Arts Market attracts visitors from all over the region every Saturday to shop artists' booths, buy food and meats from area farmers, and enjoy live music and people watching under the shade of I-95 along the river.
Avondale has a more buttoned-down feel to it. Manicured lawns, quiet streets, and a high-end shopping district define the neighborhood. Because it was developed and built out in such a short period of time, Avondale has a more consistent character to its streets than Riverside, and there are fewer commercial buildings interspersed within the residential neighborhood. Park Street and Riverside Avenue are almost entirely residential in Avondale; in Riverside, those streets are mostly commercial. Like its sister to the southeast, Avondale is highly walkable and residents make use of its tree-lined streets for jogging, dog walking, and strolling throughout the day. As in Riverside, parks were included in the original master plan of the development and are popular gathering places for families and residents seeking shade under their grand live oak trees.
In the 1970s, the Riverside-Avondale area began to experience symptoms of decline and a group now known as Riverside Avondale Preservation (RAP) was formed to help preserve the overall character of the neighborhoods going forward. Development had begun to encroach upon the old homes and some homes and buildings of historical significance had either already been torn down or were slated for demolition, and RAP stepped in to change the direction in which the neighborhoods were headed. Today, RAP is a community organization that serves in an advocacy and advisory capacity to the City of Jacksonville's Historic Planning Commission and it organizes several highly-anticipated neighborhood events each year. In 2008, a controversial zoning overlay detailing a planning mission and new preservation guidelines was enacted by the City Council. Its spirit aims to preserve the character of the neighborhoods, but it does add a layer of work for those seeking to improve their properties in the Historic District.
Homeowners in Riverside and Avondale, on average, enjoy higher per-square-foot property values than their fellow Jacksonvillians, along with a vibrant, close-knit community that cherishes its history while recognizing modernity and adapting to the ever-changing future.
1. Wood, Wayne W. ( 1989). Jacksonville's Architectural Heritage: Landmarks for the Future. Jacksonville, FL: University of North Florida Press.