Residents of Jacksonville’s Eastside want the neighborhood to grow with their input. It’s a desire that was watered late last week when the Florida National Register Review board unanimously nominated the neighborhood for the National Register.
The statewide designation was viewed as the biggest hurdle to the district’s being named to the National Register of Historic Places.
The Eastside, just north of Jacksonville’s sports and entertainment venue district, is the only majority-Black neighborhood dating from the late 19th century that neighbors Downtown and has not been gentrified or altered by highways, state employees told the board before their vote.
This spring, the National Park Service will review the application and determine whether to include it on the national register – a move state and local officials expect. .
The submission came from LIFT JAX, a public-private partnership that is working to connect businesses with the Eastside community.
Suzanne Pickett, CEO of the Historic Eastside Community Development Corporation, previously told Jacksonville Today the designation is vital to attracting businesses along A. Philip Randolph Boulevard.
“We’ll start to develop the Out East Quarter,” Pickett says. “Shopping, dining, entertainment, come and enjoy. We’re going to be a compliment to all the great development that Shad (Khan) and the Jaguars have planned for this area and Downtown. We are super excited.”
Perhaps most importantly, the national listing provides an opportunity to win funding from the federal Historic Preservation Fund that allocates $150 million annually, including grants dedicated to preserving sites related to the Black American struggle to gain equal rights as well as for underrepresented communities.
Out East, the longtime nickname for the neighborhood, would likely qualify for both.
Ruben Acosta, a survey and registration supervisor with the Florida Division of Historical Resources, told the five-member board the Eastside’s historical significance includes community planning, Black ethnic heritage, Gullah Geechee culture as well as social history, civil rights history and the neighborhood’s architecture.
“What makes (the) Eastside unique is that it has preserved its historic collection of buildings, its configuration, its sense as a neighborhood, versus LaVilla and Brooklyn,” Acosta said during the Jan. 19 meeting. “ …It doesn’t mean (the) Eastside has not been impacted. …But, they were able to better weather the storms.”
Acosta says Brooklyn, just southwest of Downtown, was home to middle-class Black people. Meanwhile, LaVilla, just north of that, was home to working-class Black people and was considered an entertainment district. The Eastside, during the period of significance, was filled with working class residents who were employed at the shipyards and in the railroad industry.
In its application, LIFT JAX identified more than 675 “contributing resources” that include residences, commercial buildings and parks that make Out East one of the most densely populated historic districts in Florida. That number approached 1,000 when a survey of the neighborhood was conducted in 1993.
The Community Foundation of Northeast Florida and other organizations are working with residents and community leaders to ensure the shotgun homes that line streets like Van Buren, Harrison and Spearing are restored in a way that maintains structural and historic integrity. The Community Foundation is one of the funders of the Historic Eastside CDC and LIFT Jax’s Restore & Repair program, which has thus far renovated more than 15 homes, with more expected this year.
James Coggin, senior director of grantmaking and impact investing with the Community Foundation, says, “It became pretty apparent to us, early on in the process, that to really drive change in those areas, we needed more than grantmaking dollars.
Last month, the Community Foundation loaned $1 million to LISC Jacksonville to re-loan to the Historic Eastside CDC, and similar organizations in Arlington and Northwest Jacksonville, to help address Jacksonville’s affordable housing shortage in a way that’s determined by residents instead of community outsiders.
“We needed capital that was going to undo damage that had taken place over generations through redlining and everything that followed to reestablish those neighborhoods as worthy of private investment,” he says.
The combination of securing capital for affordable housing, and restoring homes, is part of a process Pickett and other urban planners call “withintrification.”
Because the Eastside community works alongside developers and businesses, it is better able to maintain the historic integrity that resonated with Florida National Register Review members.
Clifford Smith, a historical archaeologist and Florida National Register Review Board member, says he was impressed with how much of the Eastside has survived over the last 12 decades, which bodes well for its preservation in the years ahead.