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Who was Chopstick Charley?

August 29, 2017

Although it's Jacksonville's oldest Chinese restaurant the majority of Jaxons most likely believe it closed year's ago.



Although it's Jacksonville's oldest Chinese restaurant the majority of Jaxons most likely believe it closed year's ago. Pre-dating Interstate 95 by a full decade, Chopstick Charley's opened its doors at 4424 Philips Highway in 1951. Named after Henry B. Philips, a prominent local judge, upon its completion Philips Highway supplanted St. Augustine Road as the major highway entering and leaving Jacksonville's Southside.

With the percentage of car-owning households increasing from 30% around 1920 to over 60% by 1950, the post-war suburban building boom was underway and motor courts had become a major product of the era. Dating back to the 1920s, motor courts were hotels designed around auto camps (parking lots) along major thoroughfares like Route 66 prior to the construction of the interstate highway system.

With the 1950s serving as the pinnacle of the US motel industry, Philips Highway morphed into Jacksonville's version of Route 66.  This scene led to the opening of Jung Ong's Palace Motel and Chopstick Charley's restaurant around 1951. By the time the motel industry reached its peak, Philips Highway had become known as Jacksonville's "Miracle Mile" and Ong's motel had become known for its sponsored luau nights.



According a recently published article by Tim Gilmore at Jax Psycho Geo, the former owner of the nearby Gator Lodge motel remembers the man behind Chopstick Charley's:

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Susan Bush remembers the man she knew as Charley. She and her late husband Sam King owned Gator Lodge down the street.

She remembers the man who owned The Joe and the adjoining restaurant in the 1960s as Chopstick Charley himself, says he was “a no-nonsense kind of guy. If you came to his motel for hanky panky, he would throw you out.” He was determined The Joe, then called The Palace Motel and then The Three Hundred, would not be an “hourly place.”

Like Route 66, Philips Highway declined as the majority of the traffic once giving it life, transitioned to Interstate 95 after its completion. Originally a place for middle class tourist, by the 1980s Philips Highway had evolved into a destination for midafternoon flings, drug dens and prostitution. Today, Philips Highway is witnessing a slow rebirth. Miracle Mile and Ong's motel are no more but Chopstick Charley's still lives on. For those willing to take a trip inside, you'll discover an authentic “ma and pop”-style business with reasonably priced and unreasonably oversized meals.

Next Page: A look inside Chopstick Charley's and the Joe Motel




Photographs by Timothy Gilmore. Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Davis is a certified senior planner and graduate of Florida A&M University. He is the author of the award winning books “Reclaiming Jacksonville,” “Cohen Brothers: The Big Store” and “Images of Modern America: Jacksonville.” Davis has served with various organizations committed to improving urban communities, including the American Planning Association and the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation. A 2013 Next City Vanguard, Davis is the co-founder of Metro Jacksonville.com and ModernCities.com — two websites dedicated to promoting fiscally sustainable communities — and Transform Jax, a tactical urbanist group. Contact Ennis at edavis@moderncities.com

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