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Jacksonville's Architectural Milk Houses

June 4, 2017

The story behind what remains of Jacksonville's landmark Mid-Century Modern milk houses.

by Tim Gilmore, 6/18/2012

A local hack historian called it a 400 square-foot architectural gem. DJ’s Seafood and Wings, Cooked Fresh, Call-In Orders Welcome, however, is painted pale lavender, signage in sloppy red letters, and surrounded by a chain-link fence. Its fresh paint manages to look faded on this faded street, situated on its concrete island in Tallulah Avenue at North Pearl Street, a few blocks south of North Shore Park on the Trout River.

A local hack historian called it a 400 square-foot architectural gem. St. Johns Flower Market stands on its concrete island at St. Johns Avenue and Herschel Street, between Big Fishweir Creek and the finely aged brick Fishweir Elementary School. Its yellow paint and dark green trim corroborate the green stems and white hydrangea and yellow rose and red delphiniums you can buy inside. The wall nearest the intersection extends into a green trellis covered in dark green vines.

The 400 square-foot architectural gem on Ricker Road near 103rd Street waits empty and without its roof, full of things growing wildly: dog fennel and morning glory.


(Wikipedia)

The Skinner family ran a vast dairy farm off Bowden Road on the Southside. By the late 1950s, grocery stories were no longer mostly small neighborhood family-run businesses, and the expansion of large corporate grocery chains made it harder for independent dairies to compete.

Disappearing were the days of home delivery of milk bottles that, once used, you would rinse and place back outside for the milkman to pick up before the next delivery. The Skinners’ solution was to build a series of small drive-through dairy stores called “milk houses” in neighborhoods across Jacksonville. The “milk houses” had a base area of 416 feet and offered milk, ice cream, sherbet, eggs, and other dairy products, in addition to beer and cigarettes.

The first Skinners’ Dairy opened in 1958.

Lenny and Marianne Thiesen opened the St. Johns Flower Market in 1986. Lenny was a peddler. He always came by the cheesecake bakery located in the old Skinners’ Dairy building at St. Johns and Herschel. He’d get a cheesecake sometimes. He’d sell the baker some of his own handcrafted jewelry. Lenny and Marianne would pick up flowers thrown out by wholesalers, separate “the wheat from the chaff,” figuratively, of course—more literally the useable blooms from the bruised, salvage them, and sell them. Then Lenny came by the cheesecake bakery one day and found it empty, and Marianne told him that night, “I want my own little flower shop.”

The former Skinners’ “milk house” on Ricker Road near 103rd Street stands empty and without a roof, full of things growing wildly: dog fennel and morning glory. The little girl loved to ride up to the Ricker Road Skinners’ with her daddy, because she associated the bird building with the coming eating of strawberry ice cream. She called it the bird building because of its size and its shape.

Skinners’ Milk Houses were designed by the architect Taylor Hardwick, who also designed such 1960s-era iconic structures as the Haydon Burns Public Library at Adams and Ocean Streets downtown and the Friendship Fountain and Park at the Southbank Riverwalk. These 400 square-foot dairy buildings were designed by one of the city’s most iconic architects.

No wonder she called the dairy on Ricker Road the bird building.

“Our staff is ready to assist you with placing orders for local delivery or delivery anywhere around the world.” Some of the currently highlighted specials include the Victorian Roses selection, Colors on Parade, Plum Crazy Garden, and Gold Rush Floral Topiary. St. Johns Flower Market also invites you to “Browse our variety of dish gardens and green and blooming plants.”

On the night of a play or concert or the annual Nutcracker across the street at Fishweir Elementary, the neighborhood arts magnet elementary school, the pavement outside the flower shop is lined with parents waiting to buy roses and daisies.


St. Johns Flower Market (Wikipedia)

The two canopies occupy more total area than the shop itself. These canopies, at 286 feet each, are the building’s wings. The wings rise up at either side from the main roof, creating the buildings’ iconic “butterfly roof.”  Each side of the building is largely glass, originally sliding glass doors, novelties when the dairies were built, that accommodated dairy drive-through lanes in the new era of never leaving your car, the newly self-defining everyman possession. A metal door rolls down across the glass side doors at night.

Forget the fact that the car determined the structure of the building, like a motel, or motor hotel, or motor court. Forget the car and remember the building. Its simple beauty was that of a small thing, an eyeball or a bird, in proportion to a greater wingspan.

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