The history of Murray Hill
Modern Cities highlights the history of Murray Hill. The presentation by Ennis Davis, AICP took place on March 3, 2020 in coordination with the Murray Hill Preservation Association and American Planning Association Florida Chapter's First Coast Section.
The initial fanfare of Murray Hill being its own incorporated community didn’t last long. Within a decade after electing its first mayor, the young city became known as “Murray Bottom.” $300,000 in debt, Murray Hill’s residents desired annexation into neighboring Jacksonville. At the time, Jacksonville had its problems as well. Long known as the largest city in Florida, Tampa had just surpassed it in population. Adding Murray Hill’s residents would be just enough for Jacksonville to one-up Central Florida’s largest city. Thus in 1925, the Town of Murray Hill was annexed by Jacksonville.
Newly annexed into the Jacksonville, Murray Hill was included in the first municipal comprehensive plan in Florida. The plan’s exclusionary zoning ordinance identified Murray Hill and nearby neighborhoods as residential districts with small, select locations for linear commercial development. For Murray Hill, Edgewood Avenue, McDuff Avenue and the intersection of Lenox Avenue and Day Street were identified as commercial districts. Heavy industry and other land uses perceived to be negatives were largely prohibited and driven to Jacksonville’s African-American neighborhoods northwest and east of downtown.
In order to pull the country out of the Great Depression, a series of socially liberal programs, known as the New Deal, materialized between 1933 and 1938. Under the leadership of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the New Deal included the creation of the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation (HOLC) to refinance defaulted home mortgages in order to prevent foreclosure. Under the direction of the HOLC, nearly 250 color-coded maps were created by mortgage lenders, developers and real estate appraisers identifying the credit worthiness and risks of specific neighborhoods in major cities across the country.
Largely based upon racial and class segregation, the HOLC documents helped guide decades of real estate practice restricting the economic vitality of urban areas throughout the country. Actions such as these, led to the concept of Redlining, where huge swaths of neighborhoods were identified as areas where mortgage lenders preferred not to make loans.
In Jacksonville, 73% of the city was labeled as either “Hazardous” or “Definitely Declining”. A good chunk of Murray Hill was one of the few areas in the city classified as being “Still Desirable”. The combination of exclusionary zoning regulations and not being redlined ultimately meant that Murray Hill and the nearby neighborhood of Riverside/Avondale would be spared the significant problems that many urban core neighborhoods across the country have had to overcome during the mid-to-late 20th century.
Murray Hill’s peak building period occurred during the 1940s, when 1,700 homes were constructed in the area. World War II would forever change the complexion of Murray Hill and Jacksonville’s Westside. With the 1940 opening of Naval Air Station Jacksonville, residential growth expanded west of Cassat Avenue by the end of the war.
Between the 1930s and 1950’s, featuring a large number of specialty shops and four grocery stores, Edgewood Avenue became known as the “Avenue of Progress”. New businesses in the bustling commercial strip included the Murray Hill Theater, where in August 1949 opening night guests paid fifty cents to see John Wayne and Montgomery Clift star in the classic Western film “Red River”.
Around this time, commercial development also expanded just west of Murray Hill’s original boundaries. An example this outward development pattern was the opening of the Normandy Drive-In in 1948. One of eleven outdoor movie theaters in Jacksonville during the early 1950s, it was acquired by Loew’s Inc. in June 1955.
Murray Hill’s commercial growth was not limited to Edgewood Avenue. Commercial activity expanded along Cassat and McDuff avenues as well. With these corridors providing direct access to major industrial land uses in adjacent neighborhoods, thousands of jobs existed within close proximity of Murray Hill’s residences. Murray Hill had truly become a compact community were citizens could live, work and play.
The built environment of Murray Hill was altered permanently after World War II. Here, is an aerial of Murray Hill that was photographed in 1943. At the time, Roosevelt Boulevard was the major highway in the area with Edgewood Avenue, between Post Street and Roosevelt Boulevard, serving as the neighborhood’s commercial spine.