Remembering the Philips Highway corridor

Remembering the Philips Highway corridor

Regular contributor David Gum once again provides interesting and detailed memories of a particular part of town – in this case, the Philips Highway corridor between Atlantic and University boulevards. Who remembers back in the late 1990s/early 2000s when the city finally changed all the Philips Highway street signs to be consistent? Before then, half were spelled “Phillips” and half “Philips.” Gum’s memories take us back to when no one likely knew the correct spelling, nearly 50 years ago:

“The corridor is only about three miles long and consists of Philips Highway between Atlantic and University boulevards. Today, it’s a collage of towing companies, trailer parks, and old motels punctuated by a Wal-Mart and scads of used tire stores. By night, it morphs into the soft underbelly of Southside’s social scene. Hustlers brazenly ply their trades. The street sign at Philips and John Street now seems emblematic and makes me chuckle.
“What a difference fifty years and an interstate make. I recall Jax’s southern gateway as being something of a ‘Grand Strand.’ In the 1950s, Philips and John Street was the heart of ‘South Jacksonville’s $5,000,000 Motor Court Area.’ No fewer than 15 mom-and pop-motels lined the highway from Atlantic Boulevard to Emerson Street. If your parents bought a new car, it was probably from one of the many dealerships on the strip – Platt Pontiac, Langley Olds, Massey-Mixon Dodge, and Gordon Thompson Chevrolet, to name a few.

“My family lived in South Shores, only a quarter mile from the busy intersection of Atlantic and Philips (Times Square). Some of my favorite memories are of dining at the array of first class restaurants along U.S. 1 as a kid with my family and then as a young adult. Dinner on Philips usually meant the Chicken Shanty or Howard Johnson’s.  However, on special days, my dad would treat us to Strickland’s Town House, the Green Turtle (later Brewmaster’s), Swain’s Charcoal Steakhouse, or Trader Glick’s. All were great places, with several featuring live entertainment. This was an era when fine dining often included a visit to the restaurant’s lounge to listen to music. It was part of the ‘evening out.’ Does anybody remember the great trio that played in Swain’s for years or Pat Cole Henry tickling the ivories at Strickland’s? Philips Highway was a destination for epicureans citywide.

“I still think of our 1970 Wolfson prom – my girlfriend and I gazing at each other, full of angst and desire. That’s right. We knew that soon we would be devouring steak and lobster at the Green Turtle – sans parents. And we couldn’t wait.

“I was eight in 1960 when Philips Highway Plaza opened. It was the largest suburban shopping center in town – with a Food Fair grocery store, Harvest House Cafeteria, and dozens of smaller businesses, all anchored by a Montgomery Wards department store. It was big-time shopping without going downtown.

“As a young musician, I played in two ‘Battle of the Bands’ at the plaza. Too bad these festive events don’t seem to occur anymore. Amateur bands, no matter how bad, could compete for gift certificates and such. More importantly, girls were watching. I recall most of the other bands were older guys that sounded better than us.
“From junior high at Landon through high school, much of my leisure time was spent at Bowl-a-Rama on Philips. Whether they bowled or not, Wolfson and Englewood teens by the scores used the alley as their meeting place and springboard for other nocturnal activities.

“The restaurants, motor courts, shopping center, bowling alley and most of the car dealerships are long gone. I-95 gradually robbed the boulevard of its grandeur. For those who remember, I urge them to stand in front of Chopstick Charley’s and the Joe Motel.  Look around, and you will perhaps feel a flicker of the vibrancy that once was Philips Highway.”

By Laura Jane Pittman
Resident Community News

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