The Way We Were: Blair Jones Woolverton

The Way We Were: Blair Jones Woolverton
Blair and Bobby Woolverton
Blair Woolverton’s former boutique in Avondale

Blair Woolverton’s former boutique in Avondale

The sign still hangs over the door of the iconic shop in Avondale where “everybody who was anybody” shopped for over 30 years, but Blair Woolverton “has left the building.”

It serves as a reminder to passers-by that Blair’s personal touch and attention to detail created a shopping experience that could not be separated from the personality and design acumen of the owner.

Previously, Blair worked at Regency Square, then at Pappagallo’s in Avondale. She said, “I could do the job well, although someone else would have to do the tickets,” she said. “I have a numbers mental block but I’ve never considered it a handicap.”

It certainly didn’t prevent her from opening one of the most successful women’s boutiques in Jacksonville and it all started with scarves.

“I would go to Phelps downtown and get fabric – voile; I cut out 14, and 12 would sell by the next day at George Sells’ store on Post Street. Wrap skirts and scarves were all the rage. Women would come to my house on Wednesday afternoons and I’d make them a skirt. On a trip to a Florida football game about everybody on the bus had on one of my skirts. So, I thought, “Why not just have a little store? Like, why not have a little baby?” said Blair.

With $2,000 loans from her father and father-in-law, she hired seamstresses, made clothes and sold them at a kiosk at Roosevelt Mall. In 1975 she opened Blair Woolverton’s at 3624 St. John’s Avenue, which quickly became THE place to shop. Her ribbon sundresses were a necessity of life for the best-dressed women in Jacksonville. Her personal touch, humor, and style sense were part of the package.

Blair Jones’ cousin, Louise Lewis, offers her a gift in a photo staged for a holiday ad in a local newspaper in Richmond, Virginia.

Blair Jones’ cousin, Louise Lewis, offers her a gift in a photo staged for a holiday ad in a local newspaper in Richmond, Virginia.

“I can remember so many people and see them in the dresses I designed. Jimmy Carter’s administration would come down from Sea Island. I made 22 dresses for some people in Dallas; I could design them over the phone,” she said. 

For someone with a numbers block, Blair had 35 people employed at her “factory” on Geraldine Drive, where Ronan’s School of Music is now, as well as sales personnel at the shop. On a recent trip in North Carolina, Blair was introduced to some ladies who immediately recognized her name and recounted shopping at her boutique.

A Google of Blair Woolverton comes up as, “Waxing, hair removal and gift registry.”  When informed of this, the quick-witted Blair responded, “That’s a howl! I have some tweezers.”  She closed the business about six years ago.

Blair has not lost her Virginia accent despite moving to Jacksonville as a young bride over 50 years ago.

“When I moved to Jacksonville from Richmond with my first husband I felt like a pioneer. Our house was a cinderblock on the Westside with a chain-link fence and rented for $125 a month. The first thing I heard was the next-door neighbor cursing at his children using words no one said in 1966,” she said. “The jungle drums started beating and through family connections I had a group of friends in Jacksonville who encouraged me to move. A house in Ortega became available and the rent was only $125 per month so we moved.”

Blair still lives in the double lot 1929 house on the corner of Longfellow and Apache built by James Graham, a master plasterer whose work is evident at the John Gorrie Middle School (now a condominium) and at Robert E. Lee High School.

After her 1974 marriage to Robert Woolverton, there were additions, but the original character of the imposing house is intact, and the unusual and intricate architectural features have been preserved.

Mary Blair Jones with her grandmother of the same name

Mary Blair Jones with her grandmother
of the same name

“Being an architect, Bobby wanted to build his own house, but he added to this one and updated it,” she said. “By the 1980s we were paying $450 a month because Bobby kept raising our rent himself. When we bought it, the owner didn’t want to take $120,000 for it because the floors were bad, but Bobby called around and got appraisals. He was so honest. Gallantry died with him.”

Bob’s family moved to Jacksonville in 1935 and bought a beachfront lot for $50. They owned Beach Marine and, later, Woolverton Oldsmobile on Riverside Avenue.

The Woolvertons had three sons, two of whom were at the Fireman’s Ball at Ponte Vedra in 1969 where Sally Anne Freeman was trying to arrange a date for Blair with “an architect named Woolverton.”

At the ball Blair walked up to Bob, whom she had not yet met, and asked, “Do you have a brother who is an architect?” The suave Woolverton pointed to his brother and said, “No, but he does.”

Blair said it took “five years of feeding that fool, five years of perfecting my Beef Wellington and about a 25,000-minute blank spot before the proposal – “guess we’ll have to get married.” Bob brought to the marriage a dowry of a couple of pieces of Danish furniture, his meatloaf recipe and his former wife’s paperback collection.

“Actually, I don’t know why I even went out with him a second time; the first time he showed up looking like a victim of May-Cohen’s – pale yellow shirt and white pants,” Blair said. “On the second date he left me with some complete strangers and went out surfing because it was a Nor’easter.”

After their marriage in a lawyer’s office in 1974, the Woolvertons traveled extensively and Blair said her sports-minded husband “forced me into sailing and hiking.”   

Life was interesting for the couple. Blair held court at her “salon” serving sardine sandwiches on round Roman Bread with mayonnaise, and coffee and cigarettes. “Women learned to dance and burn your bra. We weren’t such renegades in this part of the world, but we were much more free-spirited,” she said.

Blair Woolverton’s traveling companion is Cousin Louise Foster

Blair Woolverton’s traveling
companion is Cousin Louise Foster

Blair involved herself with political causes. She served on numerous boards, went to EPA meetings, is vehemently opposed to plastics, and spent many years fighting for recycle cans in the neighborhoods. She continues to hold strong opinions on conservation and other issues and is not reticent about standing up for her beliefs.

Margaret Day Julian, a fellow conservationist, said, “Blair’s legacy includes fighting to keep the mass garbage incinerator out of Jacksonville. She was influential in starting Earth Day in Jacksonville, and won the Mimi and Lee Adams Environmental Award. She is a naturalist and was a proponent of recycling before anyone had even thought of it. She sorted cardboard in her shop and recycled it way back before there was a mandate. Her yard is wonderful – very natural.” 

Blair is quick to say that until recently she had no hobbies. “I had my shop. Then, I would get home and cook dinner which we would eat at 10 o’clock at night.”

Blair is as busy as ever with her beautiful cats, two Bengals and a “mixed-race” tuxedo, who she said, “are throw pillows with legs, but run the house.” Her hobbies now include cooking – “I love to play with food and see if I can find Lady Diana’s face outside of a grilled cheese” – floral arrangements – she recently made 22 for an event in North Carolina – and a recent passion for photography, which developed when she got a Smartphone.

Finally, the burning question is answered. Was she really nude when she appeared at husband Bobby’s 50th legendary birthday party in 1983 as Lady Godiva? Stories have circulated for years of Blair riding nude down Avondale Avenue or at the Cummer Ball. Actually, these delightful and amusing rumors have been greatly exaggerated.

The party of the century – which included the Raines Marching Band, percussionists from the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, giant-headed magical creatures roaming the grounds, huge pedestals resembling the gates of China constructed by Bob and placed by the entrance to the front walkway with human statues sprayed gold, a performance artist (who arrived in a litter carried by four Shriners) whose claim to fame was serving as a human buffet and who decorated former director of the Jacksonville Art Museum Bruce Dempsey’s head with whipped cream and fruit – is still an intriguing topic of conversation.

Blair made her entrance on a white horse wearing a body stocking with strategically placed daisies and a flowing human hair wig imported from New York. “A story teller recounted a tale incorporating a part about ‘here came his sweetheart’ and that’s when I made my appearance riding all around the yard on this nervous white horse,” she recalled.

Not only did this cause a sensation but added to the stuff of legends of the irrepressible Blair when she repeated the performance at the Art Museum fashion show. To Bob’s delight, Lady Godiva re-appeared at his 75th birthday.

To their amusement and a testimony to “your reputation preceding you,” when in New York she lent her daughter Elise her credit card to make a purchase. In the 1980s cards were checked with personal questions if used by someone other than the person listed. She and Bob thought it hilarious that the question was, “What did you appear as on your husband’s birthday?”

Robert Woolverton died January 9, 2014. Today Blair celebrates the accomplishments of her three daughters, Christian Pierre, Mary Blair Conger, Elise Anderson Ferguson, and stepdaughter, Laurie Woolverton Brandt, and her seven multi-talented grandchildren: artists, musicians, creative persons all.


By Peggy Harrell Jennings
Resident Community News

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