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Betcha Didn't Know...

Fun facts about Jacksonville

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Sky scrapers, skate parks, a brothel queen and one famous "fat boy." They're all subjects of interesting facts we betcha didn't know about Jacksonville. From its early days as the Winter Film Capital of the World to a starting role in a John Grisham novel, the River City is full of surprises.

1. Friday Musicale: Florida's oldest cultural organization

Photo © State Library and Archives of Florida
The Friday Musicale, founded in 1890, is Florida’s oldest cultural organization. Located in Riverside, the Friday Musicale has run its First Friday Concerts, featuring classical music, for decades and helped give rise to the nationally acclaimed Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra.

2. Annual Mug Race Sailing Regatta: The world's longest river sailboat race

The world’s longest river sailboat race is Northeast Florida’s Annual Mug Race Sailing Regatta. Founded in 1953, it runs 38 miles up the St. Johns River from Palatka to Jacksonville on the first Saturday of each May.

3. Bacardi-Martini: A world of taste begins on Jacksonville's Northside

Some of the world’s most luscious libations are formulated at the Bacardi-Martini product development facility on Jacksonville’s Northside. A local team travels the globe to learn the most favored flavors, then heads back to the lab to mix up recipes you’ll be sipping at your next party.

4. Pete's Bar: A thriller of a role

Pete’s Bar in Neptune Beach was featured in author John Grisham’s "The Bretheren." Grisham visited this no-frills pool hall and tavern several times, observing the crowd and taking notes for his best-selling novel.

5. Dyal Upchurch Building: The world's first skyscraper

Photo © State Library and Archives of Florida
The world’s first building using skyscraper technology still stands in Downtown Jacksonville. The 6-story Dyal Upchurch Building was erected just after the Great Fire of 1901 by another passionate person, architect Henry Klutho. From then-state-of-the-art buildings to charming prairie style homes, you’ll find “Kluthos” all over town.

6. Elvis Presley: His first indoor concert, complete with a chaperone

Photo © Florida Theatre
Elvis Presley’s first indoor concert was at the Florida Theatre Downtown in 1957. A juvenile court judge sat in the audience to ensure Presley’s performance wasn’t too much shakin’ goin’ on. Later, Elvis reportedly had to shimmy out a theatre window to elude overzealous female fans and get safely to his hotel room at what is now the Crowne Plaza Jacksonville Riverfront.

7. Kona Skatepark: The nation's oldest private skate park

Photo © State Library and Archives of Florida
Kona Skatepark in Arlington is the oldest private skate park still open in the U.S. Dozens of famous skateboarding pros, including Tony Hawk, competed in some of their earliest competitions at Kona, which, unlike hundreds of skate parks around the nation, remained open while skateboarding’s popularity peaked during the late 1970s and early 1980s, then waned, then came back big with the extreme sports craze.

8. Joseph LaRose: Dressing the stars

The late Joseph LaRose, who ran a Downtown shop for nearly five decades, is known throughout the fashion world as the father of the modern shoe. LaRose sold custom shoes and handbags to the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Jane Mansfield and Joan Crawford. His fashions still make cameo appearances in films like “Mona Lisa Smile” and “Down with Love.”

9. Winter Film Capital of the World: The stars all came to Jacksonville

Photo © State Library and Archives of Florida
Jacksonville was Hollywood before Hollywood was Hollywood? During the 1910s and 1920s, dozens of top film production companies, including one that would become today’s MGM, relocated from New York (the real birthplace of American film) to Northeast Florida for the winter, taking advantage of the area’s year-round mild climate and wide range of settings. Famous names who worked here include John and Ethel Barrymore, Rudolph Valentino, Theda Bara and Oliver “Babe” Hardy, who came to Jacksonville in response to a classified ad seeking a “fat boy” to appear in a comedic film.

10. Friendship Fountain: Once the world's largest and tallest fountain

Photo © Wes Lester, City of Jacksonville
Friendship Fountain on the south bank of the St. Johns River downtown was the world’s largest and tallest fountain when it opened in 1965. Its 63 jet nozzles shoot 17,000 gallons of water per minute up to 120 feet into the air – the average height of a 10-story building.

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