After a 1901 fire leveled much of downtown, word of the devestation spread across the country and Jacksonville suddenly became a magnet for many of the most famous architects of that era. They arrived interested in the unique opportunity to recreate a city.
Henry Klutho and other prominent architects of the early 1900s built a brand new city with buildings designed in the "Prarie" style that was popular at the time. This building boom saw the rise of Jacksonville's very first "skyscrapers," several of which still stand today, infused with new life. Today, many have been completely restored and renovated to house a mix of fashionable condos, stylish apartments, trendy loft units, first class corporate digs and soon, even boutique hotels.
When it was built in the 1960s, the 27-story Gulf Life Building was the city's tallest. Today, nearly 40 years and two name changes later, Riverplace Tower (also known as the SouthTrust Building) ranks only as the city's fourth tallest , but it does remain the tallest building on the Southbank side of the St. Johns River -- for now.
The University Club, located on the top floor, is an exclusive private restaurant and club where many of Jacksonville's biggest movers and shakers of the past few decades have wined and dined with a bird's eye view of the city. For those of us less privileged, the glass-enclosed Skyline Room, located on the building's second floor, just steps from the Southbank Riverwalk, serves basically as an extra dining hall for the building's cafeteria, but its spectacular view of the Northbank skyline and river make it an inviting place for pedestrians interested in an air-conditioned spot to brown bag it while taking in a great view.
Riverplace Tower's reign as the tallest building south of the river will soon be coming to an end. A variety of residential towers in various stages of planning and construction will be rising on the Southbank over the next couple years. In fact, two of those proposed towers are a strikingly futuristic pair that, when completed, will even rise higher than the Northbank side's 42-story Bank of America Tower (currently Jacksonville's tallest).
While the Jacksonville area has more than 200 bridges, the highest and most beautiful is the Dames Point Bridge. Built in the 1980s, this magnificent structure is the longest concrete cable-stayed bridge in the U.S. Six lanes wide, two miles long and supported by 21 miles of steel cables, the bridge looks like two sailboats rising 175 feet above the St. Johns River. Part of the city's beltway, the Dames Point Bridge connects the very popular eastern neighborhoods of Arlington, East Arlington and Regency south of the river with the city's Northside and port areas.
Tapered with a series of visually appealling set-backs, the Bell South Tower, Jacksonville's third tallest building, takes on completely different shapes and appearances depending on your perspective. Look for it on the western side of the city's Northbank skyline.
While not one of Jacksonville's talest buildings, Two Prudential Plaza sure makes a case for being one of the most beautiful. Sometimes appearing blue and sometimes appearing green depending on the sunlight, this tiered tower serves as a glistening backdrop for Friendship Fountain on the Southbank. The building also has a multi-level monorail station.
For years the Modis Building bore the name "Independent Life" across its top. It was the city's tallest skyscraper until eclipsed by the Bank of America Tower over a decade ago. Today, the oversized letters of its new primary tenant "Modis" make for a very eye grabbing and attractive corporate signature.
The coolest phenomenon of the Modis Building occurs on a bright blue sunny day with a few puffy white clouds. The blue glass of the building's walls actually reflect the same color blue as the sky around them. In addition, the reflection of passing clouds appear in the glass. Together, these reflections create an illusion that causes the glassy walls of the building to disappear, leaving only a white, rectangular arch with the "Modis" letters left standing.
The pyramid topping Jacksonville's tallest building, the Bank of America Tower, can be seen for miles around the city. At night, four of its 8 triangular panels are illuminated, crowning the top of an absolutely beautiful, twinkling neon skyline.