Jacksonville’s own Blue Angels

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photo credit: aviationspectator.com

This weekend, as F/A-18 Hornet jets roar along the St. Johns River and crowds thrill to the unbelievable precision and heart-stopping aerial maneuvers of the Blue Angels team, it’s worth remembering that this world-famous flight squadron was born right here in Jacksonville.

At the end of World War II, Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, the Chief of Naval Operations, ordered the formation of a flight demonstration team to keep the public interested in Naval Aviation and boost Navy morale. Lt. Cmdr. Roy “Butch” Voris, a veteran flying ace with eight air victories to his credit, was chosen as the new flight team’s commander, and given the task of selecting the rest of the pilots and ground staff. Flying the Grumman F6F Hellcat, the main Navy fighter during WWII,  the group’s first aerial demonstration took place less than a year later on June 15, 1946 at Jacksonville’s Craig Field.

The first public display was on 15 June 1946 at Craig Field. photo credit: thanlont.blogspot.com

For the first month of its existance, the flight demonstration team flew without a name. Officers at Navy Headquarters had proposed “Navy Blue Lancers,” a moniker the pilots rejected. As the group prepared for a show in New York that July, Lt. Maurice “Wick” Wickendoll came across an advertisement in the New Yorker for that city’s famous Blue Angel nightclub. The first demonstration under the Blue Angels name was a show in Omaha, July 19, 1946.

By the end of the 1940s, the Blue Angels were flying their first jet aircraft, the Grumman F9F-2 Panther. In response to the demands placed on Naval Aviation in the Korean Conflict, the team reported to the aircraft carrier USS Princeton as the nucleus of Fighter Squadron 191 (VF-191), “Satan’s Kitten,” in 1950.

photo credit: thanlont.blogspot.com

They were reorganized the next year and reported to NAS Corpus Christi, Texas, where they began flying the newer and faster version of the Panther, the F9F-5. The Blue Angels remained in Corpus Christi until the winter of 1954 when they relocated to their present home at NAS Pensacola, Florida.

On November 8, 1986, the Blue Angels completed their 40th anniversary year during ceremonies unveiling their present aircraft, the sleek McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet, the first dual-role fighter/attack aircraft now serving on the nation’s front lines of defense.

Now celebrating their 65th year, the amazing Blue Angels have flown before more than 427 million spectators. This weekend, you’ll have a great opportunity to join the crowds and see these incredibly accomplished pilots in action at the 2011 Naval Air Station Jacksonville Air Show. The show is part of a year-long celebration of 100 years of Naval Aviation honoring a century of mission-ready men and women.

Gates open Saturday and Sunday at 9 a.m., and the show begins at 10 a.m. (download the full schedule of events here). The Blue Angels fly at 3 p.m. on Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. on Sunday.  You don’t need to be at NAS JAX to see them; just find a spot along the river downtown, and let your eyes follow the sonic roar.

2011 BLUE ANGELS from Blue Angels on Vimeo.

Addison Mizner’s Riverside Baptist Church

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Riverside Baptist Church

In the 1920s, Addison Mizer was the best known and most-discussed architect in America. Perhaps more than any other architect of his day, Addison Cairns Mizner shaped the architectural flavor of South Florida. Although he lacked formal training as an architect, Mizner’s eclectic reinterpretations of Spanish architecture, as showcased in such famous buildings as the Boca Raton Resort Club and the Everglades Club, helped to popularize the Mediterranean Revival style that continues to inspire architects and developers to this day.

Rejecting modern architecture for its “characterless copybook effect,” Mizner sought to “make a building look traditional as though it had fought its way from a small, unimportant structure to a great, rambling house.” And, as anyone who’s been to Boca Raton or Palm Beach knows, Mizner built a great many of these rambling structures, for such deep-pocket clients as J.P. Morgan, the Vanderbilts and the Singers (of sewing machine fame).

photo credit: BocaRaton.com

So how is it that this extravagant “society architect,” a noted bon vivant who embodied the ebullient, gaudy, expansive spirit of 1920s Palm Beach, came to design one of our city’s beloved local landmarks, the Riverside Baptist Church?

According to an account in Riverside Remembered, George Hallam’s wonderful book on turn-of-the-century Riverside (now regrettably out of print), Mizner accepted the job out of guilt. He’d been approached in Palm Beach by the church’s building committee (then headed by Dr. H. Marshall Taylor), and reflexively cited “ill health” as his reason for turning down the prospective commission. However, the Jacksonville congregation responded to this setback with a “prayer in,” even sending a letter to Mizner stating that the parishioners were actively beseeching God for his recovery.

Mizner, seemingly aware that his excuses were up, reportedly exclaimed, “Now I’ll have to build it in self-defense.” (The more likely truth is that he simply decided to build the church in memory of his mother, Ella Watson Mizner; indeed, he refused to accept any payment for his services.)

The church's beautiful blue-stained windows are set in the facade in such a way that light never fails to fall on the sanctuary's altar.

Working out of an office on Hogan Street that he’d designed for himself, Mizner began supervising construction of the church in 1924. It was completed in 1925. The resulting structure, a marvelous fusion of Romanesque, Byzantine, and Spanish elements, is a one-and-a-half story octagonal dome set in a base shaped like a Greek cross, with a red tile roof and stucco-layered hollow clay walls designed to resemble limestone. Mizner’s first and only religious structure, the radical nature of its design caused quite a stir.

As George Hallam reports, “Reaction of the church members was mixed. A few thought it perfectly suitable for Catholics. A few thought that only a madcap could have designed it . . . . Miffed, some of the congregation left, never to return. . . . As if he had anticipated the flack, Mizner saw to it that carved monks on the north and south bays were winking, and the nun on the north bay had thoughts of sticking her tongue out.”

But clearly the structure was a real achievement. “I do not know in all Southland,’ said guest minister George W. Truett of Dallas at the time, ‘a church quite so remarkable as this gem of architecture.’”

It is in the church’s astonishing interior that Mizner’s formidable skills are most evident. Worshipers enter the church through one of three pecky-cypress doors, each of which is embellished with carved Greek crosses. The larger center doorway forms the lower half of a great stone archway above which three Romanesque windows are centered. On this doorway, inside the great arch, a carved tympanum in bas-relief depicts the baptism of Christ, even as symbolic scapegoats flank its doors.

 To provide a sense of spaciousness to the narrow Narthex, Mizner designed a Gothic style groin-vaulted ceiling, and—borrowing a Spanish motif—hung star-shaped lanterns representing the Star of Bethlehem from the ceiling.

It’s hard to overstate the pervading aura of antiquity in the church, no doubt fostered by Mizner’s careful selection (and artificial aging) of the materials used. Interior walls were rubbed with buttermllk and burnt umber to simulate centuries of age, while the stunning cypress-beamed ceiling is adorned with painted decorations meant to mimic 15th-century Italian Renaissance designs.

More armchair information about this amazing structure can be found here, but of course the best way to appreciate the church is to see it yourself. The church is located in Riverside at 2650 Park Street, at the corner of King.

This article first appeared on riverisideavondale.org.

The Broward Family

The Jacksonville Historical Society’s long-awaited book on the Broward Family in Florida will be unveiled on November 22nd. 

Written by renowned architect Robert C. “Bob” Broward and designed by Wayne Wood, the work chronicles the amazing stories of one of Florida’s oldest, largest, and most famous families. The evening program to celebrate the book will include a slide show by Wayne Wood and book signing by the author.

When & Where: Tuesday, November 22, 2011, at  Old St. Andrews. Reception and book signing at 6:30 pm, program at 7:00 pm. Books will be available for sale at this event, just in time for holiday gift giving!