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'''LaVilla''' is a [[neighborhoods of Jacksonville, Florida|neighborhood]] of [[Jacksonville, Florida]] and former independent city, located just west of downtown. Jacksonville's first suburb, it was annexed by the city in 1887. It is primarily an [[African-American neighborhood]], and its northern section was considered "the mecca for African American culture and heritage" in Florida during its height. Beginning neighborhood contained many venues, such as the [[Ritz Theatre (Jacksonville)|Ritz Theatre]] and the many clubs on the Ashley Street strip, which showcased black entertainers and catered to black audiences. The southern part of the neighborhood was also a major [[railroad]] hub, with several rail lines meeting at Union Station (now the [[Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center]]), and probably not coincidentally, was also for a period Jacksonville's primary red light district.
The area was first settled by John Jones under a Spanish [[land grant]] in 1801. It grew to become [[Jacksonville]]'s first real [[suburb]], and was incorporated as a city under the name [[LaVilla]] in the 1860s. The area was the site of a large [[Union (American Civil War)|Union]] garrison at different points in the [[American Civil War]], when Jacksonville and northeastern Florida were under Union control. The population was mostly black, and many positions in Lavilla's government were held by blacks. In 1887 LaVilla and five other suburbs, including [[Riverside, Jacksonville, Florida|Riverside]] and [[Springfield, Jacksonville, Florida|Springfield]], were annexed by the City of Jacksonville.
The part of LaVilla north of Adams Street was for many years a center of African-American life and culture in Jacksonville. The southern part of the neighborhood was a major [[railroad]] hub, with several rail lines meeting at Union Station (now the [[Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center]]), and probably not coincidentally, was also for a period Jacksonville's primary [[red light district]]. The author [[Stephen Crane]] frequented this area during his time in Jacksonville; it was here that he met his wife [[Cora Crane]], who was at the time a brothel proprietor.
Lavilla was the source of the [[Great Fire of 1901]], which destroyed most of downtown, but the neighborhood itself was largely spared. Subsequently the area grew as an important center of [[African-American]] culture. A vibrant music and entertainment scene emerged, with many nationally renowned artists coming to play at the local clubs on and off Ashely Street that catered to black audiences. In 1929 the [[Ritz Theatre (Jacksonville)|Ritz Theatre]] opened, becoming an important stop on the [[Chitlin' Circuit]] and LaVilla's primary performance venue. At the time, the area on Ashley Street west of Broad Street to and including Davis Street was known as the ''"Harlem of the South"''. Landmarks included ''Nick’s Pool Parlor'' or the ''Strand'', the ''Frolic'' and the ''Roosevelt'' Theaters for a diversion. The ''Wynn/Egmont Hotel'' provided the best accommodations for travelling entertainers; the ''Boston Chop House'', ''Mama’s Restaurant'' and ''Hayes Luncheonette'' provided good food; the ''Lenape Bar'' and ''Manuel’s Taproom'' were the favorite watering holes. The Ritz Theatre and ''The Knights of Pythias Hall'' hosted numerous famous performers. The [[Clara White Mission]] is located in LaVilla.
After the 1960s, however, the neighborhood entered a period of precipitous decline. [[Urban decay]] set in as the railroad industry declined and the construction of [[I-95]] disrupted the neighborhood, and after the end of [[segregation in the United States|segregation]], many residents left the area to pursue opportunities elsewhere. During the 1980s the [[crack cocaine epidemic]] hit LaVilla hard, furthering the decline. According to General Counsel Rick Mullaney, who was chief of staff under Mayor [[Ed Austin]], the area became "nothing but crack houses, prostitution and crime."
The 1993 [[River City Renaissance]] plan crafted by then Mayor [[Ed Austin]] allocated millions of dollars to renovating LaVilla. Dilapidated buildings were torn down and historical structures, like the Ritz Theatre, restored or reconstructed.
LaVilla School of the Arts is a popular magnet middle school in Duval County that follows in the performance and art traditions of the Ritz/LaVilla area. Ritz Voices is a 100 member youth choir in the area.
*[http://www.ritzlavilla.org/ Theatre & museum website]
*[http://www.duvalschools.org/lavilla/ LaVilla School of the Arts official website]