Friendship Fountain has long been one of the most distinctive visual features of Jacksonville’s Southbank Riverwalk.
The fountain, located between the Main Street and Acosta bridges, originally opened in 1965 as one of the city’s premiere tourist attractions. At the time, it was the world’s tallest fountain, capable of shooting water to a height of over 100 feet. It was dubbed the “Fountain of Friendship”, and the surrounding land was named the Dallas Thomas Park after the city’s parks commissioner. (The park was renamed as St. Johns River Park after Thomas later became engulfed in a scandal.)
The fountain and park were both designed by Taylor Hardwick, a noted Jacksonville architect also responsible for the old Hayden Burns Library building and the distinctive Skinner Dairy milk stores.
The fountain remarkably functioned perfectly for 20 years before undergoing refurbishment in the mid 1980s. After that, it continued to function for another decade or so without issue.
In the early ‘90s, a major portion of the surrounding park was re-utilized by the city to construct a restaurant and parking lot. The restaurant failed, but River City Brewing Company took over the space by the mid ‘90s and has been there ever since.
The fountain finally began to show its age at the turn of the century. The city drained it and refurbished the water pumps, and was able to get it working in time for the Super Bowl coming to town in 2005. However, two of the pumps finally ceased operation entirely shortly thereafter.
Budgetary restraints didn’t allow for a plan to emerge to fix the fountain until 2010. It was during that year that city council leaders approved a $3.2 million plan to renovate the fountain and its surrounding park.
The project was completed in 2011, and the new Friendship Fountain continues to operate smoothly along the Southbank. While it may not be quite the tourist attraction it once was, it remains as one of the most beautiful sights in Jacksonville’s urban core.