The two story brick building at 1481-1485 North Myrtle Avenue was completed in 1929 in the old Barnett’s Subdivision. Platted between 1905 and 1908, Barnett’s Subdivision is roughly defined as Kings Road north to West Fourth Street on the eastside of Myrtle Avenue and West Seventh on the west, and from the railroad west to Whitner Street. The building was constructed for Joseph Emmanuel Paul. Paul, who relocated to Jacksonville from South Carolina, was the proprietor of a grocery store. Also from South Carolina, his wife Emma was a dressmaker. Featuring three ground floor storefronts and two second floor apartments, the building was designed by Jacksonville architect, Charles C. Oehme. Completed in 1929, Paul operated a grocery store out of the commercial storefront at 1485 North Myrtle Avenue until 1935. Between 1935 and 1949, the grocery store was operated by Isaac Abraham. In 1952, Cornelius Nathaniel and Mary Gibson Miller took over the operation of the grocery store. In business for forty-five years, Miller’s Grocery was a popular neighborhood destination that was known for its giant “slaw dogs” and having the best fresh liver in town.
Born in Madison, Florida, Cornelius Miller arrived in Jacksonville during the 1920s. Prior to opening Miller’s Grocery, Miller was employed as a Railway Express laborer and bartender for James “Charlie Edd” Craddock’s Hotel Charlie Edd. Craddock arrived in Jacksonville in 1921, opening the Little Blue Chip Club in LaVilla that same year. Growing out of this storefront, Craddock expanded his real estate empire to include several rental properties, the Charlie Edd Hotel, Young Men’s Smoke Chop, Uncle Charlie Edd’s Barber Shop, loan offices and pawn shops, with a total workforce of 500. He was also the co-owner of Manuel’s Tap Room on Ashley Street, a popular venue that was open 24 hours a day. However, his most well known business was the Two Spot nightclub at Moncrief Road and 45th Street. At the time of Miller’s employment with Craddock, the Two Spot was said to be “the finest dance place in the country owned by a Negro”.
“Charlie Edd” Craddock and his Uncle Charlie Edd’s store and loan office in LaVilla in 1942. (The Crisis - January 1942 Edition)
Said to be a controversial character and recognized as a local bolita kingpin during LaVilla’s heyday, Craddock opened a bread line for the hungry during the Depression, giving him a reputation as a philanthropist on the Black side of town. Craddock’s clubs, bars and taverns were said to be protected by the local police and were hotbeds for bolita. Bolita (Spanish for Little Ball), was a type of illegal lottery gambling popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Cuba and among Florida’s working class Hispanic, Italian, and Black residents. Estimated at a total of $500 million gambled on the game annually, it may have been Jacksonville’s most profitable illegal business by the Great Depression. Craddock was so successful that in 1942, he paid the federal government $35,000 in back taxes.
With such connections, naturally 1481-1485 North Myrtle Avenue was much more than a grocery store and apartments. For many years, it was home to a very popular speakeasy that was operated by Bille Ruth McCoy. Located between LaVilla and J.P. Small Field, it was a favorite destination of Chitlin Circuit musicians and sports figures barred from White owned establishments in segregation era Jacksonville. Famed guests included musicians James Brown and Jackie Wilson. Hank Aaron, who briefly played for the Jacksonville Braves at nearby J.P. Small Field, was also known to visit the establishment.
The cast of “The Jeffersons” in 1975. At the bottom right is Zara Cully-Brown. (CBS File Photo)
The building’s list of past tenants include famed actress Zara Cully-Brown. Born in Worcester, MA, Zara Cully married Jacksonville-born James McCoil Brown in 1914. Soon, the couple relocated to Jacksonville, where Zara worked as a drama and elocution teacher at her own studio and at Edward Waters College for 15 years. James M. Brown, was a skilled house painter, decorator and was known to brew the best peach wine this side of the Rockies. While living in Jacksonville, Zara Cully-Brown became known as Florida’s “Dean of Drama”. While in Jacksonville, the family also resided in Durkeeville at 1432 Grothe Street, Mixontown at 285 Claude Street and Sugar Hill at 1826 Jefferson Street. Of these addresses, only 285 Claude Street survives today. In the early 1950s, the family relocated to Hollywood, California after growing tired of experiencing racism in Jacksonville.
“It was a traumatic experience,” she once recalled (according to this article). “I met with such violence and things…and I was always having conflicts because I couldn’t take it. If I’d been a man, I guess I would have been lynched.”
In Hollywood, she eventually originated the “Mother Jefferson” role on the CBS sitcom The Jeffersons at the age of 82. Easily the funniest person on the show, at the time of her death in 1978, she was one of the oldest active performers on television.
For much of the 1481-1485 North Myrtle Avenue’s storied history, Paul Cardorza Nash, the son of Joseph and Emma Nash, owned the building. Living upstairs, Nash was an interior decorator who ran his business out of a storefront on the building’s ground floor. In 1962, Nash expanded the property by constructing a two-story masonry duplex behind the building at 1280 and 1282 West Fifth Street. A two-bay garage was built to connect the two buildings on the property. In 1973, at the age of 74, Nash added a second store frame porch and small private elevator in the rear of the original brick structure.
Today, 1481-1485 North Myrtle Avenue continues to anchor one of Jacksonville’s most authentic mixed-use thoroughfares. The building is currently being renovated and restored to its former grandeur.
Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at email@example.com