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Our Town Underground

What's an easy way to learn something new about your own city? See it through the eyes of tourists and newcomers! How to do that? Join a certified guide for a walking tour of your own city.

We found that Jacksonville has several different tours available through "Downtown Top to Bottom Walking Tours" from which Kay chose their "Arts & Cultural Jacksonville." We gathered at the downtown Landing where we were joined by our guide and an actual out of town tourist.

This exploration of the city we have lived in for more than 40 years turned out to be a revelation and a whole lot of fun besides. We were taken to places we did not even know existed: such as underground Jacksonville which is a series of 5 blocks of tunnels beneath our downtown streets.

These tunnels had originally been built by 5 banks which opened for business here after the Great Fire of Jacksonville (1901). Since these banks were being rebuilt, the founders decided that they did not want to transfer money between each other on the streets for obvious reasons of security. So these wide tunnels were created and used up until the 1970s when wire transfers, etc., became the preferred method.

Only one of the tunnels is currently open to the public (so who know what goes on in the others nowadays). Even our knowledgeable guide could not enlighten us on that score. Anyway, the one we visited is a concrete tube decorated with pictures showing Jacksonville in its various stages of growth - from the great fire to the present. Very interesting indeed and dramatic too showing all the progress that has been made over the years.

At the end of the tunnel was an enormous bank vault which hid two very large rooms behind the foot thick steel door. Talk about security - Wow!

We were also taken on a tour of the backstage of our Times Union Center For the Performing Arts sitting on the north bank of the St. Johns River. We could not have entered that "sacred precinct on our own.

We were amazed at how large the non-public area is: dressing rooms, practice rooms, business offices, a private restaurants for VIPs and famous performers. Perhaps we should not have been so surprised since the Center actually has three different auditoriums for three different types of entertainment. The largest hosts Broadway musicals and other popular shows. The middle sized one is our Symphony Hall for serious music. The smallest and most intimate theater is for small drama productions and dance recitals. Fascinating to see how much space is required to produce concerts, dramas, and dance.

We learned facts about our city that were new or forgotten. Pam Zambetti was an excellent guide who revealed a whole new face of our city to us and she has only lived here two years! This was a very worthwhile tour for residents and visitors. Try one of these organized walking tours in your own hometown.

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