Most of us associate downtown Jacksonville with the Jaguars, the pretty buildings, and the colorful bridges, but there’s more to it than that. Ad Lib Luxury Tours’ Top to Bottom tour of downtown Jacksonville gave me the ultimate historical rundown of those sparkling buildings that most of pass while cruising down I-95.

It also gave me a stronger connection to the phrase “Duval Till We Die.”

The Top to Bottom tour is a mile-long walking tour that takes you inside seven different downtown buildings. Perhaps the best part about it is that it’s led by a guy dressed as Andrew Jackson, which is significant because that’s actually who Jacksonville was named after.

“Each building is like a character on the tour. It’s like you go to these buildings and you meet the characters that make up Downtown Jacksonville,” Gary Sass, the Top to Bottom tour founder, said.

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Top to Bottom founder Gary Sass doubles as a tour guide.

The tour begins at the Jacksonville Landing and takes you to the EverBank building and then inside an underground secret tunnel under Hogan and Forsyth streets. The tunnel is one of the unique stops on the tour that is not usually open to the public.

“We knew that it would make [the walking tour] unique if we could go into the different buildings,” Sass said. “That’s what would bring people here, so it took us talking to each building property manager and owners to make it happen.”

A security guard has to let you in and out of the tunnels. The door leading to the secret tunnel looks rather average until you’re inside and descending underground. Nonetheless, the aforementioned security guard has the coolest job in the world—Guarding a secret tunnel.

“As I started to do my research on the different buildings, I discovered the secret tunnels,” Sass said. “Then I found a ‘top’ to go to and it became the Jacksonville Top to Bottom tour. That’s how it started.”

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I thought that nothing could beat the secret tunnel until we got to the “top” of the Top to Bottom tour—The 42nd floor of the Bank of America building. This is a killer view of Jacksonville. If you’re afraid of heights, try to come to terms with that fear for this view. It’s that good.

After the Bank of America building, the tour guide led us down Forsyth Street towards Ocean Street to an old hotel building from the 1920s that now houses 100 apartments called The Carling. The old worn down spot on the steps where the bellman used to stand is still there.

Now it was time for a briefing on post-Civil War Jacksonville and Hollywood of the South Jacksonville when downtown was home to 26 different movie companies. I also learned that Aristotle, Plato, Sir Isaac Newton and Shakespeare all have their faces carved into the columns of the old public library building and that each chandelier in the Florida Theatre has 400 light bulbs in it which takes 3 days to change them all.

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All these details are much appreciated by those who go on the tour.

“Gary does an excellent job of covering Jacksonville’s history,” Lisa Pardee, a teacher who attended the tour, said. “I know more about the history of Jacksonville from Gary than I would have ever known otherwise. It would take years of research to discover what Gary reveals in two hours.”

As well as being educational, the tour is also something fun to do.

“It’s something fun to do with a group of friends. It would be an excellent after-girls-night thing to do,” Elizabeth Jones-Rehberg, who’s been on the tour multiple times, said. “It’s not that expensive, it’s a cheap date, it’s something different to do that’s not a club, that’s not dinner and not a movie for college students to enjoy.”

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There are a lot of fun facts and interesting things about Jacksonville to learn on this tour, but I won’t give everything away. It’s definitely worth seeing for yourself and you’re almost guaranteed to leave with more knowledge than you came with.

Sass called the tour a good educational opportunity that represents downtown in a positive way. Daily walking tours take place with fourth and fifth graders and, according to Sass, nothing has ever gone wrong proving that downtown is not as bad as many make it out to be.

After meeting all seven characters of downtown, now when I drive past the blue bridge on I-95 and glance at the skyline I feel a sense of excitement and pride similar to Buddy the Elf’s when he sees Santa in the department store. “I KNOW HIM!!”

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By Tiffany Salameh | UNF Communication Student