If you’ve lived in Jacksonville long enough, you’ve likely enjoyed (or at least humored) a sunny day cruise, dawdling along the oceanfront thoroughfares of Jax, Neptune, and Atlantic Beaches atop a beach cruiser endowed with well-treaded tires. It’s certainly a worthwhile way to spend an afternoon. Especially considering that, taken to its farthest reaches north, this novel pastime puts pilgrims face to face with some of the East Coast’s most heralded architectural wonders—namely a mound-enclosed duplex built right into the dunes that protect Beach Avenue from the ocean below.
Staring out toward the Atlantic like two zoomorphic eyes on a verdant muppet head, the opposing side of the Dunehouses (as they are generally referred to), as well as the residence’s distinctly modernist interior—replete with a spiral staircase, efficient built-ins, and stunning ocean views—represent one of the most daring designs by famed Florida modernist Architect William Morgan.
A Harvard-trained architect who designed MOSH and the police station in Jax’s downtown, along with the Florida State Museum in Gainesville and numerous houses in Atlantic Beach and elsewhere, Morgan’s work has been pored over in no less than three books, the most recent of which William Morgan: Evolution of an Architect (by Richard Shieldhouse, University Press of Florida, 2018) chronicles the evolution of the Duncan U. Fletcher High School graduate, class of ’48.
Shieldhouse’s book follows Morgan from Jacksonville Beach to Harvard to Morgan’s time in the Navy, where while in Asia he first encountered ancient structures and the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, two consistent muses in the architect’s later work. The book dives deep into Morgan’s transition back to Jacksonville, where Morgan would do the work that would come to define him, and make him the undisputed king of North Florida Rad Pads.
1611 Ocean Blvd.
Overeducated, creatively stifled, and underemployed, Morgan’s return to Jax started as the kind hustle with which most Millennials could likely empathize. The structure at 1611 Ocean Blvd. in Atlantic Beach (above)–which included a small residence for his new family, an office, and extra rental units–was modestly designed to help save money, but actually helped Morgan secure his first private commission.
Goodloe Residence South Ponte Vedra Beach
Two Morgan signifiers–clean lines and opportunities for stunning vistas of natural surroundings–distinguish the orthogonal home built for Morgan’s lifelong friend George Goodloe. Seen here as viewed from the ocean side as it would have looked upon completion in the early ‘70s (with surfboards of the era in the foreground), the Goodloe residence was, unfortunately, demolished by its third owners in the decades that followed.
A more understated garden apartment design, the Seaplace Condominiums were built to replace the Atlantic Beach Hotel, which was damaged by Hurricane Dora. Seaplace was Morgan’s first large commission and the first one undertaken by renowned Jacksonville design and build firm, Haskell. To this day it remains, somewhat discreetly, another beach-adjacent Morgan icon.
Morgan described his first public building, The Museum of Science and History (formerly the Jacksonville Children’s Museum) on Jacksonville’s Southbank, as “a castle for children.” It’s been a locus for innovative children’s programming and engaging exhibits for generations of North Florida kids.
The Morgan Residence
Listed as A1A’s Top 100 Buildings in Florida, Morgan’s home in Atlantic Beach, influenced by the stepped structure of Roman seaside towns, is one of his most well-known designs.
A Luminary in Literature
Three separate books, published over nearly five decades explore the work of William Morgan. Meanwhile, Morgan wrote five major works, himself, on topics as far ranging as archeology and earth architecture.
Read up on Morgan:
The Architecture of William Morgan , Paul Spreiregan (Univ. of Texas Press, 1987)
William Morgan: Selected and Current Work , Robert McCarter (Images Publishing, 2002)
William Morgan: Evolution of an Architect, Richard Shieldhouse (Univ. Press of Florida 2018)
A Distinctive, yet Fitting Education:
Fletcher High School – The feral nature of Jacksonville’s beaches, circa mid-20th century, where a young Morgan enjoyed sweeping ocean views would inspire Morgan’s beachfront designs many years later
Bachelor’s in Architectural Design from Harvard – Morgan’s course studies included classes in social anthropology, an interest he’d draw on when blending living spaces with the natural environment
Naval Officer – Morgan lived in Korea and other parts of the Pacific, including Guam where he first encountered the ancient buildings that would influence his efficient, imaginative designs
Harvard’s Graduate School of Design – Harvard’s GSD was a hotbed of modernism at the time and Morgan’s peers and professors encouraged his unique interests
Apprenticeship with Famed Architect, Paul Rudolph – A giant of the field, Rudolph stressed the appeal of “fresh, direct, clearheaded designs,” according to Richard Shieldhouse’s Evolution of an Architect.
All photos are from William Morgan: Evolution of an Architect. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, unless otherwise noted.
This feature originally appeared in Void Magazine Vol. 9, Issue 9, Rad Pads.