Dear Call Box: What is the interesting-looking facility with a “for sale” sign in front of it on Kings Road? It looks like it was once a school or community center.

 

D.S., Southside

Dear D.S.: We agree that it looks like it could have been a small elementary school or community building. But it was neither. The structure at 8701 Old Kings Road in Northwest Jacksonville was built in 1901 as a single-family dwelling, according to the Duval County Property Appraiser. The one-story facility has three bedrooms and three baths with a heated area of 3,634 square feet.

The white weather-beaten house has a red tile roof topped with a red-brick chimney and eight red brick steps leading up to the small porch and decorative double doors. Tall palm, oak and other types of trees dot the yard.

But the focus isn’t on the house, said Realtor Nathan Rogers. It’s being marketed as a 43-acre industrial site, he said. Rogers said he does not know how long it was been vacant, nor anything about its history, but it was last used as a plant nursery office.

A search of city directories shows it was variously used as a house, was occupied by a man whose occupation was listed as cattle buyer and for many years as a “famous and historic tree business.”

Dear Call Box: I remember as a child traveling down Interstate 95 and seeing some amusement park rides. As a child, I always wanted to go to it, but I never got a chance. I’ve always wondered, over the years, exactly what that was. I’ve often tried to figure out its exit.

J.S., Jacksonville

Dear J.S.: This question came up several years ago, but we’re happy to answer it again. The Marco Polo Park, based on the Venetian explorer’s travels through Central Asia and China, was just west of I-95 between Jacksonville and Daytona Beach at exit 278 in Flagler County. It’s now the site of the Plantation Bay Golf and Country Club community.

The park’s first phase, the Japanese gardens, opened in December 1970. They covered about 500 of the park’s 5,000 acres and included a replica of a Japanese fishing village, a botanical garden and a mile-long waterway spanned by Oriental bridges. Visitors could travel on 18 sampans, made of teakwood imported from Japan.

The park closed in October 1974. Two fires, eight days apart, ravaged the property in February 1975. Arson was suspected because the fire started at the same time someone shot at the security guard, Wikipedia and other sources said. The park, renamed “Passport to Fun World,” briefly reopened in May 1975. The Japanese Village was razed because of fire damage, and an American-themed bandstand and 40-horse carousel was built in its place. The park closed for good in 1976 with the remaining equipment sold at auction in 1978. The road crossing I-95 leading to the park entrance, renamed Marco Polo Park Boulevard, reverted to Old Dixie Highway.

The park’s failure is attributed to several factors, according to internet sources. There was no southbound exit off I-95 to access the park, it was overhyped and Disney World opened in October 1971.

Dear Call Box: I am trying to find out if the Learning Channel will still show the program, “The Little Couple,” with Bill, Jen, William and Joey. Can you find out for me?

L.D., Jacksonville

Dear L.D.: It took a while to answer your question because there was some uncertainty as to whether it would return. But problems between TLC’s parent company and the production company making the show were resolved. Its two-hour premiere debuted at 9 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 19, on TLC. The popular reality show follows the lives of the couple, both under 4 feet tall and their adoption of two young children. Story lines this season will focus on their recent relocation to St. Petersburg where Jen, a physician, was offered a job and a new business venture for Bill, according to internet sources.

In the premiere episode, Bill returned to his home state of Texas to help out, with his brothers, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. ^

Update: Elaine Perry Starling called to say that her grandfather, Edward Alexander Perry, was the first chief of Fire Station No. 8, which was featured in a recent Call Box history column. The station and adjacent red-brick fire training tower are a landmark at the Stockton Street exit off Interstate 10.

The station was built at 625 Stockton St. in 1922 and the tower in 1936. At first, there were no facilities for the firefighters stationed there to eat, she said. Meanwhile, her grandfather had built a house in Riverside with a cook/housekeeper for her grandmother, and the men came there to chow down. Perry was a member of a pioneer Florida family and was the first firefighter in the city to have a college degree, Starling said. He graduated from the Stetson School of Law in DeLand. He died at home of a massive stroke and heart attack in 1944 at age 52.

No. 8 closed in 1982, and the station and tower served as the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department’s training academy until 1991.

Submit questions by calling (904) 359-4622 or mailing to Call Box, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL 32231. Please include contact information. If you have a picture to offer with your question, feel free to send it.

Sandy Strickland: (904) 359-4128